New York, New York

Woody Allen's Manhattan

Woody Allen's Manhattan  

The Big Apple forms an important part of one’s cinematic memory

And so, after a gap of 14 years, I find myself back in New York for a film festival. It is a city that took my breath away when I first visited in the late 90s and on subsequent trips. The reasons are easy enough to guess – the Big Apple has been depicted so many times on the screen that it becomes part of your cinematic memory. When you are circling above the city preparatory to landing for the first time, it almost feels that you’ve been there before. I barely paused to dump my bags in my hotel and then it was off to a store specialising in stocking The Criterion Collection Blu-rays. For those who came in late, Criterion is a home video format collection that carefully curates important world cinema titles and sells them to consumers in painstakingly restored and pristine versions, along with loads of additional information about the films, including documentaries, interviews, unseen footage, different cuts and so on. I have laserdiscs and DVDs of many of the films, and now wanted an upgrade to Blu-ray, as one does. Criterion lust slaked, and much poorer, I settled down to reminisce about my personal New York favourites.

Much has been written about Woody Allen’s seminal Manhattan (1979) and it is pointless to add my two cents to the wealth of literature about the film, save to say that once you have seen Gordon Willis’ ravishing images of the city, they will stay with you for life. Blake Edwards’ take on the New York socialite life in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) remains one of Audrey Hepburn’s most adored performances. William Friedkin’s The French Connection (1971) goes beyond Manhattan, dashing all over the city tracking a heroin deal. The car chase sequence in the film is perhaps one of the great filmic chases of all time and Gerald B. Greenberg’s editing of it is taught at film schools the world over. There is Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976), Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s All About Eve (1950), Luc Besson’s futuristic version of the city in The Fifth Element (1997) and many more. We cannot talk about New York without recalling the saddest day in its history, and there are several films that have documented 9/11 and its aftermath.

My single favourite New York film is Whit Stillman’s Metropolitan (1990). In the loosest possible sense, it is a coming-of-age film, where a young, middle-class university student breaks into an elite group of his contemporaries. Through a series of party conversations seen through middle-class eyes, Stillman gives us the lowdown of the lives of the privileged young men and women who will go on to wield enormous power and influence in the future. The film is not a critique of this world. Instead, Whitman lays out the scenarios, mainly at parties, in opulent living rooms, invites us to make our own minds up. Metropolitan became the first of a loose trilogy that includes Barcelona (1994) that takes places in the titular city, and returns to Manhattan and concludes with The Last Days of Disco (1998). As these have just been given the Criterion Blu-ray treatment, my descent into penury will continue.

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Printable version | Apr 8, 2020 5:33:23 AM |

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