The Great Scenes: “Rhapsody in Blue” from MANHATTAN
Movie: Manhattan (1979)
Spoiler Level: None
The Setup: Woody Allen opens his first ever black and white film with a montage of images of the titular city set to the rousing sounds of George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. As we take in the sights of the city, we hear the voice of Allen’s character Isaac Davis attempting to write the opening of a book about his love for the city of New York. Right from the beginning of this seminal Allen masterpiece we are confronted with the contrasting elements of stylistic confidence and neurotic apprehension that makes this perhaps the ultimate Woody Allen Movie.
Why It’s Great: For any lover of Allen’s work, Manhattan typically makes the list of his finest work and with good reason. While Allen’s work is often noted by film critics as a bit bare-bones from a style standpoint, Manhattan represents the most successful collaboration between Allen and master cinematographer Gordon Willis. Allen and Willis made the decision to shoot the film in black and white and in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio to help bring out the nostalgic quality of New York City, which Allen felt was an essential part of the film.
There are quite a number of glorious visual moments in the film, from the iconic Queensboro Bridge shot to the planetarium sequence, but the film’s opening thrusts us straight into the rich, evocative and cinematic New York City that Allen felt was as much a character as Isaac in the screenplay.
Allen celebrated his 75th birthday on December 1st and while he continues to regularly crank out at least one film a year (of varying quality, admittedly), to many of us film nerds he continues to hold the title of Greatest Living Director due in large part to the early masterpieces of his career, like Manhattan.