At the gloriously naïve age of 19 my girlfriend and I flew from California to New York City during our Spring Break in search of the soul of that mythical metropolis. Inspired by be-bop, hip-hop and countless films, we saved and dreamt for months in order to afford what was for us our first adult journey.
While our college classmates migrated south to the beaches, umbrella-laden drinks and revelry of warmer climates, we preferred the art, adventure and urban unknown that the city beckoned to us with from across the continent. Striving for a sophistication beyond our means and years, we wandered the streets searching for what we considered to be the city's icons. Central Park. The Guggenheim. Blue Note. Little Italy. And any bar that would let us underagers in.
As we were both from horizontal Southern California, New York's architecture and verticality transfixed us. I in particular was obsessed with the iconic image of Woody Allen's Manhattan. The foggy shot of Woody Allen, Diane Keaton (and dachsund) sitting on a bench facing one of the city's many bridges as dawn revealed another day became, besides finding the perfect slice of New York-style pizza, my trip's most irrational desire.
As stubborn then as I am now, I effectively dragged my most patient girlfriend around town in search of both. While we conquered many an oily slice of perfect pepperoni, after hours of searching, the bridge eluded our grasp. Walks across the Brooklyn and Williamsburg bridges resulted in nothing more than precious time lost and numerous rollings of my girlfriend's eyes at my nagging, and ultimately fruitless, tenacity.
Years later I discovered that I was off. Way off. The bridge I was looking for was the Queensboro Bridge, also known as the 59th Street Bridge, some 50 to 70 blocks to the North from the bridges we traversed. Yet, I find comfort in knowing I am not the only sucker to be inspired by the bridge. In F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic The Great Gatsby Nick Carraway remarks, “The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and the beauty in the world.”
Rewatching Manhattan now for me is like unearthing two time capsules. One filled with the nostalgic memories of that trip and the hindsight wisdom of how the film helped inspire my own flirtation with the city that I now live in. The other the admittedly romantic look at New York City in 1979 through the eye of one of its own sons, and staunchest boosters – Woody Allen.
Cinephiles worldwide have been seduced by the cosmopolitan New York seen in Allen's movies, from Annie Hall to Zelig. And if is true that the New York of Allen's movies ithe New York of Allen's life, then the city's geography is clear. Drama unfolds in its center – the posh Upper East Side – with forays into Midtown, Greenwich Village and SOHO. The same is true for Manhattan.
Often described as Allen's ode to his home city, Manhattan is shot in magnificent black and white by master cinematographer and native New Yorker Gordon Willis, giving it a deservedly class look. Typical of Allen movies, the film shows the museums, restaurants, galleries and public spaces at the center of many a New Yorker's life. It is in these settings where his characters find love, lose love, betray love, philosophize and pontificate in characteristic neurotic fashion.
An unashamed parochialist, Allen offers us his vision of 1979 New York with Manhattan. From the very beginning it is clear that city is as much as a protagonist as the film's characters. The result is a timeless, inspiring glimpse at a city by cinematic great who deeply understands its soul. – Alvaro Eduardo Rojas