Chinatown post, I wrote about how I separate Polanski from his work. I do that for all directors. I don't think Woody Allen's movies are bad because he's weird, just like I don't think that Stanley Kubrick is a horrible raging pervert for directing weird movies. I'm not blaming anyone for my strange aversion of this director - it was just something weird I experienced growing up and I sort of never knew better because for a long time I didn't watch movies or TV, really. so I never had a chance to just see these movies for myself.
Anyway, I've always meant to sit down and watch a bunch of Woody Allen movies when I realized that I was missing out. It was something I had planned to do when I was not working, conduct my own mock-college class or something. Alas, I don't have the time now, but a good number of his movies in Ebert's books, so I can finally check them out. Today I watched Manhattan, which he directed and starred in in 1979.
It's a really great romantic comedy. It follows Issac as he gets divorced from his wife, who is writing a rather embarrassing book about their marriage and living with her new girlfriend. Issac starts dating a 17-year-old, even though he is in his 40's. His friend Yale, a married man, sort of pushes Mary on Issac, a woman that he is having an affair with. There is so much humor that comes from these situations - the awkward scene where Mary, Yale, Yale's wife, and Issac all go see a movie together, and Issac strains around the whole time trying to see if Yale is touching Mary. There is also some sadness and drama, and it's not really a conventional romantic comedy where everything is all very nice and satisfying at the end. Mary goes back with Yale, and Issac ends up alone, begging the 17-year-old to not go study in London like he had advised her to before.
There is so much that I loved about this movie. It was so well written and funny - I've always been blown away by how incredible his humor is. It's subtle and that sort of everyday humor that I love. I was laughing so hard in the beginning when Issac starts balking about how someone mispronounces van Gogh "van Goggg". I'm not going to stupidly explain why I like the joke, but I love that sort of humor. I think a horrible analogy is that it was like Seinfeld with no laugh track. It was that sort of everyday humor that comes from just watching bored people fuss about nothing and be neurotic, but less over-the-top. I really loved it, and I really can't wait to check out his other movies.
What really pushed this move out of the realm of a normal good comedy was it's cinematography. The stunning, wide, black and white shots of the city were so incredible. Ebert waxes poetic about the film's look better than I can. He writes of a stunning scene that happens in the film, saying, "Consider, for example, the sweet little conversation Isaac and Tracy have in his apartment, in a pool of light in the lower left corner of the screen, while the empty apartment stretches out toward a spiral staircase on the right: How better to show Tracy bringing life into this vast but lonely home?" (The Great Movies. 287). This is another film that I was so happy to have a big TV for - to see this huge wide shots spread out in front of me was really a great experience, and I felt like I really could appreciate all of the images. It was so cool to see such good comedy mixed with beautiful cinematography - since these two things are usually not put together in movies.
I hope that you check this film out, although I do think I am one of the few people left in the world with no Woody Allen experience. Watch it again if it's been a while. It's so great and funny and gorgeous. It's even streaming on Netflix, so you have no excuses. If you see it, let me know what you think!
Have any of you seen Manhattan? Share your thoughts in the comments!
Ebert's Great Movie essay on Manhattan