Early on in 2011, I ran into Boston photographer Jonathan Stark who was raving about the newly released Midnight in Paris. He went on about the film’s casting, intriguing narrative, aesthetic qualities and the fact that it would be up my alley. Admittedly, I filed away his glowing review but approached pulling the trigger on viewing the actual film with trepidation. My wounds had not yet healed from my most recent foray into Woody Allen flicks, Small Time Crooks.
I think I made it through 5 minutes(including credits) of STC before I had had enough. Hearing Woody Allen bark, “AY FRENCHY, I GOTTA HAVE MY 6Gs” in a forced blue-collar New Yorker accent was more that I could take. It sent me bolting across the room to maniacally eject the DVD and search for keys to scratch the disc/my eyes out.
But then I remembered Matchpoint, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Annie Hall and my systems stabilized.
So, what was I saying about Midnight in Paris?
Oh, right. I finally succumbed to the film once it became available On Demand. Good decision.
“Gil and Inez travel to Paris as a tag-along vacation on her parents’ business trip. Gil is a successful Hollywood writer but is struggling on his first novel. He falls in love with the city and thinks they should move there after they get married, but Inez does not share his romantic notions of the city or the idea that the 1920s was the golden age. When Inez goes off dancing with her friends, Gil takes a walk at midnight and discovers what could be the ultimate source of inspiration for writing. Gil’s daily walks at midnight in Paris could take him closer to the heart of the city but further from the woman he’s about to marry.”
It’s more than that though. While in Paris, through a series of plot spoiling circumstances, Owen Wilson’s character rubs elbows with the likes of Gertrude Stein, Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, Man Ray, T.S. Elliot, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Cole Porter.
Such a roster may seem like the film is setting itself up to be a history-buff pissing match with your co-viewers, but in actuality the motley crue of characters is one of things that makes Midnight in Paris so fascinating.
I was overcome with curiosity as to the feasibility of such an arrangement. Were all these icons really living in Paris? Did Hemingway run in the same circles as Dali? Do their timelines coincide? Since I was watching at home, I was able to do a bit of Googling and realized that most of the film matched up accurately with historical records. Hemingway did indeed hang out with Stein and Fitzgerald, Dali and Man Ray were thick as thieves, and the connections continued on. I can’t say I have stopped many films in my day to conduct impromptu research, but learning more about the figures’ works, mannerisms, traits, and the significance of their time spent in Paris truly enriched the experience.
(Salvador Dali and Man Ray)
(Spoiler paragraph?)The life of Owen Wilson’s character, Gil is convincingly woven in with that of the historical characters. I was almost taken aback when I put the pieces together regarding the underlying crux of the film, a sort of “grass is always greener” syndrome. Upon recognizing this overarching idiom, synapses fired, and I then began to understand how it applied to all elements/interactions/conflicts/situations throughout the film.
“Nostalgia is denial – denial of the painful present… the name for this denial is golden age thinking – the erroneous notion that a different time period is better than the one ones living in – its a flaw in the romantic imagination of those people who find it difficult to cope with the present.” -Michael Sheen’s character, Paul
I consider myself to be a fairly nostalgic person, and this harsh(but true) remark resonated with me–maybe I am a victim of this “golden age of thinking”. It almost makes me question whether my escapist visions of being on the underground scene in New York City during the 70’s-early 80’s wouldn’t have been as fabulous as my imagination would like me to believe.