This week I had the good fortune of viewing one of the greatest films of the late 1970s, the 1979 film Manhattan, directed by Woody Allen. A film I would consider to be one of his greatest works. The film takes place in, obviously, New York, especially on the island of Manhattan. While most people would say this is merely the setting of the film, a more astute film viewer would realize that the story of film is a reflection of the city itself, a romantic city of light and darkness.
If you are a fan of Allen's films you would know that New York is often the setting of his films. What separates this film from most of his others is his use of lighting to tell his story. Shot entirely in black and white, this scheme allows the audience to experience the gritty beauty of the island of Manhattan. The use of lighting also provides the mood for each character and situations within the film.
The director of photography, Gordon Willis, paints a very romantic setting throughout the film with he choices of lighting. Using a combination of low key and practical lighting, the film feels more "real" to the audience. An example of this would be during a conversation between Allen's character and his love interest, a seventeen-year-old high school student, played by Ernest Hemingway's niece Mariel Hemingway. The two characters sit on a couch intimately lit by three key lights. One is a practical light, a table lamp. The other is two key lights one at the top of a spiral staircase and the other in the middle of the frame in the background. The two discuss their relationship and we feel an intimacy in the shot. An audience can easily see that there are genuine feelings between the two characters.
Another famous scene that demonstrates low-key lighting is a scene in which Allen and Diane Keaton's character stroll through New York's Museum of Modern Art while escaping an unexpected electrical storm. The use of minimal lighting makes us as an audience feels as if we are...
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