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Lauren Claret

Theoretical Essay: Auteur Theory and Analysis of Woody Allen and His Manhattan

After his sci-fi slapstick Sleeper and the intellectual comedy of Love and Death, Woody Allen

turned forty. This milestone in his life was probably related to introspective nature of his next few films.

He released a film in 1972 that would define the term romantic comedy for many filmmakers, critics,

and fans. Annie Hall began Allens mature phase as audiences watched him work out his neuroses out

on the big screen, as well as their own. After going for full dramatic effect in Interiors, Allen returned to

the style of Annie Hall and made Manhattan, a black and white picture of life and relationships that was

no doubt just as personal as Annie Hall. Blake even suggests that Annie Hall seems merely a rough

draft for the much stronger Manhattan (77). Allen has said that Manhattan is "a mixture of what [he]

was trying to do with Annie Hall and Interiors (Girgus, 58). Each of the characters in Manhattan

represents and aspect of the city that Allens character, Isaac, muses about in the opening shots. Much

has been made of the idea that this movie is solely a valentine to Woodys favorite city, but, like Annie

Hall, it says so much more about what in the past and future humans worry about and what we look for

in all of our relationships and the city of Manhattan is a perfect metaphor.

Filmed effectively in black and white, the movie is sandwiched between two montage shots of

Manhattan set to Gershwins Rhapsody in Blue. Bailey notes that the cinematic framing of the

cityscape in long shots evokes a romantically inflationary distance (48). In other words, it is easy to

idealize New York City from this distance. Girguss book The Films of Woody Allen is a useful

compendium to Manhattan. One of his more palatable opinions is that the opening montage conveys

Allens and Isaacs celebration of the magnificence of Manhattans unnatural, urban setting (Girgus,

47). But, Isaac, whom the audience first hears narrating the montage as possible openings for his book,

puts forth two different ideals: the tough, romantic New York and the metaphor for the decay of

contemporary culture. Isaac says in the final re-write of chapter one that New York was his town

and always would be. But, which version of New York is Isaacs town?
Lauren Claret
Theoretical Essay: Auteur Theory and Analysis of Woody Allen and His Manhattan

Well, there is no doubt that the tough, romantic version of New York is the one that Isaac loves,

but one learns throughout the movie that he has been blind to the fact that it is no longer that city, but the

dying city that Annie Hall refers to it as. The key visually symbolic moment that illustrates this point

to the audience is when Isaac, on a scenic boat ride with Mary, casually dips his hand into the Central

Park lagoon and pulls it up to see it covered with muck. The scene is no doubt a play on the beautiful

exterior, repulsive underbelly motif.

Mary and Tracy represent the two paradigms of New York that Isaac describes and he loves them

for that reason. Allen has drawn a huge parallel between a persons adoration of a city and personal

relationships. Mary, the Philadelphia intellectual, represents the decay of contemporary culture that

Isaac preaches about in the opening monologue. New York City changes Mary the same way that it

itself is changing for the worse at the time, through the corrupting influence that is undercutting

everything [Isaac] loves about the city (Lee, 86). Blake even calls Mary the logical and unpleasant

outcome of the transformation of Annie Hall from country girl to New Yorker an empty woman a

victim of Manhattans sophisticated decadence a burnt-out Annie Hall (Blake, 78-9). Marys

attitude represents to Isaac the very kind of pseudointellectualism that is destroying the moral fabric

of Manhattan (Lee, 92). This theme is evident at the art gallery when Isaac suggests that bricks and

baseball bats are always better than hiding behind a faade of intellectual superiority in the face of

societys collapsing values (Lee, 95). Another example of decaying culture is evident in Isaacs

description of his first wife, a teacher who began taking drugs and uses her abilities to further her own

self-interest rather than for the purposes of true education (Lee, 100).

Isaac and Mary are miserable together. They discuss and confirm each others worst

experiences, their divorces, their regrets, and their neurotic tendencies. The amount of negative space

between them is upsetting and the fact that they never occupy the same shot in the scene adds to the idea
Lauren Claret
Theoretical Essay: Auteur Theory and Analysis of Woody Allen and His Manhattan

of distance. Girgus agrees stating that the visual image exaggerates the separateness and detachment

and dramatizes the psychological and emotional isolation of their situation (Girgus, 56). Mary is

complacent to write reviews of novelizations of movies and in Isaacs mind waste her talent, while

Isaac argues that novelizations are another form of contemporary culture decay. He even quit his job

over a similar battle of ethics and he cannot believe that she is not tortured by the same guilt about

selling out.

During their breakup, Isaac says about Mary, You always think that youre going to be the one

that changes them. Isnt that the way that most people idealize New York the whole if you can make

it there you can make it anywhere essence? Thats what Isaac appreciates in Mary in the beginning.

The same ideal that mystifies people into thinking they are going to be the one that makes it in New

York is the same ideal that mystified Isaac into falling in love with Mary. It seems that Isaac only

notices the bad parts of New York and contemporary culture when he is with Mary the landmark

building being torn down, the novelizations of movies, and the thunderstorm.

On the other hand, Tracy represents the old romantic values of New York. Even at the end of the

movie her true love for Isaac is as thoroughly idealistic as the image of New York she represents

(Girgus, 65). The positioning of Tracys, and the films, final words, Not everybody gets corrupted.

You have to have a little faith in people, reinforces the romantic idealization represented by Tracy and

the city. Isaac loves Tracy because she restores his faith in people and therefore in Manhattan as well

(Fallon, 48). Blake suggests that Tracy must leave Manhattan for London if she is to survive as the

picture of romance and innocence (78), that thing that [Isaac] loves about her. The only things that

survive the decay at the end of the movie are the ideal New York shown in the montages and Tracy

(Bailey, 54).
Lauren Claret
Theoretical Essay: Auteur Theory and Analysis of Woody Allen and His Manhattan

Tracy is indeed, as Isaac brings up in the carriage ride, Gods answer to Isaacs Job, or a reply to

the decay of contemporary culture. Blake puts it this way: Ike continues to try to comprehend the

evil he finds in Manhattan, and he admits that Tracy makes the effort worthwhile (82). A scene with

Isaac and Tracy that is similar to the apartment scene with Mary discussed earlier occurs in Isaacs first

apartment and is just as visually symbolic as the scene with Mary. Tracy sits under a lamp in Isaacs

almost entirely dark apartment as if she is the only light in his enormous, empty world. Girgus disagrees

with this reading of the scene saying that the scene conveys a sense of separation and distance that is

evident in their conversation in that scene (50).

New York turns its back on Isaac and spits him out in the beginning of the movie. But Tracy is

there with him the whole way and is the only person who prefers Isaac to anyone/thing else, whereas

Mary only confirm[s] all of Isaacs complaints about [among other things] his apartment feeding his

neurotic tendencies (Lee, 99). Also, the idea of constant, new experience is a theme personified in

Tracy. Her odd mixture of youthful navet and sophistication represents a future of unlimited

possibilities (Blake, 78). She also offers to do it with Isaac some some strange way that you've

always wanted to, but nobody would do with you. a metaphor for the anything can happen,

experimental or abundant opportunity ideal of New York. The love of W.C. Fieldss movies is an

example of old-fashioned romanticism in Tracy and contrasts perfectly to Marys love of abrasively

cerebral movies, however symbolic of Manhattan.

Manhattan is a film that uses subtle techniques to explore the strong themes of maturity,

romance, and corruption of innocence. Pictures tell a majority of Allens story about people in

Manhattan who are constantly creating these real unnecessary neurotic problems for themselves cause it

keeps them from dealing with more unsolvable, terrifying problems about the universe and more

importantly the symbolic duality of the capitol of the world: New York City.
Lauren Claret
Theoretical Essay: Auteur Theory and Analysis of Woody Allen and His Manhattan

Works Cited

Bailey, Peter. The Reluctant Film Art of Woody Allen. Lexington, Kentucky: University Press

of Kentucky. 2001.

Blake, Richard. Woody Allen: profane and sacred. Maryland: Scarecrow Press, INC. 1995.

Fallon, Lee. The Nebbish King: Spiritual Renewal in Woody Allens Manhattan. Woody

Allen: a casebook. Ed. Kimball King. New York: Routledge. 2001.

Girgus, Sam. The Films of Woody Allen. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1993.

Lee, Sander. Woody Allens Angst: philosophical commentaries on his serious films. North

Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc. 1997.

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