When I saw the schedule for New York Philharmonic 2016-2917 Art of the Score series my heart jumped: GERSHWIN! I mean, the Woody Allen 1979 film, Manhattan.
And that was the rub. The brilliance of George Gershwin played live by the NYPhil set to the awe-inspiring cinematography of Gordon Willis was wrapped around the Woody Allen film with the story line involving a 42-year-old man and a 17 year-old girl.
My love of Gershwin won out over my disappointment in Allen, and I bought tickets for the Saturday, September 17 8:00pm performance.
The NYPhil did not disappoint. That opening sequence to Rhapsody in Blue was spine-tingling, the full power of a live symphony crashing below the stunning montage of Gordon Willis's cinematography. The audience broke out in wild applause after that opening, unable to retain the "we don't clap before the whole piece is over" protocol.
What I did not know was that while I was safely in my seat at Lincoln Center with my nephew, a bomb was exploding in Chelsea, and another was set. As of this writing, still unclaimed. Who set them? Why? What do they hate so much?
So chance had it that it was a night of two Manhattans: The romantic fantasy of 1979 Manhattan, which already had sad undertones of the reveals of Allen's personal life in the ensuing years, colliding with the reality of violence 2016. My head and heart are spinning.
Back in the Day
I saw Manhattan in 1979 at the same age that Mariel Hemingway is in the film, the spring before I went off to college.
I was born in Brooklyn and grew up on Long Island, but I already had a relationship with Manhattan since I commuted to an internship at the Metropolitan Museum of Art as a high school junior. It gave me that strong, life-long emotional attachment that "this is my city."
And so the film in 1979 was pure catnip for me: YES, the vistas, the music, the lightning fast lines of the character Isaac, and Diane Keaton's pseudo intellectual Mary. I think I recognized the pseudo part, but as I was off to college I still connected with the celebration of the cerebral. The film made me feel connected to the literary life I hoped lay beyond that Manhattan skyline for me.
The script is filled with memorable, funny lines, from when Allen "was still funny." I have known and quoted and loved these lines my whole adult life:
I think people should mate for life, like pigeons or Catholics.
[They're] like the cast of a Fellini movie.
Really? Because I always feel very few people survive one mother.
. . . the winner of the Zelda Fitzgerald emotional maturity award.
Mary Wilke: Hey, listen, I don't even wanna have this conversation. I'm just from Philadelphia, you know. I mean, we believe in God.
The situation with Allen's personal life can't take that away from me (cue Gershwin, yet again).
The most chilling dialogue in the script is when Isaac goes to confront Yale that Yale and Mary have reconnected. He plays the moral card. The 42-year old man dating a 17 year old, plays the moral card:
Yale: You are so self righteous, you know. We're just people! We're just human beings, you know. You think you're God!
Isaac Davis: I gotta model myself after someone!
Ouch. It might have seen self-aggrandizing to me in 1979, it's pathetic seen from 2016, given his voiced
"I’ll be hanging in a classroom one day and I wanna make sure when I've thinned out that I’m . . . well thought of” has become the polar opposite for many.
I found some of the literary life in my Manhattan like I imagined before college. Professionally I had some direct connection to the film through the designer Burt Kleeger, who began designing Allen's poster with Interiors and with whom I worked for five years. He designed the iconic Manhattan film logo, and told me that when he brought it for review, the team of people with Allen said it was great, "but . . . " and offered all sorts of suggestions, as groups are want to do. Then Allen said "We'll use it as is." Sweeter words were never said to a designer.
I unknowingly moved to the block (directly across the street in fact) where Humphrey Bogart was born at #245 in 1899 and lived until 1925, the very year George Gershwin bought a townhouse at #316. Depending on the months of those moves, the two geniuses could have been the closest of neighbors without knowing it, since both were not yet famous.
I moved to the city in 1983, and experienced the last part of its recovery from the bankruptcy of the 1970s, to revert to a gritty, unsafe city in the late 1980s and early 1990s, to a fuller recovery through the Guiliani years. Then the horror of 9/11.
For me, Citibikes embodies the spirit of the romance of NYC that Allen captured. I've enjoyed commuting along the Hudson on the Greenway immensely. I sometimes hear Rhapsody in Blue in my head when I cycle north, the George Washington Bridge gleaming afore me.
And all of this connection, context, perspective, love, and spirit, takes shrapnel every time someone brings violence into the lives of my neighbors (and by my neighbors, I do mean the global community). Surely then we must keep the arts alive even more passionately and fervently insist on creation and beauty for all in the face of destruction, as imperfect and flawed as that art is going to be.
NY Times photo of Chelsea explosion