Friday night I indulged in this splendidly imagined movie with a movie-going friend who has the world's most detailed eye for sets and costume. We both were spirited into a magical world that fulfilled the title character's dream life and I, so obsessed with Paris' once literary elite, was re-invigorated in remembering the authors and their lives as they stole through my consciousness in University.
I cannot talk of the Golden Age of Artistic Paris: the effervescent 1920s without casting a thought for Morley Callaghan whose own A Moveable Feast, That Summer in Paris so held my imagination in my early, creative 20s.
A snippet of what I wrote on the anniversary of Morley Callaghan's Birthday:
"Morley Callaghan would have been 100 years old today. And what a jam-packed century he would have had. He already filled more than a lifetime usually allots in the first fifty years. His best writing was done when he was young, his greatest adventures played out mighty early, and all of his literary flings and acclaims came at a young age. Yes, I have romanticized Morley's early years, what with their splash of Parisian panache ( and what with his clobbering of Ernest Hemingway---- don't make me get into the climax of That Summer in Paris as a Canadian literary metaphor again ), but he defines a golden age of sorts for me. I envision him wandering aimlessly around 1920's Toronto---every snippet of his life reading out of the pages of his novel, A Varsity Story. I imagine him, as I often was, curled up in one of the red leather chairs of the Hart House Library at U of T and looking over the courtyards and spires, slightly interrupted by the pealing of the tower bell.And then, there is Paris and Morley's dappling into the lives of the Literary Elite. He defines Paris for me. Whenever I think of it with its dazzling life, parties and pizazz, I rarely think of anything I did not read of in the pages of Callaghan's autobiography. Forget We Were all so Young or A Moveable Feast. Canadians had their own agent in the flapper years!
When I discovered that Allen's latest was an homage to arguably one of the most artistically important decades of the 20th Century, I was eager to see how his vision matched my imaginative strolls by L' Arc de Triomphe and along the Seine.
How impressed I was at the marriage of modern with fabled past. Certainly Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Salvidor Dali, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald et. al are characterizations against a backdrop of glittering, gilded golden age; but it is the treatise on the power of imagination and creative sundry that most beguiled me.
Modern writer Gil is disenchanted with the city he yearns to roam in the rain. He is constricted to Hollywood scripts and his naggy fiance seems to strip the romance out of a city he has long harboured a passion for. At midnight, every night, he is catapulted back to his Golden Age: there, he meets the literary and artistic greats fully realizing the wealth of the decade that has spirited into his nostalgic writing.
Of course, come sun-up, the world is gone and nought but the strains of a Cole Porter tune follow him from the starry beyond. What the experience offers him in terms of creative development and how he learns that each artist pines for an era that, when recreated, can only be drained of its spark and pizzazz, is magic....
Woody Allen understands me. He understood me in Purple Rose of Cairo when he allowed a fictional world to seep into the "real" one and he understands how, like the beautiful Adriana, I have long desired to spirit back to the 19th Century: the canvas of gaslit lamps and the clomp of hansom cab hooves. But, he also explains what is lost when we attempt to catch a fleeting moment. As enchanted as Gil's moonlight walks are, he is well aware that living in the past would only strip it of its incessant charm. That, like those who yearned to live in pasts before him, no one can completely capture the Golden Age. Like clouds or stars, it would evaporate quickly upon our fleeting touch.
Midnight in Paris was divine. Like Purple Rose of Cairo, it makes me feel like Woody Allen holds a slice of my psyche. It's a treatise on nostalgia: the Golden Age, La Belle Epoque. It tampers with we imaginative sorts and expels the subtle threads of revelry that steal into commonplace thought. It's magical, deliciously Romantic, delightful.
I referred to it as 20th Century Literary porn: if you have ever cackled at Hemingway's hyper-masculinity or snickered at Dali's obsession with animal abstracts then this is the film for you.
Allen is just as enchanted and obsessed as we are; but his eye and savvy camera glance re-affirm us that what is best dreamt stays just where it is--- in dreams.