November 30, 2017


In art, as in life, anyone with a developed sense of morality has to confront situational examples and modeled behavior where people make mistakes and have tragic flaws, then make judgments separating the good behavior from the bad. Yet for 50 years popular entertainment has been a one-way cultural ratchet designed to make once damnable behavior more acceptable. Liberals haven’t wanted stimulating and provocative art that forces too much self-examination of their own actions. They want art that reinforces their mores, while simultaneously afflicting people who disagree with their politics, which are far too often indistinguishable from their artistic sensibilities. (A friend of mine has long joked that since Hollywood makes so few films that don’t appeal to liberal themes, “a conservative is someone who thinks Easy Rider had a happy ending.”)

Dederer is not wrong that “Manhattan” is shocking to watch, but she doesn’t began to wrestle with the most shocking thing about it: A movie about a grown man having sex with a teenager wasn’t shocking 40 years ago, and not only that, it was the height of “culture.” Allen and Hemingway were both nominated for Oscars, and the film won a Golden Globe for Best Drama.

Frankly acknowledging this might suggest that the liberals have endorsed ideas — e.g. oxymoronic notions of “sexual liberation” — that have been deeply harmful to women, all for the sake of knocking down obstacles to political power. I wonder how much betrayal Allen must feel now. He did his part to push a liberal sexual and political agenda, was celebrated for it, and now he’s being drummed out of polite society for enjoying the fruits of these efforts?

I’m not sure how “shocking” Manhattan was to 1979 audiences; it was Allen’s highest-grossing film in America for years* and currently has a solid 8.0 rating at IMDB. As I asked a few years ago at Ed, “is it possible for an opening title sequence to be so powerful, it completely distorts the meaning of the film that follows?” Allen correctly gambled that the triple-play combination of his funny “Chapter 1, he adored New York City” opening dialogue, the stunning Gershwin “Rhapsody in Blue” opening music under its lush Panamax widescreen opening credit sequences (and Gordon Willis’ stylish black and white cinematography throughout the movie) would woo audiences into easily accepting the Weimar on the Hudson plot to follow. Because Allen was still so associated with Diane Keaton (who co-starred in Manhattan), little did we know that we were watching Allen testing the waters for how the Soon-Yi debacle would ultimately play out in public.

* Stardust Memories, Allen’s next film, savaged his own fans and alienated mainstream American moviegoers, who understandably repaid the favor, becoming, as Spinal Tap’s manager would say, much more “selective” about attending his future movies.

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