A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Manhattan (Woody Allen, 1979)

Woody Allen's admiration of Ingmar Bergman's films is so well known that it becomes a gag in Manhattan when, at their first meeting, Mary (Diane Keaton) gives Isaac (Allen) a list of artists she thinks are overrated, concluding, to his astonishment, with Bergman. But Manhattan reminds me less of Bergman's films than of those of the French New Wave. Maybe it's just because I've seen several of them recently, but it strikes me that, other things being equal, Manhattan could add a seventh to Eric Rohmer's Six Moral Tales. In Claire's Knee (1970), for example, the middle-aged Jerôme (Jean-Claude Brialy) is inspired to lust by the eponymous joint of the teenage Claire (Laurence de Monaghan). In My Night at Maud's (1969), the middle-aged Jean-Louis (Jean-Louis Trintignant) marries the much younger Françoise (Marie-Christine Barrault), and 20-year-old Haydée (Haydée Politoff) is the object of desire for both Adrien (Patrick Bauchau) and Daniel (Daniel Pommereulle) in La Collectionneuse (1967). Allen carries the premise further in Manhattan by making 42-year-old Isaac and 17-year-old Tracy (Mariel Hemingway) lovers. Is it too much to say that Allen may have found license in Rohmer's films for their somewhat shocking relationship? But Manhattan also features a familiar triangle present in several New Wave films: two men in competition for a single woman. Isaac and his friend Yale (Michael Murphy) both get involved with Mary, just as Adrien and François were involved with Haydée, and more famously, Jules (Oskar Werner) and Jim (Henri Serre) fall in love with Catherine (Jeanne Moreau) in François Truffaut's Jules and Jim (1962). Similarly, both Franz (Sami Frey) and Arthur (Claude Brasseur) pursue Odile (Anna Karina) in Jean-Luc Godard's Bande à Part (1964), and Paul (Jean-Claude Brialy) and Charles (Gérard Blain) contend for the affections of Florence in Les Cousins (Claude Chabrol, 1959). Allen's celebration of New York City also reminds me strongly of the way Godard pays homage to Paris in Breathless (1960) and Chabrol has Paul give Charles a tour of the city in Les Cousins. Of course, no New Wave film was filled with wisecracks and one-liners the way Manhattan is. (Not that any Bergman film is, either.) Yet I think it's not too far-fetched to think of Allen's movie as a kind of hommage to Rohmer, Godard, Truffaut, Chabrol, et al. And if it is an hommage, it is often a handsome one, thanks to Gordon Willis's magisterial black-and-white cinematography and the wall-to-wall Gershwin soundtrack. Allen's personal life has made us more queasy about Manhattan's May-December (or at least April-September) relationship, though I'm not sure audiences ever found Isaac and Tracy a normative couple.

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