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S E A R C H    D V D B e a v e r

directed by Woody Allen
USA 1979

 

Woody Allen’s "Manhattan" from 1979 is one of the most romantic and beautiful movies I have ever seen. Not primarily because of the love story between Isaac (Allen) and Tracy (Mariel Hemingway), but because this is Allen’s most personal work. A joyful tribute to the city and lifestyle he loves most.

Manhattan” follows the life of Isaac, who is writing a comedy-show for television, his 17-year-old mistress Tracy and his married friends Yale (Michael Murphy) and Emily (Anne Byrne Hoffman). Yale is cheating on Emily with the nervous journalist Mary (Diane Keaton), while Isaac tries to convince Tracy not to love him, but just to think of him as a fond memory. One night, after a party, Isaac and Mary go for a walk through Manhattan and talk about life and the book Isaac is writing. He realizes how much he likes Mary, but holds his emotions back because she is still together with Yale. But soon, Yale tells Mary that they should stop meeting each other, while Isaac says the same thing to Tracy. Isaac and Mary have a short affair, before they find back to their old loves.

The plot may sound chaotic and the relationships change quite often, but that’s Allen’s subject. He shows us middle-class, intellectual people creating problems that prevent them from thinking about more important issues. But Allen does that with so much charm and esprit, that “Manhattan” quickly presents itself as his finest film.

The dialogue is a perfect pitch. Every time I get into a discussion about great skills in movie dialogue writing, I mention Woody Allen and especially this film. The lines in this movie always seem real and true, like the conversations you have with your friends, but there is this subtle breeze of improvisation, the wonderfully sarcastic sense of humor and the great timing that prove what a fantastic comedian and intelligent writer Woody Allen is. (Perhaps I have to note that Marshall Brickman helped Allen to write the script, but I honestly don’t know who contributed more in the screenplay.)

You are probably not surprised to read another reviewer praising Allen’s dialogue, but “Manhattan” was the first film by America’s post-silent comedy-master that showed his eye for visual composition. Allen experimented with the 2.35:1 format for the first time and hired his long-time cinematographer Gordon Willis to shoot the film in nostalgic black and white. Willis did not only work with Allen in his time as a cinematographer, but also shot Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather” trilogy and was nominated for an Academy Award twice (“The Godfather: Part II” and Allen’s “Zelig”). Allen starts this film with a montage of shots from New York, with a very funny voice-over introduction. Here you can see Willis’ brilliant eye for visuals. The high contrasted, deep black and white photography creates the feeling of age and nostalgia. In the first dialogue scene at a New Yorker Café, Willis fills the screen with close-ups of the actors providing their witty dialogue. This technique provides the feeling of nearness and understanding to the characters. Right from the beginning, we are a part of Allen’s world.

There are so many shots in this film worth analyzing, so many pictures that I would like to print and hang up on the wall. Allen loves New York and you can feel that in every frame of this film. But Gordon Willis was not the only one who contributed to the style of this film. A big credit must go to George Gershwin, whose music was used in so many films, but never as expressive as in “Manhattan”. In the opening sequence, Isaac tells us that for him New York exists in black and white and lives to the tunes of George Gershwin. And that hits the point. Gershwin’s dynamic music is part of the structure of the film and masterfully combines with the photography of Gordon Willis. This combination plus all the little shots of New York that Allen places in the movie (a little bit like Yasujiro Ozu did with his famous pillow shots) reveal that “Manhattan” is a work of melancholy and about the joy of living in a wonderful town. Not everybody may understand Allen’s feelings, but I certainly do.

While watching this film dozens of times in the last years, I realized that Allen pays tribute to the silent directors who influenced him so much, especially Charles Chaplin. There is for example a sequence in which three men are carrying Isaac’s stuff into his new apartment and throwing it down in a very careless way. We see Isaac gesticulating, trying to prevent the men from damaging his things. This very funny scene is completely without sound, but with a cheerful song playing on the soundtrack. And every time I watch this film, the sequence reminds me of the work by Chaplin, the way of expressing emotions and situations without the use of sound. Then there’s the final scene, where Isaac comes back to Tracy and wants her to stay in New York and not to fly to London. They talk to each other in a scene both emotional and funny and after a couple of minutes, the camera remains in a close-up on Isaac, who turns from worried to faithful and ends up with a little smile on his face. The subtle beauty and perfect use of facial expression does not only remind me of Chaplin’s masterpiece “City Lights”, but also brings tears of joy as well as sadness into my eyes. Allen fades into shots of New York, accompanied by George Gershwin’s operatic score and leaves me moved, entertained and amazed.

C.P. Czarnecki

Posters

Theatrical Release: March 14, 1979

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Distribution

MGM

Region 2 - PAL

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Region FREE - Blu-ray

Runtime 1:32:12 (4% PAL speedup) 1:36:19.440
Video

2.35:1 Original Aspect Ratio

16X9 enhanced
Average Bitrate: 6.78 mb/s
PAL 720x576 25.00 f/s

1080P Dual-layered Blu-ray

Disc Size: 31,255,624,492 bytes

Feature: 29,983,979,520 bytes

Video Bitrate: 28.10 Mbps

Codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.

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Audio English, DUBS: German, French, Spanish, Italian (Dolby Digital 1.0) DTS-HD Master Audio English 1599 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 1599 kbps / 24-bit (DTS Core: 2.0 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 24-bit / DN -4dB)
* DTS Audio French 256 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 256 kbps / 24-bit / DN -4dB
* DTS Audio German 256 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 256 kbps / 24-bit / DN -4dB
* DTS Audio Italian 256 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 256 kbps / 24-bit / DN -4dB
* DTS Audio Spanish 256 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 256 kbps / 24-bit / DN -4dB
* Dolby Digital Audio Spanish 224 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 224 kbps / DN -4dB
Subtitles English, English (hard of hearing), German, German (hard of hearing), French, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Swedish, Samoan, Norwegian, Danish, Portuguese, none English (SDH), Dutch, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish, none
Features Release Information:
Studio: MGM

Aspect Ratio:
Widescreen anamorphic - 2.35:1

Edition Details:
• Original Theatrical Trailer

DVD Release Date: October 25, 2004
Keep Case

Chapters 24

Release Information:
Studio: MGM

 

1080P Dual-layered Blu-ray

Disc Size: 31,255,624,492 bytes

Feature: 29,983,979,520 bytes

Video Bitrate: 28.10 Mbps

Codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

 

Edition Details:
• Original Theatrical Trailer (3:16)

Blu-ray Release Date: January 24th 2012
Standard Blu-ray Case

Chapters 24

 

Comments

NOTE: These Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.

 

ADDITION: MGM - Region FREE - Blu-ray (January 12'): I don't have much to say here - Manhattan is an absolutely gorgeous looking film in 1080P.  I was blown away by the image - full of grain and brilliant contrast. The marriage with the DTS-HD Master 2.0 channel audio makes for a stellar presentation. Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" has never sounded better on my system - I will demo the film's opening to many friends. There are many subtitle options supporting the disc's region FREE status. The only extra is a trailer in 1080P - but the film speaks volumes by itself.

 

This has one of our strongest recommendations - some of the most powerful images in 'modern' cinema - and a film in Allen's top-tier. The film-like visuals are awesome. At this price - an essential purchase. 

Gary W. Tooze 

***

ON THE DVD: While there is no bonus material on this DVD, I consider it a must-own for Allen-fans. The film is presented in its original 2.35:1 transfer, with deep black levels and stylistic grain. The picture is clear and has no artifacts, while keeping Gordon Willis' beautiful black and white photography. The soundtrack clearly presents the dialogue and musical score.

We all must get used to the fact that Allen-films get no bonus material on DVD. While that is a sad fact, this DVD is still perfect on the technical sides and presents this great film as it is supposed to be seen.

 - C.P. Czarnecki


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