Chapter One. He adored New York City.

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 HallBroadway 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.

Too much.

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.

15 thoughts on “Chapter One. He adored New York City.”

  1. Oh yes your writing DID do it justice. I’m older, remember NYC in the last half of the 60s, but I have tears in my eyes. You sure know how to set a scene, sir.

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  2. This is wonderfully descriptive, despite your humble plea of not doing the occasion justice.

    I first saw ‘Manhattan’ at an eclectic ’80s UK cinema … in a repurposed medieval church. Quite the disconnect! I agree with your distaste for Allen now, but oh … the visual beauty of that movie. Getting to NYC became a prime goal in life and I made it. I became a student of Bernice Abbott’s ’30s photography, of NYC architecture, and ultimately a US citizen.

    Thanks for the window on your extraordinary evening.

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  3. Oh Danny, you make me laugh, in the best possible sense. You have just described one of those sublime experiences I get to have when I go to the Royal Albert Hall and experience a movie with the orchestra playing live. I’d been to a few, including Star Trek into Darkness, AND Michael Giacchino himself was there for crying out loud, as well as the wonderful Ratatouille. It really is something else. I actually wish they showed Thor with score by Patrick Doyle… Since I first saw the end credits I’ve been telling myself that when I go to Heaven, I want to get there by Ygddrasil [which is the tree of life that connects us all through space]. Hahaha… when you go to a movie with the live orchestra, frankly, it could be the worst movie ever and it would still become Manhattan…

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  4. OMG, I am so jealous, although thank you for sharing the experience which you described beautifully. I would’ve wept if I had been there. True magic and I LOVE Woody Allen. Cheers-

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  5. Danny I love your posts when your enthusiasm bursts through your writing as it does here. And I just want to add an observation – as if you need anyone to tell you! – that your life has clearly been blessed by two very special wives.

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  6. Words can not, of course, capture a total immersion experience like yours. But then, thanks for sharing it anyway. Sighing. It has been a long time since Manhattan (the movie) or my last visit. I think I like remembering it like it was, in the 70’s. Nice thoughts and images to sleep on, sir. Thanks!

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  7. Agreed that some people do not get the Woodie Allen thang: “you had to be IN COLLEGE IN THE ’70s, LIVING WITH A New Yorker IN LALALAND, a movie lover, a writer, a nostalgist, a romantic, a WOman in love” Okay, I made changes.

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  8. Manhattan is one of my favorite movies! The first time I saw it, I thought, “How can he follow up to that beginning?!” Well, I don’t have to tell you. I can’t imagine hearing the music live. What an experience! Thanks for sharing!

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  9. Wowzer. Great tribute. Smart Wife. I saw Manhatten in the seventies and ever since I carry a silver thread of NYC around my essence everywhere I go. NYC is an experiential blessing.

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