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Placed in the context of Woody Allen's filmography, the 1979 Manhattan is a glorious experiment that almost works perfectly. After his successes in the early '70s with broader comedies like Take the Money and Run, Bananas, Sleeper, and Love and Death, Allen took his first step towards more autobiographical work with 1977's Annie Hall. It was a huge hit — even winning the Oscar for Best Picture — and allowed him the freedom to make the disastrous Interiors, his visually stunning but emotionally grating homage to Ingmar Bergman. Manhattan is Allen's attempt to blend the artistry of Interiors with the accessibility of Annie Hall and, for the most part, it works. The story concerns Isaac/Woody, a dissatisfied writer for a "Saturday Night Live"-like television show. He's unhappy with his work writing comedy and kvetches to his married friends Yale and Emily (Michael Murphy and Anne Byrne) that he'd rather be working on his book. He's also uncomfortable with his current romantic relationship with 17-year-old Tracy (Mariel Hemingway), with whom he has great rapport but can't reconcile the difference in their ages. When Isaac meets Mary (Diane Keaton), the neurotic hyper-intellectual with whom Yale is having an affair, he finds a woman who is more his intellectual — and emotional — equal than Tracy, and he breaks off that relationship. Isaac's constant second-guessing about his romantic and career choices, while Mary obsessively questions her relationships with Isaac, Yale and even her ex-husband, provide Manhattan's framework, which Allen uses to riff on society and human interaction. The film has few flaws, but the one real problem is Allen's inability to allow himself to be genuine as an actor. While Manhattan is obviously a very personal and even autobiographical film, Allen hides behind his alter ego and tosses out punchlines while the other actors give more natural performances around him. Mariel Hemingway is rather weak as an actress in many of her scenes with Woody, but her dignity through her tears when Isaac breaks off their romance, telling her he loves someone else, is very real and very moving. Manhattan is a gorgeous film — beautifully framed and shot in rich black-and-white by cinematographer Gordon Willis. The score is perfectly matched to the picture, a selection of classic Gershwin tunes performed by the New York Philharmonic specifically for the movie. Very good transfer in anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen format. The blacks are deep and rich, the gray tones complex, and there's very little noticeable noise. Woody is reportedly not a fan of extras on DVDs, and this MGM release is pretty bare-bones — just the theatrical trailer is included (which hasn't been cared for like the movie, so it's noisy and pretty ugly). Keep case.
—Dawn Taylor

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