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Modernity and Migration
Modernity in Manhattan
New York City has been the setting, backdrop, and focus of a substantive corpus of films, few of which showcase it as favorably as Manhattan. There are many subplots in the film Manhattan, and one belongs solely to the city itself. The film is an ode to New York City, irresistible even if one is not a fan of urban spaces. In the opening scenes, Woody Allen's voice-over describes New York City from five different perspectives, each of which he rejects until he captures the milieu to his satisfaction -- and to the audiences. The Manhattan that Allen introduces to the audience is exciting, beautiful, romantic, multidimensional, and set in black and white against the rhapsodic melodies of George Gershwin. The New York aesthetic is conveyed through affectionate photography that brings the audience along on a tour of the cultural centers, familiar highlights, and architectural confections- -- all picture-perfect, or course. In fact, the New-York-City-at-its-best montage is underscored by Rhapsody in Blue -- the incomparable visuals of skyline complete with lights on the bridges and fireworks in the sky are a stark contrast to Allen's trademark hyper-neurotic, loquacious, and consummately confused characterization of Issac.
If cities are the archetypal modern environment," then New York City leads the peloton (Sudnerland, 2010). Cities in films are the platform where the forces of modernity clash, ne and eclipse, creating chaos or excitement, imprisonment or liberation. Manhattan exposes the disruption of relationships as they attempt to navigate a pin-ball existence in which they bounce from conviction to uncertainty to confusion -- and back again. The only thing the characters in Manhattan can be sure of is that they will eventually pop out of the game at intervals, which allows them to take stock and catch their breath before they are flung once more into the fray. Alexander Walker of the London Evening Standard aptly wrote, "So precisely nuanced is the speech, so subtle the behaviour of a group of friends, lovers, mistresses and cuckolds who keep splitting up and pairing off like unstable molecules" (Palmer, 1980, p. 114).
The characters in the film Manhattan are the stereotypical "perpetually dissatisfied New Yorkers" the audience has come to expect -- the layer of familiarity increases the seriocomic treatment. The audience at once recognizes and likes the characters. Yet, not even one relationship in the film is static and every character, save Tracy and Yale's wife, Emily, seem wrung out by their uncertainties and relationships that seem perennially ready to slide into contentious territory. Most of the characters are in analysis or are writing books -- about each other. They have bought into that component of the lifestyle that dictates everyone must have analyst -- in so doing, they have bought into the lifestyle as a whole.
Through his solipsism, Woody Allen "successfully projected his own self-absorption as a universal condition -- and people responded with their personal identity politics" (Hoberman, 2007). The zeitgeist of the film -- lovingly expressed in Isaac's fantasies and list of all things wise and wonderful -- was not the zeitgeist of New York City just a few short years before the film was made. There was the default of 1975 and the blackout of the summer of 1977. The audience would never put the troubles of the decade together with the New York City that Allen paints.
In the movie the Purple Rose of Cairo, a 1930s movie character walks right off the silver screen and into the real world. In Manhattan, Allen creates a haunting reversal by projecting his own character into the film. It is a study of the transitory. Mary manifests a liquidized modernity that is positively dizzying (Bauman, 2000). She is warm and funny morphing to snotty and elitist. She loves Yale, she disdains Yale. Her ex-husband was louse, her ex-husband is alluring. Mary enjoys Isaac's company, but pounces whenever she can denigrate him. Mary's nomadic orientation to her life causes her to drift through an unhappy, neurotic version of her own life. If she is not tortured by the transitory nature of her relationships, she is at least "an unhappy person…trouble, as she tells Isaac. Yet, Isaac seems attracted to Mary particularly since she matches his moves, one-for-one -- they are like two pieces on a chessboard. Most of the other women in the film are in motion, also. Jill's nomadism is expressed in her evolution from bisexuality to homosexuality.…[continue]
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