Notes on Manhattan

Workshop last week with screenwriter and director Mark Norfolk, so it’s movies from me today. I feel I should pick a movie by my favourite director, Woody Allen. Manhattan is one of his best, but I’ve picked it largely because it’s got plenty of useful youtube clips available.

Here are some scribbles:

  • How to end a film brilliantly – The idea could have been swamped by clichés, but this scene of Allen trying to stop his ex-girlfriend from leaving is elevated by the pitch-perfect acting into something revelatory – Allen’s charming hesitancy, that combination of courage and shyness; the dove-tailing of Mariel Hemingway’s words with the sound-track; most especially the last, silent moments of Allen’s changing expressions… This is truly one of cinema’s most romantic films. Here’s that final scene:

  • It’s a cynic’s film, actually…. that final line: “You have to have a little faith in people” – isn’t it completely at odds with the story? The trigger for Diane Keaton chasing Woody Allen in the film is largely that her lover has spurned her. Allen only changes course to stop Hemingway leaving because Keaton has gone. Allen is all about the destinies of relationships being changed by tiny decisions, that could have gone either way, as if at the flick of a coin.
  • No, it’s a romantic’s film. The sweeping, swooning, lush Gershwin soundtrack. The moody black and white visuals.
  • Ok, a compromise. Perhaps the love affair is with the town, the architecture itself.

  • Empty rooms – So many conversations happen off-screen, especially inside apartments, with characters moving from room to room and through hallways, past the view of stationary cameras. The device is a Woody Allen staple, used in virtually every movie from Annie Hall onwards.

In a similar style, there’s also a neat moment on a pier, Allen’s friends reading from his ex-wife’s book (Meryl Streep, sensational in an early role). As Streep’s words tear Allen’s reputation apart, the camera briefly looks out over wooden posts marking out territory in the empty, ramshackle harbour. I love the loneliness of the moment. (below, 40 seconds in)

  • Great bit of character writing – Mariel Hemingway as Allen’s 17-year old girlfriend – is she not in fact the most mature character on screen? The most patient, the most open, the least often dragged into petty or grand emotional deceptions?
  • Uncomfortable bit of character writing – Manhattan (1979) is the first of many movies where Allen writes his character into a plot where he is dating a young girl. This would be creepy enough, as he gets older and older. But then off-screen in 1997 he marries Soon-Yi Previn, the adopted daughter of his long term partner Mia Farrow. The girl was 35 years his junior at the time. (Farrow had left Allen after finding nude photos taken by Allen of Soon-Yi as an 18-year old). Does real-life biography spoil this aspect of his movies in hindsight – or, after it’s been gossiped about in such depth, are we even bothered now?
  • Favourite visuals(1) the conversation between Allen and Keaton that takes place in silhouette in the planetarium. (below, poor quality, and not the whole clip – best I could find)

  • (favourite comedy fragment – at the start of that last clip, with Allen and Keaton running in from the rain, the scrap of newspaper he is holding over his head to protect himself becomes farcically small, Allen still clinging).
  • Favourite visuals(2) the confrontation between Allen and his best friend Yale (Keaton’s ex) that takes place in a classroom, a skeleton standing next to Allen. Allen isn’t a director who is always thinking about imagery – he often emphasises dialogue, plot, character (at least when his career as an auteur gets going he does). But Manhattan (like his other black and white movies such as Broadway Danny Rose and Stardust Memories) is oriented towards the visuals.

  • Comedy moment #2: “my doctor told me it was the wrong kind”. Allen’s momentary pause afterwards is priceless.

  • Favourite relationship insight – Allen and Keaton, completely at odds with each other at first meeting when their partners are in tow. They’re so destined to get together. And so destined to fail afterwards.

  • Life-affirming moment – Allen recites into a dictaphone his list of reasons why life is worth living, ending with his ex-girlfriend, and then realises how much he wants to get her back. (first two minutes of link below)

  • Copy / Paste moment – running along the streets to go back to Tracy at the end of the movie. Reminds me of Billy Crystal doing the same in When Harry Met Sally. They’re both naff runners as well. At least Allen doesn’t try to be heroic – stopping with a stitch and looking around awkwardly for a taxi (same link, 3 minutes in. This link also has the full dialogue for the end scene of the movie, 5 minutes in)

  • How to start a film brilliantly – We hear Allen drafting the opening of his book several times – first too corny, then too preachy, then too angry… A sly way to ask us: how much of our identity is self-narrated myth, and how much do we try to perfect our fictions? How much of our self-image is shaped by where we choose to live? Should we be living as cynics or romantics?

How much faith should we have in another person?

Here it is, complete with fireworks and Rhapsody in Blue:

– Mike Loveday

Congratulations to Martin Boyce for winning this year’s Turner Prize

Last night, I watched the prize being announced on channel 4 and was struck by how popular and glossy the annual event had become.

It seems that the Turner Prize has finally become respectable with Channel 4 putting together a new format for the prize coverage, no doubt aimed at a cross section of audiences and not just the usual insider’s only contemporary art crowd.

Now it seems that non art experts are just as good at telling the British public what it’s all about and who should win and why.   In was wheeled Culture Show favorite, Lauren Laverne to host the show. With Goldie (an odd choice by anyone’s standards) and art critic, Matthew Collings (looking pretty miffed to be sharing a panel with a DJ of reality TV fame), discussing the pros and cons of the nominees work and making a stab at who was going to win the coveted prize.

What a strange mixture of references this program was, with Mario Testino presented the prize, no less. Fashion’s own darling of photography and friend to millionaires and royalty around the world. At times, I was more curious to know who had decided to put this motley crew together, than which of the four nominated artists was going to win.

You had to admire Matthew Colling’s efforts to explain to Goldie, that an emotional response is not always what an artist is looking to provide within a piece of art. Sadly, Collin’s gallant attempts failed, as Goldie blathered on repetitively about Air-Fix model paint and how moved he was by the nostalgia of the piece.

This expectation of an emotional response to art is an interesting problem and one I feel is shared with poetry. That is to say that some people expect art and poetry to give them an emotional response that they know and recognize. They expect a work of art or poem to somehow remind them of an emotion or to take them back to an occasion when they experienced it.

I beg to differ and so does contemporary art. I think that an experience of art or poetics, although possibly similar to an emotional response of joy, nostalgia, sadness etc is actually different. It is a unique experience of art or poetics. And as such is not a heightened experience of any other recurring human emotion. Contemporary art and contemporary innovative poetry places the question, what is art or poetry within the fabric of the artwork or poem, forcing enquiry as part of the piece, to aide an experience of art or poetics.

When asked by Laverne about his future career prospects Martin Boyce replied, something to the effect of:

‘Don’t you know, I’ve just won the Turner Prize?

He then went on to articulate how influential the Turner Prize has been in bringing contemporary art to the wider British public over the last 25 years:

Even if people don’t care about art, they still know it’s art,” he says. “I think the Turner Prize has been part of that process that has allowed people, whether they

like it or are interested in art… they know it’s art, and that’s a big step.”

My hope is that something like this (possibly minus Mario and Goldie) will happen to contemporary innovative poetry. That more people would start to know more about contemporary innovative poetry and to think about the questions it raises. Maybe then they would realize that the question of poetry, like the question of art, is valid, interesting and can be out there, discussed by many, as the Turner Prize has proven.

You never know this could be beginning. John Kinsella is on the shortlist for the T.S Ellot Prize 2011. I wonder who will be presenting the award?


– Alison Gibb

The Sharp Call of Brass





AT 7:27 THIS MORNING WELLS TOWER woke me with three hard knocks. Loud and muffled. At the time I didn’t know it was him. I was asleep. He was at the door. Staring vacantly at the square chrome clock pillow-high, I reasoned It’s Sunday. Or Saturday. Then I muttered into the sweat-sour duvet something nobody was ever going to hear. Four more bangs  – this time, the sharp call of brass – and a shuffling from beyond two doors, my bedroom door and the one that opens, and closes, on the outside.  He was on the step. Waiting. I cupped my balls, turned over.


‘It was much hotter now, and the sun glared down through the sky like a flashlight behind a sheet.’

11:11. Man! My ankles were angry from having slept in socks too thick, they were pinching hot. I reached for a watch,  and holding my left arm out from under the covers, attached the watchstrap to it. I scruffed at my greasy hair, wiped my hands on the sheets then concertina-ed the duvet into three-even sections, neatly layered at the foot of the bed. I straightened one unruly corner, pulled on yesterday’s clothes.

I found him lying at the bottom of the stairs in a pale rectangle of dirty floorboards where a doormat with a cat’s face used to sleep. His scraped and distorted covering suggested he had squeezed first through the brass letterbox and then through the mouth of synthetic black bristles fitted on the back of it – is there a name for that? I flicked on the kettle, pissed.

On the table next to a borrowed copy of Conrad lie a creased scrap of paper with inky scratchings on it, things to do today. It was yesterday’s list with one item struck through. I made a pot of coffee, opened the fridge and stared at a chubby white paper cup, pineapple and coconut yoghurt. I looked away, closed the fridge door, sprayed the orchids on the kitchen windowsill, opened and closed the fridge again. The fridge appears different with a bright new trawler boat magnetically stuck to it. Trawling is when you weigh down the nets and drag for bottom-feeders. I poured coffee, shook out the last of the milk and took Wells to meet the sofa.


‘Derrick came back into the living room. “Gotta take a ride over the bridge,” he said. “Need to go pull something out of a horse’s pussy.”

“What kind of thing?” Bob asked.

“A baby horse, I hope.”



17:06 It is wintry dark now. The day left without saying goodbye. On the table there is a creased list of things to do. One of them is struck through, still. I shall call to work, tell them, half-sitting, half-lying, I am sick, I cannot leave the sofa and then imagine The Manager recradling the phone, cussing and shunting spectacles higher on her nose, wondering What to do tomorrow?  He may not come again.



– Stuart Bird



Quotations from ‘The Brown Coast’, Wells Tower; Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, London: Granta, 2009.



Wells Tower reads the title story from his debut collection:





Justify my genre



I had planned to mount a long, passionate defense of fantasy as a genre.


I’m not going to do it.


I’m tired of doing it. I’m tired of being asked to defend what I write when others are not asked to defend their genres. I’m tired of trying to explain that fantasy is just another mode in which to tell a story, a mode that often subverts society as we see it, reflects on the human condition in a way not seen in other genres, a mode that clears away the thick, dirty cloud of today’s problems in order to give us answers to those problems, and yet attempts to capture some of the wonder that we left behind in our folktales and myths.


If you already believe that fantasy is more formulaic than other genres, I’m not going to persuade you otherwise. Your mind is set, and I don’t have the time or energy to un-set it.


If you use “fantasy is escapism” as a curse, I’m not going to try to change your view.


If you think fantasy is childish and we should put away childish things, then I pity you.


If you believe fantasy is not as “true” to the human experience than other genres, then I’m sorry for it.


If you don’t like fantasy, then you don’t like fantasy.


Instead, I give you Ursula K. Le Guin:


“You see, I think we have a terrible thing here: a hardworking, upright, responsible citizen, a full-grown, educated person, who is afraid of dragons, and afraid of hobbits, and scared to death of fairies. It’s funny, but it’s also terrible. Something has gone very wrong. I don’t know what to do about it but to try to give an honest answer to that person’s question, even though he often asks it in an aggressive and contemptuous tone of voice. ‘What’s the good of it all?’ he says. ‘Dragons and hobbits and little green men—what’s the use of it?’

The truest answer, unfortunately, he won’t even listen to. He won’t hear it. The truest answer is, ‘The use of it is to give you pleasure and delight.’ ”



–Alexandra Little


The Art of Peeling Potatoes



A very tall Sicilian man, wearing a Speedo, lying on the pebbled beach of Postiano, asked me once, “Can you cook?”

“I can make pasta…and microwave things.”

“My God, never say the word microwave to an Italian!”

He also had a doctorate in food science.

Mom was a good cook, she just didn’t like to do it. She made a lot of Stouffer’s so that, “when the kids went away they could always have a meal just like home.” I’d help occasionally, peeling potatoes or some other menial task, but mostly setting the table and doing dishes afterwards.

I mastered pasta in college. I’m surprised I didn’t balloon, but buttered pasta with Parmesan cheese was my dish. I felt like I was cooking when I get the pot out and waited for the water to boil. I felt chefy when I tasted the pasta to see if it was cooked through. And I watched as my five foot one roommate flitted around the kitchen making fried chicken and pot roast.

My first long-term boyfriend was a decent cook. He worked in a bakery making cakes. I watched him make baked chicken, steaks, salmon, tacos, and an assortment of baked goods. I was excellent at washing dishes. And I’d added sauce to my pasta.

Last year I moved abroad and met a five foot tall Chinese girl from San Francisco named Stephanie. She cooked ear—by tongue?—just like her mother. She’d chop bowls full of peppers, chorizo, mushrooms, and a million other ingredients that she had picked up on a whim, throw them all together, add them to rice (she had her own rice cooker, of course) and call it jambalaya. She cooked for us on her birthday.

Before everyone left for Christmas holidays we had a meal together. Stephanie cooked honey sausage and supervised as our flat mate, Felicia, experimented with baked salmon over pasta with pesto sauce. That break, Felicia went home and cooked for her family and her boyfriend. Her boyfriend stood over her shoulder as she pour honey over sausage links, complaining it would be too sweet, then promptly devouring the entire plate. Felicia was hooked and when everyone returned after break for second semester, it was Felicia who started taking the lead. Stephanie stood to the side, pointing and making suggestions, but happy to have inspired a bit of experimentation. I was happy to eat the experiments and wash the dishes afterward.

We started watching Come Dine With Me that semester. With Stephanie and Felicia upstairs cooking away, I thought, “Eh, it can’t be that hard.” Turns out, the hardest part wasn’t going to be the cooking, but getting Felicia to hand over the reigns and stop stepping in when it was technically my night to experiment. If I wasn’t careful, she’d have everything prepped and in the oven before I had the counters clean enough to work on. Side dishes became my focus, as Felicia had decided she was going to master the main dishes, the meats. I did sauté some great green beans though. And that kitchen was some kind of clean.

This year, especially as Thanksgiving crept closer and closer, I thought back to that Sicilian on the beach and decided I was officially closing the microwave door, kicking the others out of the kitchen, and trying something myself. It helped that the first few attempts took place while Felicia was in Italy on vacation. I made teriyaki chicken stir-fry. It had been one of my favorite dishes of Mom’s and she used to save the leftovers for me so I could have them for lunch the next day. It was a success. With the help of my other flat mate, Anna, supervising, I even added peppers. Then I made Stephanie’s honey sausage. I was catching up, slow as honey dripping from a jar.

Thanksgiving rolled around. We’d made our first official Sunday Roast the week before, as practice. It had gone well, and we were hopeful. Felicia scheduled both Wednesday and Thursday down to the hour for baking and cooking. I was delegated most of the vegetable dishes. Felicia doesn’t eat many vegetables. With the exception of Anna’s green bean casserole, I was in charge of corn on the cob, salad, and four different kinds of potatoes and sweet potatoes. I peeled four bags of tubers. I even started to develop calluses by the end of the day. I made my grandmother’s salad and, with tips from Mom, boiled the corn. And in the end, the only thing that went—mildly—wrong was the burning of the marshmallow topping on the sweet potato casserole. But that was easily fixed with a quick scrape and a new bag of mallows.

As I feel I’ve mastered a few basics, and at least a fair amount of veg, I do hope to turn to mains soon. Though I know I will have to fight Felicia for them. It can be so easy to sit back and let her run around the kitchen, but I do envy that sense of accomplishment she beams as she sets food on the table and watches us all gobble it up. Soon I’ll set her to dish duty. I have plans for a crock pot—thank you Mom for the Christmas present—that will make it easier to sneak in a meal while Felicia is at work, and surprise everyone when they return to a flat smelling of roasting beef, gravy, chopped carrots, and of course, potatoes.



Sarah Veeder




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