Manhattan (1979)

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 Art & Entertainment

Isaac: Talent is luck. The important thing in life is courage.

If Manhattan was only a romantic comedy, it would be a very good one, but the fact that the movie has so much more ambition than the “average” entry into the genre makes it an extraordinary example of the fusion of entertainment and art. This is Allen in peak form, deftly mastering and combining the diverse threads of romance, drama, and comedy – and all against a black-and-white backdrop that makes us wonder why color is such a coveted characteristic in modern motion pictures.

Received wisdom has it that Manhattan is a cinematic love letter to New York. But it’s actually the opposite: a thank-you card from New York, via Allen, to cinema – for the alchemical process by which light and shade and music can turn buildings and streets into a miraculous, shared dream of a city. In theory it’s a romantic comedy, though its romance and humour are by turns anxious and wistful, and its characters come weighed down by manifold flaws and neuroses (not least the troublesome May-September romance between Isaac, Allen’s conflicted comedy writer, and Mariel Hemingway’s 17-year-old student).

Instead, it’s the city itself, frozen in time by Gordon Willis’s immaculate black-and-white photography, that nourishes them. Simply by watching the sun rise over the East River, a Gershwin song drifting out of the morning mist, Allen’s tiny worker ant can somehow feel like the king of the colony.

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