I just want to write this down before the spell breaks.
For years, I loved Woody Allen. But the romance died over the past couple of decades, beginning with Manhattan Murder Mystery, then waning as his films felt increasingly trivial, one-note, slapdash, irrelevant, and crammed with marquee names, ending in a moratorium where even the sight of an ad for his newest movie makes my gorge rise.
But Annie Hall, Broadway Danny Rose, and Manhattan are some of my favorite movies ever.
Manhattan used to seem to me to be the most romantic movie ever. In retrospect, I’m not sure it’s the story itself — a sordid tale full of Seinfeldianly selfish and immature pseudo-intellectuals. It was probably 30% Mariel Hemingway, 30% Gordon Willis’ cinematography, and 30% New York City at its most iconic and 10% some of Woody’s most hilarious lines (Wally Shawn the homunculus; I can’t keep my eyes on the meter; very few people survive one mother; I can beat up her father, I grow a tumor instead, etc).
Yale: You are so self-righteous, you know. I mean we’re just people. We’re just human beings, you know? You think you’re God.
Isaac Davis: I… I gotta model myself after someone.
Last night, Jenny took me to Lincoln Center to see the New York Philharmonic play the Gershwin score of Woody Allen’s Manhattan, while the movie played on a screen above.
That sounds like a simple thing and it took a while for the extraordinariness of the experience to sink in to me, so let me spell that out: The New York Philharmonic playing live. In Lincoln Center. On a September evening. Gershwin. My favorite Woody Allen movie. Introduced by Alec Baldwin and Tony Roberts. In a sold-out hall filled with old school New York celebs and characters right out of, well, a Woody Allen film. We sat a row ahead of Michael Moore and, at intermission, hung out with Mort Zuckerman who owns the Daily News.
At the time the movie was made, the room we sat in to watch it was called the Avery Fisher Hall, a soaring maple-paneled auditorium with a history of acoustic challenges. A hundred million dollar donation later, it’s been renamed after David Geffen. The orchestra, under the baton of Alan Gilbert, sat watching the movie with the rest of us mere mortals, until a musical cue was needed. Then they burst forth with another tablespoonful of Gershwin, glorious but always leaving us wanting more.
And all those gorgeous black and white images of NYC in the ’70s! The 59th Street Bridge at sunrise. Fireworks over Central Park. The fountains at Lincoln Center. The Russian Tea Room. Elaine’s. On and on. It made me miss New York while sitting in the middle of it.
I don’t think my writing is doing this experience justice. Not only did you have to be there, you had to be a child of the ’70s, a New Yorker, a movie lover, a writer, a nostalgist, a romantic, a man in love with his wife. In short, me.