Thursday, June 9, 2011

Glorious Literary Paris in the Twenties

Woody Allen’s new movie, “Midnight in Paris,” is great fun for those who love literature and especially for those who read about and dream about the golden days of American writers in Paris in the 1920s. The protagonist of the film, a screenwriter and would-be novelist (and clearly a stand-in for Allen himself) named Gil, is visiting Paris and completely enchanted with the city and with his visions of staying there and writing, just like his 1920s-era literary heroes. Magically, at midnight one night, and then for many nights after, he is picked up by a vintage car and transported into the 1920s, talking, drinking, and dancing with writers such as F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, and Djuna Barnes, and with artists such as Picasso and Dali. Gil is dazed and then can’t believe his good fortune, as he moves through a golden haze of 1920s Parisian pleasures, just the way we all imagine it was. The portrayal of Hemingway is a hilarious parody; the film Hemingway speaks in an exaggerated version of the way the real Hemingway wrote: in short, forceful sentences about how to be a real man and a real writer. The movie is clearly Allen’s love letter to Paris and to what we all imagine was a magical time in literary history. Gil eventually has an epiphany that we all think the past was a golden age and our present is always dull in comparison; this epiphany seems tacked on, and in no way detracts from the gorgeous and beautifully filmed portrayal of 1920s literary Paris. I wouldn’t say this is the greatest film Allen has made, but it is very enjoyable, and fulfills a fantasy many lovers of literature have had about living the literary life in Paris.

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