New ‘Manhattan’ has plenty to recommend it

By Gary Clift

Last Thursday evening I was one of a large crowd at a local screening of the current draft of the new movie “Manhattan.” Most all of us must have fit into the obvious categories of people who are going to be excited about the new film by directors Bret Palmer and Ryan Bruce.

Kansans from Manhattan are going to love the images of everything from the airport to the reservoir, including dozens of businesses (including some taken from a plane), all sorts of public spaces, and some shots of the Flint Hills.

K-State adherents are going to like seeing familiar Aggieville and campus locations, and they are going to love seeing many familiar faces on the big screen. I’m told that forty-six K-Staters appear, thirty of them theater majors. Among the best-known of the bunch are co-writer, producer, and star George Stavropoulos and Lauren Perez, both of whom had large roles in fairly recent Nichols Theater plays.

University administrators are going to be delighted with the movie, too. They need to sneak apparently pirated copies of a DVD version of the film into the state’s art supply stores and thespian society meeting rooms. Seventeen-year-olds looking for the sheik bohemian in-state campus are going to love this movie.

And then film fans will like it, too. Though there is the occasional buzz in the sound and though there may be too much time spent on music-dominated passages, the film has many real attractions, not the least of which is its intriguing relationship with Woody Allen’s 1979 movie of the same title. The new “Manhattan” is neither a re-make nor simple homage.

Instead it borrows techniques, scenes, characters, and subjects from Allen’s movie, from its black and white photography and its use of its setting as a loose metaphor to its satire of the meaningless language people use when talking about the arts and its romance between its central figure and an under-age girl.

That older film’s music is Gershwin and its timing is pure Allen, featuring dialog that seems to force all of the cast (including Diane Keaton and Meryl Streep) into his vocal rhythms. It is delightful to hear Stavropoulos, in the new film, refer to Allen’s phrasing, especially in one pause delivered, I believe, in a scene on a porch at a party.

The new film’s music is strong, contemporary, and percussive. The photography features moving camera shots, multiple exposure time-lapse passages, and other extraordinary devices which seem always suited to their occasion. The acting is a treat, and is all the more involving because the players sound like us. I loved the costumes which, like many of the settings, made things around here look a little dressier than may actually be the case.

The new “Manhattan” isn’t as consistently comic as was the original, but it also isn’t as routine in its story-telling. Allen plays a book-writer whose wife has left him for a lover, who mistrusts his relationship with a girl (Mariel Hemingway) less than half his age, and who mistakenly imagines he has a romantic future with his best friend’s mistress.

The new movie has Miles (Stavropoulos) leave New York after finding his wife in bed with a lover (which sets up one of the screenplay’s funnier lines, later on in the film: “She didn’t even get the part”). He flies in to MHK, where he is met by an old friend, now a married physics professor and philanderer with his own students.

The professor encourages Miles to introduce himself to a girl drinking in Auntie Mae’s with a beau (who we later learn is a painter who has Farrah Fawcett Majors’ “nude body as brush” painting technique). Miles and Annabelle (Perez) hit it off.

He is trying to write a novel. She is supportive but not particularly sophisticated. Then the audience notes some chemistry between the writer and the professor’s wife. Prompted by evidence I wasn’t sure was there, she tells Miles that Anna is a minor.

Then the professor asks Miles to take his enigmatic mistress to a dance performance and the two fall in love, or so Miles thinks. So the story does have some of the elements of the plot in Allen’s movie. The new ending, though, makes sense and avoids seconding Allen’s pitch for cradle-robbing.

Moviegoers who don’t know the seventies movie will still find plenty to like in the new “Manhattan.” This effective re-imagining of the older film’s circumstances will appeal to its cast’s fellow members of Gen. X, probably in ways the Allen movie wouldn’t.

And if the not yet quite finished “Manhattan” eventually also serves as a local time capsule, so much the better.

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