New York, New York: “Manhattan” and “Babe: Pig in the City”
In Manhattan (1979), New York City is overly-romanticized by a neurotic Jewish man who can’t see much of the urban decay and squalor with or without his famed black-framed glasses. On other end of the spectrum, Babe: Pig in the City (1998) offers outsider commentary on life in the city, seen through the simple eyes of a pink pork chop. Whereas Woody Allen’s Isaac is shown to be a product of the city with a complete indifference toward nature, the piggish one is clearly a foreigner in the neon jungle and can’t wait to return to life on the farm.
The opening scene of Manhattan frames the city in masterful black and white cinematography by Gordon Willis. As Gershwin’s score rises and the skyline is displayed, it is hard for the viewer not to feel Allen’s romantic attachment to the city. Notice how many times Allen says “romantic” in his narration in this scene? In fact, the majority of the most significant romantic moments in this movie take place outdoors with the city in full view: from Diane Keaton’s Mary and Woody Allen’s Isaac watching the cityscape from a park bench by the water, to Woody Allen’s desperate run across town at the end.
The cityscape in Babe: Pig in the City is a mixture of many of the great cities in the world, including landmarks as diverse as the Statue of Liberty and the Golden Gate Bridge. Fashioned after a storybook, the city in Babe looks picturesque, but this is most likely intended to keep the aesthetic tone similar throughout the series.
The song that the mice are singing in this scene is particularly revealing: “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” The isolating aspect of the big city is confirmed here by the “pig”-tagonist longing for his carefree days back on the farm.
The loves and lives these characters lead are portrayed to be firmly related to the environment in which they live: human beings so rich in neurosis, elitism, and sexual perversity could only be found in the city.
In the end, order is restored for the pig and his farmyard friends when they return to the pastoral quaintness of the farm. On the other hand, the end of Manhattan leaves Woody Allen entangled in what is sure to be yet another messy and failed relationship in the lonely city.