17 julio 2011

Woody Allen dwells on writers' cramp...

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Midnight in Paris: On writers' cramp

By Delfina Morganti H.-
The Illusion of the Past as a Golden Age
I got a friend, Shirli (most succinctly defined as budding Web designer and period artist), who used to tell me that her aim and ambition was to live elsewhere (Rome, London or Paris, almost anywhere in Europe would do), just "anywhere but here". We grew up together and been best friends for the most part of our lives, Shirli and I, and as I am a writer I love meeting her over a cup of tea to discuss 18th-century, Jane-Austen-like times: although at one-and-twenty we now lead busier, more frantic and yet 21st-century-stuck lives, I can't help dreaming out loud about how my life would have been had I met my literary heroes face to face, discussed my work with Henry James or visited Oscar Wilde for useful tips while he was in jail. Whenever she and I discuss our art, she adopts the shape of a blank page for me where I can write as fast as I speak. Shirli gives me that knowing look, that gaze that reveals how much she sympathises with my crazy psyche and my old-fashioned ideals of what fictional characters should be made up of. And that's because she is almost as mad for Medieval Times as I am for 18th-century England.

Now, whoever asserts that they've never felt like they belonged to a time and place other than the present and still claims to be an artist is a fool: to suffer from such nostalgia can be most surprisingly enlightening!

Gil Pender (Owen Wilson),
strolling around Paris along the river Seine.

Midnight in Paris, written and directed by Woody Allen and starring Owen Wilson (Zoolander, Wedding Crashers) and Rachel McAdams (Sherlock Holmes, Awakening) does also feature a bundle of remarkable names, such as exquisite Kathy Bates (Fried Green Tomatoes, Titanic), charming Michael Sheen (The Queen, Frost/Nixon), timeless Adrian Brody (The Pianist) and mellifluous Marion Cotillard (La vie en rose, Inception), with a touching yet not that ground-breaking cameo by the ever-beautiful Carla Bruni. In its widespread sense, the film evolves around the so-called "Golden Age Syndrome": the nostalgic, Wordsworth/Byron-like romantic feeling that can lead to imagine that if we had been born in a different time, the one each of us subjectively rate as the golden age, we would have led a merrier life... But, alas!—it takes all sorts to make the world, just as it takes all sorts to pick and choose a golden age!

Marion Cotillard (Adriana) and Owen Wilson,
Paris in the roaring 20s.
Midnight in Paris: A synopsis
The story features the ever-longed-for cosmopolitan city of Paris, the quintessential scenario that has exceptionally bred a parade of some of the best-known international artists in history, as well as it has honourably borne witness to some of the most  remarkable fiction writers and designers till the present day. Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) embodies the cliché of a somewhat frustrated screenwriter who comes to experience a moment of self-realisation that spurs him on to try his luck and talent at writing the first novel of his life. Inez (McAdams), his fiancée, is quite his opposite: a rather down-to-earth, appearance-trusting, narrow-minded American woman whose interests lie in meeting her parents' high standards and choosing the right paraphernalia for her wedding. 

Gil in retrospection.
In the quest for a true source of inspiration and despite a most sceptical circle of  acquaintances who believe "he's got a part missing", Gil eventually manages to reach the summit of his ambitions: all he has ever wanted comes true when, after drinking perhaps too much wine at a social gathering, he gets lost and ends up resting at the foot of a staircase along a strange yet somehow typical Parisian street. As soon as the clock strikes twelve, the adventure begins and he gets cheerfully invited to join an unknown yet promising set of party-goers who pop up on board of a 1920s-style car. Once introduced to an alluring woman guest who turns out to be Zelda Fitzgerald and who subsequently introduces him to her husband, Scott Fitzgerald, the penny doesn't take much time to drop: as he meets the overwhelming figure Ernest Hemingway, croaking the most fascinating and wittiest of words concerning the writing craft, Gil realises he has accidentally embarked on a journey to his favourite history period: the roaring 20s.

Alison Pill and Tom Hiddleston as
Zelda Fitzgerald and F.Scott Fitzgerald.
Within the blink of an eye, Gil Pender finds himself discussing Mark Twain over a pint with Ernest Hemingway, whom on being asked to read Gil's novel argues that he might not be the right person to give him the right sort of advice: Hemingway himself admits that if the novel's bad, he will hate it, and that if it's actually good, he will come to envy Gil so much that he will hate it even the more for it. "Writers are competitive," Hemingway asserts. Still, in an earnest attempt not to deny Gil the chance of getting reviewed by some other well-known writer, Hemingway recommends that Gil takes the manuscript to a friend of his, Gertrude Stein. Gil drops his mouth in amazement— he can hardly believe his luck!

Kathy Bates as Gertrude Stein.
From Fitzgerald party-lovers and "drunkard" Hemingway to an all-time-witty Gertrude Stein and confident but moody Picasso, the film is packed with purposeful references to and an unforgettable dose of reminiscence of those cultural icons who have left so crucial a trace in the history of art and literature in general that they are still hugely relevant to any budding artist nowadays. 

The Midnight in Paris FORMULA
In this truly magnificent work of art by Woody Allen, the anywhere-but-here bliss, the "Golden Age syndrome", as quoted, seems to be lurking at every turn: inside the main character's buzzing mind, within the lines uttered by the most memorable timeless characters and even in the eyes of a tourist guide or those of the flea-market/music-stall girl. However, just as in Allen's latter work (You will meet a tall dark stranger), there is a myriad of other motives featured in Midnight in Paris, and the sense of incompatibility that leads an engaged-to-be-married couple to break up at long last is one of them. 

Woody Allen and Carla Bruni, on set.
Gil Pender is a writer. The only way we fiction writers manage to deal with and survive the present world is through living a second life in a parallell one that better meets our own personal hopes and expectations. Some times, we open up ourselves to others and try to share that world in an attempt to get better understood by them—the outcome is usually not very promising, and most of the times ends up being not in the least fruitful. 
Such seems to be Gil's case. For a broom-to-be so fond of Cole Porter and walking under the rain, a bride-to-be as Inez will not do: Gil needs wistful, terrific and romantic—Inez wants it useful, scientific and frantic. She can't see the point of walking in the pouring rain while they could simply take a cab, nor does she go in for strolling around Paris at midnight while they could just join her friends for a much "cooler" plan, an evening dance.

Gil Pender, overwhelmed at
the sight of typical 20s scene.
In the quest for inspiration
During one of his midnight journeys, our Ulyses bumps into Pablo Picasso's fianceé, a certain Adriana who, as confessed by herself, has been mistress to an embarrassingly wide proportion of Paris' artistic circle. Due to both her beauty and her irresistible charm, Gil feels inevitably drawn to her. Later on, at some point, he comes to discuss his bit of a mixed blessing concerning Inez (his wife-to-be) and Adriana (the girl he feels so attracted to) with Salvador Dalí (Adrien Brody) and two of the artist's closest friends, a photographer and a film director. "A man in love with a woman from a different era", Dalí comes to label Gil's issue. "I see a photograph," suggests one of his friends. "I see a film", claims the other. "I see a big problem without a solution," says Gil pulling a face, and to cap it all, Dalí cries, "I see a rhinoceros." The joke, of course, is fully charged with cultural references to one of Dalí's favourite motives, but it can almost equally be understood from context since the guy was clearly fascinated by these animals, and utters the word "rhinoceros" at least four times within the same scene.

Adrian Brody as Salvador Dalí.
An exquisitely dazzling, truly enlightening Woody-Allen piece
When Gil eventually confesses his passion for Adriana to her and gives her a pair of earrings as a present, they travel further back in time to Adriana's golden age: la Belle Époque. It is then that they meet Toulouse-Lautrec and his friends, and while discussing the sudden change in time, Gil's epiphany is drawn to an end. He finally realises that so long as everyone pictures the past as a better time to live in, everyone will choose a different time as their golden age. For Gil, it was the 20s; for Adriana, la Belle Époque, for Toulouse-Lautrec's circle, the Renaissance, and so on.

With an absolutely inspiring setting and photography quality, Midnight in Paris can hardly be described in words. It is an impossible-to-miss film both for anyone who acknowledges him/herself as an artist (whether it be a painter, a writer or whatever) as well as a must-see for those who enjoy an extra dose of cultural references embedded within a hilarious dramatic comedy. And just in case you may be ready not to buy it, costume design and soundtrack will both keep nagging at you, adding to the genesis of the right time and setting in a truly artistic as well as realistic manner.
Director and writer
Woody Allen.
To put it in a nutshell, to accomplish an artistic triumph in the big screen can't be an easy task, not even for a practised veteran professional such as Woody Allen. Yet, he succeeds in portraying an awfully romantic picture of the very essence of writers: the tragedy of being hardly ever understood by our closest friends, that sense of passion which comes through pain and suffering, and the relentlessly pleasant state of solitude that needs to befall that of enlightenment so that, in the tranquillity of selfish loneliness, we can just sit and write. ◘ ◘ 

Midnight in Paris official Website:

Photos: Google Images and "De Articulos y Revisiones".

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