I had not planned on going to all three of Michael Murphy’s events at the Wisconsin Film Festival. I thought I would hit “Phase IV” for sure, and then maybe “Brewster McCloud” just to hear the actor tell Robert Altman stories. But that was it. Certainly not Woody Allen’s “Manhattan,” which I love but have seen plenty of times in my life.
And there I was, watching “Manhattan” at the Union South Marquee Theater. And loving it. Because it’s “Manhattan.” And it’s Michael Murphy.
Murphy is just such a great storyteller and such a gregarious guy (and, let’s face it, “Manhattan” is such a wonderful film) that I couldn’t pass up the chance. Festival director of programming Jim Healy said it was a new print of “Manhattan,” and the black-and-white shots of ’70s New York looked awesome on the big screen. I got chills during that final “Rhapsody in Blue” overture. And, after Allen’s spotty later years, it’s just such a pleasure to return to the sharp writing (with UW-Madison graduate Marshall Brickman) of his peak years.
So, of course, Murphy talked during the Q&A about how much Allen never liked “Manhattan,” so much that he wanted to take the print back from the studio and make them another film for free. Murphy said he agreed with actor Pat Healy, who was at the screening, that Allen might have been so uncomfortable with the film because it hit so close to home.
“This is as close to Woody as you’ll ever see,” Murphy said.
Murphy and Allen became friends while acting together on 1976’s “The Front,” and Murphy said what you see in “Manhattan” is pretty much their lives together (minus the adultery,etc.) “We had a million meals at that table in Elaine’s, some unbelievable conversations,” he said. “It was just like going out and having dinner with your friends.”
Murphy also told some funny stories about Allen’s notorious hypochondria, such as convincing himself that he had a brain tumor after listening to a lot of George Gershwin, who died of a brain tumor. Another time, Murphy remembered trying to convince Allen that he wouldn’t die young, noting that both his parents lived to be well into their 90s.
“Genetics will only get you so far, Murphy,” Allen reportedly responded.