(Originally posted at HuffPost Entertainment, June 30, 2011.)
Midnight In Paris, Woody Allen's latest movie, romanticizes the City of Light to the point of nostalgia. This is not the Paris of the 3rd millennium, but the Paris of every writer's dream.
Paris is a gem. The film opens with perfect vistas; a golden lit Pont Neuf, Bateau Mouches sailing down the Seine in romantic splendor, manicured gardens, the Eiffel tower sparkling at night. It's the city with every hair in place. Parisians are well dressed, gorgeous and very cool. Besides, everything is in French. As my friend, the poet Kit Kennedy, penned: "Everything in French sounds like an invitation."
Yes, I have been smitten by Paris, and plead guilty to falling under sufficient dose of inspiration to compose a short story about a magical experience there. Yes, I've had my picture taken under the street sign "Rue de Colette," visited Victor Hugo's home, and fell in love with the outdoor markets and Tuilerries. I love the tiny streets around Musée Picasso and the Montparnasse cemetery where Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre are buried. Until recently, my only regret was that I had refused an offer to live with a lover in Paris when I was 30.
Paris is so yesterday.
In the movie, our hero, Gil, played by Owen Wilson, is a writer of 'serious' intent -- a Hollywood hack whose had it with 'the business'. Gil is engaged to Inez (Rachel McAdams) a superficial bitch who not only wants to hitch herself to Gil's rising star, but is having romantic trysts with a former professor while Gil gets lost every night -- at midnight -- in a time warp wandering the streets of Paris in the '20s. Paris in the '20s is his obsession, his fantasy of the key that will unlock his brilliance and existential soul.
But Paris is so yesterday. Hemingway (played by Corey Stoll) is a narcissistic dolt. Dali is insane, Picasso is an egotistical jealous sex maniac, Zelda is a spoiled brat and Fitzgerald is a pantywaist. Gertrude Stein is the only caring one of the bunch. But could that be true?
Here's what we love about the French: a respect of art and artists is encoded on the strands of their DNA. It's not outside of them, it is embodied; French activities from cooking to conversation to loving are taken to the level of 'art.' But the relationship of the French to art, doesn't appear to be Allen's point. His point is about the past, and our longing for it.
Back to the story: Stein reads Gil's manuscript and likes it -- a writers' fantasy equal, probably, to the fantasy of, say, a three-way for a sexed-up guy. Gil wanders every night knocking around from party to café, from fantasy to fantasy, returning to his hotel room, inspired to write his piece de resistance. Things quickly go south with Inez.
And then the clincher: the deep moment at the end, when Wilson waxes poetic to the über sweet Adriana (Marion Cotillard) -- whose own fantasy is to live in the Belle Epoque: "We all want to live in a different time."
And that's my point -- Paris is so yesterday.
For artists, for American artists, for writers and sculptors and painters, the time is not Paris in the '20s, or the Belle Époque, or the Beat Generation, or NY in the '80s. The time is NOW.
In Midnight in Paris, Gil is drawn to the Paris of the '20s by the promise of camaraderie and parties, to a city crawling with amazing and fantastic artists. Paris in the '20s was a virtual recreation of the Renaissance with its plethora of artists and writers striking out into new forms. There was Impressionism, the rise of the novel, Stravinsky, Virginia Woolf, Collette -- all simultaneously combusting. No contest! It is what captures the imagination -- the dream of one artist inspiring another, the dream of open doors and the key ingredient -- energy.
That is the very energy combusting right now in San Francisco. On any given night a multitude of incredibly cool events (and parties) occur: lectures, films, jazz, poetry readings and dance performances. Many are free, and very festive. And that's just in SF. America has LA, NY, Chicago, DC, Nashville, Seattle, Portland, Austin and other fine
cities where artists are grooving and inspired.
You want to know a secret? The French are here! They've had it with formality. It's great to have a chateau in the family for 10 generations, but the young ones are tired of it; they want a little room spread out, and grow.
And although we Americans might never possess that certain je ne se quoi of the French, like the good innovators we are, we've stolen what we liked and made it our own.
Many nights, and I've had many after the past three years promoting two new books, I leave the café, bookstore or gallery where I've given a reading and think: "This is it! I am living the writing life. I'm not in Paris. I'm in San Francisco. And it's very, very cool."
Causes Joan Gelfand Supports
Rural India Foundation; Sierra Club; Women's National Book Association; PEN; Trails Forever;