Manhattan

 

Manhattan

Written by Woody Allen & Marshall Brickman

Photographed by Gordon Willis

Production Design by Mel Bourne

Music by George Gershwin

Edited by Susan E. Morse

Casting by Juliet Taylor

Produced by Jack Rollins, Charles Joffe & Robert Greenhut

Directed by Woody Allen

1979

 

Cast:

Woody Allen

Diane Keaton

Michael Murphy

Mariel Hemingway

Meryl Streep

Anne Byrne

 

Production:

Theatrical: Rollins & Joffe Productions

Video: MGM

 

Video

Aspect ratio: 2.35:1

Resolution: 1080p

Codec: AVC

Disc Size: 31 GB

Feature Size: 30 GB

Bit Rate: Moderate (25~30 Mbps)

Runtime: 96 minutes

Chapters: 24

 

Audio:

English DTS HD-MA 2.0

French, German, Italian & Spanish DTS 2.0

Portuguese & Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0

 

Subtitles:

Optional English SDH, French, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Swedish, Samoan, Norwegian, Danish & Portuguese

 

Extras: Theatrical Trailer in HD

 

Presentation:

Amaray Blu-ray case: BRD x 1

Street Date: January 24, 2012



Introduction:

In one swell foop on January 24 MGM has made what feels like a 100% increase in the catalogue of classic films for home high definition theatre: Rebecca (1940), Spellbound (1945), Notorious (1946), The Apartment (1960), Annie Hall (1977) and Manhattan (1979) - and all but one are in B&W.  One is a popular Oscar-winning Billy Wilder film The Apartment (1960), three are top drawer films from Alfred Hitchcock’s early American period, and two are the best of the best from Woody Allen.


    


The Movie: 10

What photography! What music! What a city! What an ending!  What about Meryl Streep looking more beautiful than anywhere, anyplace, before or since!  Even Michael Murphy, who has a tendency to seem a little constipated in most of his movies, is engaging here, in his way. Manhattan also marks the last of Woody’s movie’s to star Diane Keaton.  Her “replacement” Mia Farrow would get juicier roles, but Diane got Annie Hall and Manhattan.


    

 

I used to wonder how Woody (then 44) came up with the idea of casting Mariel Hemingway (then 17) as his underage girlfriend.  Recalling Play it Again, Sam, we observe they have roughly the same age difference as Bogart and Bacall, who were 44 and 20 when they made To Have and Have Not.)  And long since, Manhattan has taken on for many a kind of bellwether for choices in his later personal life.  My feeling is that Crimes and Misdemeanors satisfies that need better – but that’s for another review.


    

 

Annie Hall may be Woody’s first “mature” movie, but Manhattan is the first where he clearly did not depend on gags, brilliant and LOL as they were in films prior.  There is also a distinct different in Woody’s character: Isaac Davis is far less agitated, less frantic than Alvy Singer.  He still has sex – a lot – but he still hasn’t figured out how to integrate sex with intimacy.  (Many have that problem.)  He remains unsatisfied with what he has, in fact he’s unclear about what he has; but in Manhattan, for the first time, I think, he considers the idea that he doesn’t have to know the answer to that question in order to love someone and be loved by them – even if it’s just by and with a kid, as he frequently points out.


    

 

Woody’s involvement with Tracy is not unlike the way many men have affairs – they feel it keeps their juices going, even to the point of allowing themselves to fall passionately in love while being quite clear that don’t have to make a commitment.  For them, having an affair is kind of an experiment.  Isaac doesn’t live with Tracy; she goes home to her family after a long evening with Isaac and his friends.  It is, as far as he will allow it, a successful arrangement.  Not so, his relationship with Mary (Keaton).  Everything is peachy until they move in together.


    

 

The comforting thing for Tracy is that she has no one else in her life to complicate it, yet she has enough left over to devote to school.  This scares the hell out of Isaac, who needs to be involved with unsettled women so that he can better keep his distance.  Tracy may be a kid, but she knows what she wants and understands more about love than Isaac or any of his friends.  It’s bewildering, and just the right place to end his movie.


    

 

Image: 9/8

Just about every Woody Allen movie up to about Match Point needs to be revisited.  But image quality suffers most for everything prior to and including Crimes and Misdemeanors.  Generally speaking, the earlier the film, the more miserable the picture quality. So it’s a blessing that MGM has gone back to its sources to begin its “Woody Allen Collection” – and what better choices than Annie Hall and Manhattan – the latter looking pretty weak on DVD, though better than I remembered it.


    

 

Black and white negative film does not produce the kind of true black we can get with color film.  Nor white, for that matter.  I can see by reading some reviews of this Blu-ray that this bothers some people, expecting as they do the kind of black we see in a Pixar animated film.  It is “black & white” after all – isn’t it?  Better, I think, to see Black & White movies in terms of shades of gray.  What complicates things is that our software can indicate a B&W black as having the same value as Color black, yet they do not look the same in context.  It’s a mystery.


    

 

All that aside, the grayscale for Manhattan is pretty amazing.  A great deal of the movie takes place at night and the photographer, Gordon Willis, takes great pains to ensure that his set-ups, no matter how dark, do not obliterate shadow information entirely, deep as those shadows may be.  Just look at the opening scene at Elaine’s to take a good example.  If all you see is highlights enough to make out faces, your display is out of adjustment.  On the other hand, a histogram for this scene is in danger off falling off a cliff with nearly black.  The DVD had to opt for brightening or else you wouldn’t see anything, but the Blu-ray shows signs of life.  Add to this that the print is almost spotless, generally quite sharp, and without any disturbing transfer issues.


    

 

Audio & Music: 5/10

Once again I must commend MGM for staying with the original mono and avoiding the pandemonious rush to create surround mixes where none was proscribed.  And it’s lossless.  Nice - in theory anyway.  The dialogue is always clear and properly full bodied (as it was not for the Blu-ray of Annie Hall), but I can’t say as much for George Gershwin’s iconic music, which feels kind of gummy and gnarly by turns.  This is not a question of its being in mono, or thirty years old.  I suspect that Woody’s sound engineers made the decision right off the bat to fiddle with the dynamics in the misguided belief that Gershwin needed help. The result is that at times it shrieks alarmingly out of proportion to the dialogue, which is occasionally subtly out of sync. It’s almost always too loud in any case.  The small group tracks work better.  What’s needed is a restoration of the audio, carefully modulating levels and going back to the source material for the music, presenting it as an optional track in stereo (not surround) as available.  By the bye, did I mention that the entire score is Gershwin – I mean, how Manhattan can you get – except perhaps for the Rodgers & Hart song about the famous isle?


    

 

Extras: 1

Woody doesn’t seem to like commentaries much, as evidenced by the fact that across some three dozen DVDs he hasn’t recorded any, nor has just about anyone else that I can recall – I take it that he gets to decide that.  So all we get here is a nicely rendered theatrical trailer in HD.


    


Recommendation: 10

If you are a reader of this column it is unlikely you are unfamiliar with Woody Allen’s many great films from Annie Hall in 1977 through Crimes and Misdemeanors in 1989.  At least six are what are generally considered masterpieces, with Manhattan being one of the top two or three, depending on which one you’re watching at the moment.  It’s a movie that is striking for its remarkable effortlessness, something lacking in many of his more serious films from Interiors onward.  Yet it has something to say about the nature of love and relationships that rings true even if you’re not an intellectual, which all of his characters are in their way.  Add to this Gordon Willis’ iconic Black & White photography in widescreen where every shot is both perfectly framed and borderless.  Capping it all off is the music of one of the greatest American composers of the past four centuries - and for my money you can drop the “one of”.  This would have been a top-drawer transfer if it weren’t for the problematic audio excellent transfer, lacking only bonus features.  Warmly recommended, but watch out for your playback level.


    

 


Leonard Norwitz

© LensViews

January 30, 2012

 

 

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