Picture this: After a seriously stunning montage of daily Parisian views, your screen falls completely dark, save for some opening credits. The only sensory input one then receives is the dialogue that opens this film, and this is what you hear:
Gil: This is unbelievable! Look at this! There’s no city like this in the world. There never was.
Inez: You act like you’ve never been here before.
Gil: I don’t get here often enough, that’s the problem. Can you picture how drop dead gorgeous this city is in the rain? Imagine this town in the ’20s. Paris in the ’20s, in the rain. The artists and writers!
Inez: Why does every city have to be in the rain? What’s wonderful about getting wet?
The moment Gil dropped his fabulous opinion out there on the nature of rain adding to the beauty of a place and time, I leaned forward with intense interest, my very first reaction being, “Oh my god. THAT’S SO ME!”
What follows is an absolute delight of a film, and I am ashamed to say that, despite it having been released LAST summer, I just now got around to seeing it. Right off the bat, last year, my friend the Madam, who knows me quite well, told me, “Sooz, you HAVE to see Midnight in Paris, it is SO YOU. You will totally Get It.” It was duly noted. However, although I have always been at least somewhat of a Woody Allen fan over the years, J has never really been. Thus, my perpetual suggestions to witness this brilliant piece of work always went unfulfilled. There is something to be said for living in The Room, though, where sometimes the RedBox up the street is your finest form of inexpensive entertainment, as he finally acquiesced. Oh happy day!
If the opening dialogue grabbed me from the get-go with my immediate ability to relate to Gil, the rest held me in thrall for the entire 94 minute ride.
Here’s this guy, a “hack screenwriter,” who longs to pursue his passion for true writing, and who is madly in love with the idea of Paris in the 1920s and all of the writers and artists who came together in that city, during that era. An outcast among the truly insidious group of people he is experiencing Paris with (non-understanding fiance, plasticine shallow future in-laws, egotistical Expert who knows everything about everything…), Gil can feel the history of the city all around him. His writerly and artistic nature and his longing for another time, combined with the appreciation of a city so historical that its past continues to sing out to the open and willing, is most certainly something that I can relate to.
The first time that clock struck midnight and that car rolled up and pulled him into the 1920s, I will admit to a fair amount of jealousy, as that is one of my favorite eras as well. I adore Picasso. I respect Hemingway and Fitzgerald and Dali. I sing along to Cole Porter. I have a ridiculous passion for cloche hats. You get the idea. (And, really, I would never turn down an opportunity to boogie with F. Scott Fitzgerald, particularly as portrayed by Tom Hiddleston. The man is brilliant.)
Paul: 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 one’s living in – it’s a flaw in the romantic imagination of those people who find it difficult to cope with the present.
It is an easy thing, and I think quite common, for one to yearn for past eras, other times. It is the “Grass is greener on the other side of the hourglass” mentality, that an “older and simpler” era MUST be better, MUST be truly more simple…when in reality, it is no different or better than the world we live in now. Each era, every passage throughout history, owns its own share of turmoil, and also its own particular amount of beauty. This is amply reflected by the 1920s object of Gil’s affection who, the 1920s being HER reality, longs for the Belle Époque era of Paris at the turn of the century.
Being a literary individual, as well as an artist with an underlying enjoyment of art history and a love of past eras, I found this film highly relatable, from that perspective. But I also found it to be quite poignant to me in another way, from the perspective of one who has just moved to New Orleans, another city of the world where the past is tangible on a daily basis.
I mentioned this briefly not too long ago, when the ships docked on the Mississippi and I stood on the wharf, eyes closed, transported. The past reaches out and grabs you here, sometimes. And for me, having somewhat of an empathic nature, it can be downright physical. Shortcutting down Pirate’s Alley, for example, when one of those spontaneous lulls occurs where traffic sounds disappear, and all you hear are people, a little music…and then, suddenly, the St. Louis Cathedral bell rings precisely at the same time as the Natchez steamboat whistle hollers out from the river and echoes over Jackson Square. It’s a magical moment, you can feel the vacuum of history eddy up around your entire being and then…WHOOM, the 21st century whirls back into focus and it’s alarming and shocking and for a moment you catch yourself wondering, “What IS that sound?!” in response to someone’s thumping bass as their car cruises by on St. Peter.
In places this old, and most certainly in places far older, the layered veils between Now and Then are very, very thin. I feel it, all the time. So if, some night, I am in Jackson Square when the cathedral bell tolls midnight, and no one hears from me again…I’ll be talking about writing with Faulkner, or Williams. Or dancing to Louis Prima or maybe Armstrong somewhere in Storyville. Or, if I accidentally fall farther back than that, learning secrets from Marie Laveau, or smuggling something with Jean Lafitte. Who knows?
God I love this city. Especially in the rain. And I love love LOVED Midnight in Paris.
Oh, and despite his reluctance, J’s final opinion? He thought it was pretty durned great, too. 😉
Featured Image: Not quite midnight, a night-vision photograph of the St.Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square that I took in 2008. And artsied up a little. The old-fashioned sans-phone way.