Reflections on a Midnight in Paris

I watched Woody Allen’s latest film Midnight in Paris last week – what a fun treat! I’m smitten with Paris anyway, and Paris of the 1920s is where I’d travel back in time to, if I were offered the chance. I’m glad Woody Allen’s got his groove back with this one. But this post isn’t a review, per se. For that, have a look at Roger Ebert’s review.

One of the things I enjoyed about this film are the references to the literary and artistic figures of 1920s Paris: Salvador Dalí, Luis Buñuel, Ernest Hemingway, Picasso, Modigliani, Man Ray, Josephine Baker, among many others. I have come to appreciate the art and movies of the Surrealists. The “Lost Generation” of those people who came of age during WWI was edgy and bittersweet, but I find it fascinating. I daydream about holding a salon in my living room with my literary friends, and imagine how amazing it must have been to be in the same room as Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, Man Ray, Sylvia Beach, and Salvador Dalí.

Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein. Photo courtesy National Portrait Gallery.

Part of what draws me to the twenties is the freedom women had, at least compared to the Edwardian and pre-war era. Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas lived an unconventional life in Paris together and had an amazing circle of friends. Coco Chanel revolutionized women’s fashion by designing comfortable yet elegant clothes out of jersey, to fit the more active and less restricted lifestyles of women in the 1920s. Women could smoke (not that it was such a good idea), drink, dance, and have sex outside of marriage more easily than before.

Photograph of Luis Buñuel by Man Ray, 1929. Photo Universidade de Coruña.

One of my favorite filmmakers, Luis Buñuel, was a Spanish surrealist whose first few films are disturbing, but really creative. Un Chien Andalou was written by Buñuel and Salvador Dalí, another Surrealist. It features insects, mutilation, dead animals – all very disjointed and dream-like.

Ernest Hemingway. Image courtesy Stanford University Library.

The actor portraying the Ernest Hemingway character in the movie was great. His stiff body posture and short sentences are similar to his writing. I like his precise writing style but I hate his misogyny and machismo. His posthumously published memoir of living in Paris in the twenties, A Movable Feast, is an enjoyable read expect for some mean-spirited jabs at his friends.

Salvador Dali and Man Ray. Image courtesy University of Nebraska.

After watching Midnight in Paris, I added these titles to my reading list:

The Great Gatsby
Save Me The Waltz
The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas
The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí
That Summer in Paris by Morley Callaghan
Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation: A History of Literary Paris in the Twenties and Thirties
T.S. Eliot – My sweetie gave me a copy of Old Possum’s Book of Cats, which I really like but when I had to read some of his other writing in college, I didn’t like it. Maybe I should give him another chance.

Now, if I could just get a Paris themed book club going among my friends…or a salon! Hmm…maybe a virtual salon would be fun?!


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