Friday, June 3, 2011
Wait. Before you step into that time machine check the weather report. You might come out in the middle of Russian winter or Equatorial sandstorm. And all you asked was to spend a week with Pushkin or chat with Lawrence of Arabia. As my mother never said, You gotta take the bad with the good.
Woody Allen’s delightful new film has us walking down a Parisian street, 2011, and ending up in the 1920s in the company of Hemmingway, Fitzgerald, Picasso and Cole Porter whose, Let’s Do It, Let’s Fall In Love could have served as an anthem for the movie and for the decade. Paris never looked better even in the rain; particularly in the rain. Allen’s surrogate character is Gil played at perfect pitch by Owen Wilson; a not-too-exasperated Woody, just wide-eye innocent and dreamy. Paris sizzles in the company of the surrealists, Dali, Bunuel and Man Ray who pose and juxtapose and in soirees with Gertrude Stein where everybody was somebody.
One of my favorite scenes has Gil taking credit for suggesting the theme of Bunuel's 1972 film, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie. Bunuel doesn't understand his own movie.
Of course most people were nobody. The city was devastated after the WW I with a generation literally and figuratively lost to the crime of war itself. I expect Paris was inhabited by cripples, amputees, widows and pensioners. However it was still a destination for many Americans as well as the French poets, artists, dancers and writers who found it a crucible for experimentation and counter-convention expression.... and the price was right at the cafes.
As the film shrewdly suggests this golden age did not seem so to all those living in it. The romantic interest for our time-traveler longs for the fin de siècle period of the Belle Epoque. When she is deposited there she opts to stay with Matisse, Lautrec, Gauguin and Degas, crazy for the Can-Can. We all romanticize the generation before us since the present is opaque.
Perhaps those in late 19th century were blind to Art Nouveau and pined for the grandeur of Versailles. But one needs to fine tune the time machine. A tad of a misdial could land a person in the mob storming the Bastille or worse; being knitted into Madame La Farge’s scarf.
Could it really be that these fin de siècle years circa 2000 will be some future dreamer’s idea of a great time and place to be, pondering the meaning of life in a godless world over a dusted frappaccino at Starbucks while clicking his apps? I’ll leave that one for Woody Allen’s disciples.