Two Manhattans from Two Different Directors

I have always wanted to do this double feature a few years ago and never have found the time to do it.  Pairing up two movies around the same time period set in the same city would be really interesting. How do these directors view this one specific city? What is the main mood of their depiction of their city and how do they clash or support each other? These two films I had in mind were Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and Woody Allen’s Manhattan. Only separated by three years (1976 and 1979), I felt it would be pretty appropriate to pair these two films up and compare each film’s idea of what Manhattan is.

TAXI DRIVER (1976)                                                  MANHATTAN (1979)










Martin Scorsese does not glamorize New York at all. He constantly dives into the dark and grimy streets, streets that give off a constant dread and danger. The main character, Travis Bickle, is a troubled Vietnam veteran, who has two sides of him. There is this sweet, almost innocent and naive side, and the other a raving mad psychotic. This Manhattan that is depicted is through his eyes and his perspective and,”  the city he confronts is the nightmare New York where police sirens constantly wail, steam rises from manhole covers, open hydrants spurt torrents of water into garbage-filled gutters, prostitutesin hot pants avidly look for customers, and madmen shout wildly in the street” (Quart 2). This is a city where 12 year old prostitutes roam the street. He believes he must become a vigilant and rid Manhattan of the “scum and grime” off the streets.

On the full 180 degree turn is Woody Allen’s version of the same city. There is no better example to explain this by showing you the first scene of the film.

Allen places the song Rhapsody in Blue to give off a sense of nostalgia. He colors the film in black and white to also give off the sense of a romanticized past. He states, “Chapter 1: He adored New York City. He idolized it all out of proportion…no, no, he romanticized it all out of proportion, yeah.” As he keeps speaking, he retries and changes his perspective several times. To him, Manhattan is a city that can allow any sort of chance and possibility. All throughout this speech, images of the city, tall skyscrapers, large crowds of people, a snowy Central Park, are all filmed to inspire beauty, not disgust.

Compare these images from Manhattan to Taxi Driver’s:

We both get views of the streets, but the people being shown feel different. Travis calls them “animals, skunks, pussies, buggers, queens, faires, dopers…” He is not kind to the streets of Manhattan like Woody Allen is. The music too plays a big role in shaping the city of these two films. The music in Taxi Driver is harsh and cautious where Manhattan’s use of Rhapsody in Blue is meant to revel and beatify the city.  I just find it extremely interesting these two incredibly different takes on the same city in a relatively short span of time.

Quart, Leonard. “A Slice Of Delirium: Scorsese’s Taxi Driver Revisited.” Film Criticism 19.3 (1995): 67-71. Academic Search Premier. Web. 7 June 2012.



Filed under City Cultures

2 responses to “Two Manhattans from Two Different Directors

  1. Really cool connection between two excellent movies. The way I’d suggest taking this further (if you’re interested) is by bringing in some of the urban theory that we’ve discussed. First of all, these movies may both take place in Manhattan, but they take place in extremely different zones of the city. I think Burgess might be usefully employed in order to think about how the Upper West Side and Times Square serve totally different purposes in the cultural life of New York. I could see De Certeau being useful too, as well as the stuff we’re going to read about the automobile next week. Honestly, the movies really show the split between a driving city and a walking city to me.

  2. cmb0030

    Solid post. I think De Certeau is definitely applicable here. I also think that the distinction between high and low class is apparent through the comparison of these two works about the same place. It is awesome to compare the two and find out what is similar to both.

    I think an awesome assignment for our class would have been to make everyone post on what their view on the city of Auburn is. Make everyone email their posts to the professor and have her post them all at the same time. That way no one is influenced by anything but their own opinion. Having 15+ people write on the same city and then comparing and contrasting the papers and opinions would definitely reveal intriguing truths about a place.

    Again, awesome post!

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