Woody Allen’s 1979 black-and-white classic Manhattan is coming back to theaters, first this weekend in New York City and then expanding out to the rest of the country. The rerelease takes to the masses what attendees of Berlin Film Festival and BFI London Film Festival saw last year when the movie screened there.
The story of the movie follows Isaac Mortimer (Allen) as he’s working on a book about a man who loves New York City on a deep, romantic level. Isaac is also a twice-divorced guy who’s dating 17-year old Tracy (Mariel Hemingway) but eventually falls for and moves in with the much more age-appropriate Mary (Diane Keaton), the mistress of a friend of his. So it explores the usual Allen thematic elements: The vibrancy and uniqueness of New York, the upper class literary society that lives there and the way love, sex and romance all blend together in that circle of people.
Most of those ideas are conveyed simply in the theatrical poster for the movie. It shows a black-and-white photo of two people, a man and woman, sitting on a park bench looking out at one of New York’s bridges. The cast list is shown below that (though not in the alphabetical order Allen usually prefers) and is followed by the title treatment, which incorporates buildings from the New York skyline into the name of the movie. Also not how prominently the name of George Gershwin is displayed, as his music is used throughout the movie as part of the love letter to the city.
That design sells the audience on the essentials of the movie pretty well. They could see it’s in black-and-white, that it takes place in New York City and that it’s likely about at least one romantic pairing. It uses the white space below the photo to effectively continue the starkness of the design, not cluttering it up with lots of extraneous elements. It’s simple and effective and played into the brand Allen had built up for himself over the course of his first half-dozen directorial efforts.
The trailer uses Isaac’s narration about his love of New York City as its core element, ostensibly featuring him reading aloud what he’s writing. All of that is set over shots of the city. After we get the title treatment we start to see more footage from the movie, mostly focused on the relationships between all the characters. We get which characters are having affairs, which ones are divorced and who’s still in love with who even though they’re dating someone else.
There’s almost no attempt at the presentation of a linear story here. We don’t see the progression of the relationships between the characters, as all the twists and changes that are explained could happen at almost any point in the movie. That’s not necessarily a knock against it since the main purpose is not to sell the actual story but just to show off Allen’s dialogue. He gets most of the best one-liners and snappy retorts, though Meryl Streep has a few winners as well. But for the most part this is just about showcasing the writing more than the story.
The rerelease trailer starts out much the same way but is much more condensed, only half the running time of the original trailer. It’s the same opening with Isaac’s narration and cutting to some of the dialogue and reaction shots. There’s the addition of a call out that the movie is coming back to theaters after a few festival screenings.
What I’ve bene trying to figure out about all this is “why now?” It’s not a notable anniversary for the movie or anything. This year marks its 28th anniversary, which isn’t usually one for celebration. If anyone has insights on this, leave them in the comments below.