A Few Words About A few words about...™ Manhattan -- in Blu-ray

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Robert Harris, Feb 5, 2012.

  1. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
    Reviewer

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    Robert Harris
    Woody Allen is one of those filmmakers that is so prolific that, at over 40 films, if there's one production with which you don't fall in love, just go on to the next, and you probably will. Within industry announcements, before a formal title is selected, his works are usually heralded as his "fall project."


    I am, and always have been, a huge fan of Mr. Allen's work, but if I had to select a handful of examples, Annie Hall and Manhattan would always be at the top of the list.


    Manhattan (1979) is, to my eye, the most beautiful of them all, both as a film, and as a piece of cinematographic work. It is to my mind, visually, one of the most stunning films created. It's interesting on a number of tech levels -- I'll refer you to the HTF review staff for background and story. I'm aware of only one other production, shot in anamorphic, as opposed to 1.85, and that would be Anything Else (2003).


    It shares it's cinematographic style with one other Allen production, Annien Hall, also now available on Blu-ray via MGM/Fox, as both were photographed by the incomparable Gordon Willis.


    To my eye, Manhattan looked perfect, with a magnificent gray scale, clarity, shadow detail and blacks. It reminded me very much of an original 35mm print I once owned. But not wishing to leave anything to chance, I asked Mr. Willis what his feelings were about the new Blu-ray.


    His comment leaves very little open to speculation.


    "I thought Manhattan looked very good. It still holds a strong and vibrant visual structure of a city I love." For clarity's sake, "very good," translated into Blu-ray is about as good as it gets. No complaints. See my comments on Annie Hall for his take on that film, as Mr. Willis never pulls punches.


    Roger Ebert: "His [Woody Allen's] earlier movies were made from face, slapstick, stand-up verbal with, satire, and the appeal of the Woody character. "Annie Hall" and "Manhattan" are made from his observations about the way we talk and behave, and the fearsome distances between what we say and what we mean, and how we behave and how we mean to behave."


    Manhattan is also one of the most important films to affect the way that home video treats them, and how they are viewed.


    When Manhattan arrived on VHS, it began a video revolution. Mr. Allen, ever the perfectionist, required that it be released in a "letterboxed" format. What that meant is that the 2.35:1 aspect ratio image would be viewed between two gray mattes, one above, the other below the image. While this yielded a far smaller image on even the largest monitors, it preserved Mr. Willis" brilliant work. Later, in subsequent releases, the gray bars were replaced by black. It was the release of this film that also enabled us, as there was precedent, to request that Columbia release David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia in the same way.


    Manhattan is a very important film to the home theater community and the history of home theater.


    MGM's new Blu-ray is Very Highly Recommended.


    RAH
     
  2. David Wilkins

    David Wilkins Supporting Actor

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    Mr. Harris, Your ringing endorsement is wonderful to hear. Thanks for taking the time to compose one of your best installments.
     

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