Before I go on, note that I have seen one Woody Allen movie through and through. Though I can’t say that I’m terribly impressed with his style, his characters, or his story, I still respect the man’s movie making savvy. For the first time in a long time, I began reconsidering Allen’s talents when I saw a clip of Manhattan.

manhattan.jpgManhattan (1979) stars Diane Keaton and Meryl Streep notably, but I never saw them. I only saw the opening montage, in deceivingly pristine black and white with the narrator, Woody Allen, writing and rewriting the first chapter of whatever he or his character is writing. Funny and endearingly annoying, it’s an interesting way to begin a movie. If I thought of movies like essays, and the openings were the attention grabbers, Manhattan could have quite easily put me to sleep. But because movies are not essays (or are essays in a different way – all in the perspective, I suppose), Allen’s movie becomes a charming albeit obsessive introduction to the city that the director himself loves.

I think the most striking ways in which Allen is able to show the beauty of a dirty, grimy city is through black and white, which seems to emote more than just an absence of color. The feeling of the city becomes nostalgic, from the couple kissing on the balcony to the stark contrasts between the cars and the snow to the glittering fireworks in the night sky in time with Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.” If nostalgia was film, it would be in black and white. It covers the imperfections in color, the discrepancies, the distractions, and focuses on the glittering eyes and contrasted pales and darks. In a weird way, Allen’s Manhattan becomes more real, more actual, than the real Manhattan ever could. But in this, we see the magic of Hollywood – the ability to change the ugliest duckling into the most gorgeous swan.

And on that note, I think it’s worth mentioning that Woody Allen has lifted Manhattan above cliche. I’ve never heard it much romanticized – just that those who live there would never leave. Whether it is by choice they stay is not told but shown to us in the montage. Because of his careful steps, Allen is able to create a world that speaks in pictures, not in sound.