Woody Allen’s 1979 magnum opus starts famously with a long montage which appears to suggest that New York is to the modern world what Paris was in the early half of the 20th century – the home of romance, intellectualism, art, sex and impossible glamour. To the sinuous jazz of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, Allen treats us to a sequence of lush black and white images such as Robert Doisneau or Henri Cartier-Bresson might have taken. And then, in the filmic equivalent of dragging the needle off the record, he appears to say ‘Hang on – the French may be mature, worldly and philosophical. But New Yorkers?’ The next 90 minutes play out like a long comic pay-off to this short set-up, as we’re introduced to a succession of grasping, whiney, selfish Big Apple residents (played by Diane Keaton, Meryl Streep and Michael Murphy), each of whom believes he/she is the epitome of integrity, kindness and intelligence. Only Allen’s 17-year-old screen girlfriend (Mariel Hemingway) escapes unscathed, too young to have been tainted by the ‘me me me’ culture. Surprisingly, Allen wan’t lynched by his fellow New Yorkers for this unflattering portrait. Perhaps they were laughing too much to realise how barbed it was.
© Steve Morrissey 2006