“You're in love with a fantasy.”
As an Art History/Museum Education major I have studied all the major art movements and their time periods. My favorite periods/styles are the Italian Renaissance, art during the French Revolution, Pre- Raphaelites, Impressionism, Post- Impressionism, Art Nouveau, Surrealism, and Art Deco. Last year at the International Center of Photography in New York City I was fortunate to see an exhibit called Twilight Visions: Surrealism and Paris. The exhibit featured photography by Surrealist photographers Man Ray, Ilse Bing, Brassaï, Germaine Krull, André Kertesz, Eugène Ategt, Dora Maar, André Breton, and many others. The photographs were all of Paris and the Parisian people at night in various hot spots. Most of the photographs are of common Parisian sites like the Eiffel Tower and The Pont Neuf but they were all taken from different angles and most of them at night with haunting and stimulating lighting. The photographs were incredible and so beautiful they let my imagination of Paris during that time soar. But it was not until I was in England last summer when I picked up a biography on Lee Miller that I truly started to imagine what life must have been like in Paris during the 1920s with all the artistic and literary figures gathering in the city at cafés and going to decadent parties. Paris was the artistic and cultural center of the world and never in one point in history was so many of these incredible people gathered all together at once. Just imagining seeing Gertrude Stein with Picasso and Matisse and Hemingway in a café or seeing Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald at a party gives me shivers of excitement.
I had been hearing so much about Woody Allen’s latest movie Midnight in Paris. All I knew about the movie was Marion Cotillard was in it and that it took place in Paris which these two aspects were enough for me to want to see it. I got a little uptight seeing Owen Wilson as the main character because the guy drives me nuts but he was actually really good as Gil Pender. Once the movie got going I was so pleasantly surprised at the plot because it is my Art History loving heart’s dream.
Gil and his fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) are in Paris with her parents. Gil loves Paris he would really like to move there so he can write his book. Inez and her parents do not like the city and they do not like the French. Inez’s parents do not really think anything of Gil and she is totally wrong for him she is so demanding and keeps putting him down. To make the trip worse for Gil a former teacher of Inez named Paul and his wife are in Paris at the same time and Inez makes plans with them instead of just spending time taking in the sites with him (Gil).
That night after a wine tasting party Paul and his wife invite Inez and Gil to go dancing. Gil does not want to go at all that is not his thing so he decides to walk back to the hotel. He gets lost when he stops at a corner on a side street. The clock strikes twelve when all the sudden an old fashioned car pulls up and the people inside shout for Gil to come with them to a party. They are all dresses in 1920s era clothing and so are the people at the party. At the party he notices the man who is singing at the piano from old sheet music. The first guest he talks to tells him her name is Zelda and her husband comes over and he introduces himself as Scott Fitzgerald. Gil thinks they are just pretending to be the famous literary couple but they are serious. He then realizes that the man on the piano is Cole Porter.
The Fitzgeralds invite Gil to go out on the town with him and he has a great time. Towards the end of the night they come to small café where sitting at a table is Ernest Hemingway. Gil cannot believe that he is talking to one his literary heroes and questions the writer and tells him about his own book. Hemingway tells Gil that he will not read his book but will take him to see Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates) the next night so she could read it. Gil leaves the café after Scott and Zelda leave but he realizes he never asked Hemingway where to meet the following day and when he runs back to café it is a modern day Laundromat.
Gil cannot believe that he spent the night with great literary figures and that he is going to be giving his book to Gertrude Stein to read. The next night the same car arrives at midnight to bring him to Gertrude Stein’s. He first sees the great modern art patron in an argument with Pablo Picasso over one of his works. Stein agrees to read the book after she reads the first paragraph out loud. Hearing the reading was Picasso’s latest mistress Adriana (Marion Cotillard). Adriana is a beautiful woman who came to Paris to study fashion for costume making with Chanel. She met and fell in love with Modigliani and lived with him for a few months then he left her, she met Braque, and that is how she met Picasso. Gil tells her he loves being in the 20s with all the interesting people but Adriana does not like her modern times she wishes she could go back to France’s Le Belle Époque where the country and the people were at their most beautiful and she could go to Maxim’s.
As Gil goes back in time each night he falls in love with Adriana. He realizes that Inez does not love him or care for him and that she has probably had an affair with Paul. One night both he and Adriana get transported back to the Belle Époque to Maxim’s (which was decorating amazingly in Art Nouveau) where they meet Toulouse- Lautrec, Degas, and Gauguin. Adriana does not want to go back to the 20s she is in her Golden Age and does not want to go back.
Gil realizes it is better to live in the time he lives in and look back to the past on what was because no matter what time period we live we always think that past ones are so much better than ours. He leaves Inez and falls in love with a girl he had met at an antique dealers in the city.
Once I saw that Gil got to go back in time and be among the Lost Generation I was totally hooked and just adored the movie. I had such a good time seeing all these famous art figures depicted with their quirks and mannerisms and even some of their art that I have studied. During the movie I was thinking if I could go back and hang out with the Surrealists I would love to talk to Man Ray and Lee Miller and in one scene Gil gets pulled to a table by Salvador Dali (Adrian Brody) and Man Ray walks over! That was so cool, the actor playing Man Ray looked just like the artist it was scary. Adrian Brody was the spitting image of Dali he was perfect. I got especially excited when I saw Picasso’s painting (well a copy anyway) of Gertrude Stein in the scenes of Stein’s apartment because I have seen it in person before.
Midnight in Paris was a fantasy that constantly plays through my mind. Whenever I study an art movement I always wish I could go back in time and talk to these inspiring people. If I could talk to a few artists/photographers I would love to talk to John Singer Sargent, Gustav Klimt, Man Ray, Lee Miller, Edward Steichen, Richard Avedon, Jacques- Louis David, Picasso, Matisse, Turner and so many more.
If there was one place and time period I would die to visit like Gil got to do it would be 1930s Hollywood. I am always asking my great- grandma what it was like to see all the classic films in the 30s in theaters and I would love to see them originally in the theaters for myself. I would also like to talk some of my favorite actors and actresses from that time too just as Gil got to talk to artists and writers. Also like Gil I would prefer living in the time I do now and look back on the past. In the 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s everyone dressed so nice and classy and that is one thing I would like to see back again people taking pride in what they wore and looking classy and sophisticated.
Midnight in Paris is a wonderful and original movie. Even if you do not know Art History or literature that well the movie is so great to sit through. Woody Allen just lets your imagination take off because you can imagine like I did what it would be like if you could go back to a time period that you admire. The 1920s and the early 1900s costumes were amazing. One costume Marion Cotillard was wearing looks like a Jean Patou dress that the Metropolitan Museum of Art has in their collection.
Definitely see Midnight in Paris either in the theaters or when it is released on DVD. It is so original which is so rare in films. I guarantee that if you do not know the artists mentioned you will be interested enough to look up their lives and works.
Let me just end with saying that Art History is not boring… well it can be (Non- Western and early colonial American art is the devil!!) but knowing the history of the time period a work was made in and why it was made and knowing things about the life of the artist makes art so much more interesting. I used to walk around museums when I was younger and look at paintings and think how boring but now I find so many interesting things in art. I can now give anyone a fantastic, very enthusiastic tour (to toot my horn) around the Metropolitan Museum of Art and make looking at the thousands of splendid art works more enjoyable.