Midnight in Paris (USA, 2011, Woody Allen)
Thus Spake Ben Livant:
Thus Spake Ben Livant:
I am pleased with the timing on this. I had the opportunity to see this picture prior to visiting Paris this summer. To my credit, I declined the inviation of Monica and Audrey to go with them to the movie theatre. I am so glad I did. Before actually being there this year, my image of Paris given by cinema was b/w, a 60s take provided by 400 Blows, Band of Outsiders. Midnight in Paris is nothing if not a tourist postcard from today - and good thing it is this, otherwise it really would be close to nothing - so I'm grateful I didn't get the card before walking down the Champ-Elysees on my own two feet.
Woody Allen was reactionary about New York back when he was at the peak of his auteur power and fame. Already in the 70s his cultural frame of reference was the 40s. It is oddly fascinating to see him in his senior years transpose his Brooklyn idolotry about Manhatten onto the capitals of Europe. London, Barcelona, Paris. It's as if he perceives the decline of the American empire and is taking flight accordingly. But to what? Doesn't he listen when one of his assistants reads him the newspaper? The European project is not exactly on top of the world at this point in history.
But Woody prefers not to be at this point in history. That's the whole point. The little moral lesson in Midnight in Paris about living in the present notwithstanding. Watching the movie is like listening to McCartney sing that silly love song about silly love songs. Whatever realistic insight there is in the film about the need to reject nostalgia is just a cover for being nostalgic. Surely it is possible to feel the power of the past in a positive way without falling into invidious comparison with the present, succumbing to wistful regret about having missed out on yesterday.
Or should I take exception with Allen's escapism from the opposite point of view? Honestly,Midnight in Paris is a harmless exercise in fantasy with a lovely patina of romance and a few good jokes besides. But come on, if you're going to go back and talk to Picasso, have a damn good conversation! Time travel provides an opportunity that should not be squandered. Did the movie have to be so intellectually lite? But here I go forgetting what generally passes for intellectual these days. (Don't mind me. I happen to be putting myself through a reading course in Nietzsche.) So I'll just appreciate another bit of good timing for me; i.e., my rewatching of The Exterminating Angel just last week. Really enjoyed the gag with Bunuel.
Hey, I really enjoyed the entire movie. Owen Wilson and his bent nose are charming. He does a pretty good goyische version of Allen's own loveable neurotic. What's not to like, seriously? OK, it's fluff. Take the line about the Belle Epoque maybe not being the best period ever, what with there being no antibiotics then - funny, fine, good enough. On the other hand, the one seriously substantive line in the film is when the wanna-be-novelist reckons out loud that literature or painting or any other work of art can not compete with the power of architecture and the statement it makes in the city as a totality. Right or wrong, this is no trivial notion with which to contend.
And I do have to corroborate the sensation. Paris blew me away on many levels but if I had to identify the strongest force of the place that was consistently in my face, it would have to be that of Haussmann's modernization of a medieval city. Not to wave a Whiggish flag about progress. Rather to prefer a dialectical understanding of historical development instead of nostalgia. Failing to choose between these two options leaves Paris - and the rest of the world - prey to ahistorical commodification. Such makes it satisfying to see the Eiffel Tower in Vegas. (Not a personal shot.)
The problems I had with the film you have covered capably. Despite the substantial intellectual context of the film's playground (1920s Paris),it is almost completely insubstantial. Interestingly, in Woody's latest film (To Rome With Love) he has a wizened Alec Baldwin critique a young ingenue for knowing just barely enough about a wide range of artists (one line of an Ezra Pound poem, a quote from Yeats) to appear far more intelligent that she really is. He could, of coure, be talking about himself, as the historical figures we meet in Midnight in Paris are not much more than caricatures sketched out of widely available information. I doubt that Allen frequents Wikipedia, but it would sufficiently prepare any neophyte to his treatment of this period.
That said, I found Midnight in Paris to be wonderfully crafted, artfully rendered, and fitfully hilarious ("Dali!") It is nostalgic fluff (for all its faux rejection thereof), but it's my brand of fluff. Consider me sold.