Saturday, January 4, 2014
MIDNIGHT IN PARIS: AN under APPRECIATION
The biggest criticism of Woody Allen as a director that I’m aware of is that he makes too many crappy, lightweight films, keeps churning them out and too many of them miss the mark or are unremarkable or instantly forgettable. Midnight In Paris (MIP) annoyed me because once again some of the reviews were good, and the idea is interesting (although hardly original), and the subject matter fascinating (for me), dealing with a literary period that was fertile, in a great city, so full of potentially captivating stories- Paris, 1920’s. I did find myself asking, however, where the hell was James Joyce?
Woody Allen does have something in common with his cinematic hero- Ingmar Bergman- they are both responsible for a large number of films- very productive- but Bergman rarely made bad films, and never it seems throwaway or slight films- if not quite masterpiece after masterpiece, at the very least thought provoking, intelligent, meaningful films, original and challenging and beautifully shot, acted and scripted. MIP passes in some of these areas, but the script, potentially interesting, is pretty awful. I also saw the new Great Gatsby recently. Yes, MIP doesn’t sink to these depths of embarrassing rubbish, but still, not good. I sat there and watched, and these are my general criticisms - let’s say I’ll find 10, in chronological order:
1. The advertising is completely misleading- the film has nothing to do with Vincent Van Gogh- he died 30 years before the film is set, and his starry sky is from Arles, a long way from Paris.
2. OK, Owen Wilson does a good job at channelling Woody Allen, all the way down to what one assumes is his opinions, his vernacular, his intonations- but it quickly gets tedious. I mean, we have already heard Woody Allen so many times before- and he is always the same, the Annie Hall thing- well he’s not literally in this thing- he is too old to play the role- so why he didn’t he create something new for Owen Wilson. This part of the film becomes, for me, tiring within minutes. I don’t come to hate Wilson (as Gil)- he’s partly likeable, but he’s not fresh in any way.
3. Then there’s Michael Sheen playing Paul, the snobby pseudo-intellectual that Allen has created many times before. He shows off in front of the Rodin tour guide, and of course he’s wrong, the joke’s on him, just like the guy who gets the director of a film all wrong in another film, whilst he’s in the film queue- is it Stardust Memories?- and is horrified to see that the director he is misrepresenting is introduced right before him- we’ve seen this guy, Paul, before, and he’s tedious, and the joke’s been done, and we already know Allen doesn’t like these types, and that he finds Gil smart and more honest, and romantic, and preferable…
4.The embarrassment really kicks in when Gil experiences his first fantastical nocturnal adventure. A nightclub, Cole Porter playing, Jean Cocteau hosting, and none other than the Fitzgerald’s present. Zelda is ok, a bit ditzy, or a lot ditzy, like Daisy, but Fitzgerald calls Gil ‘old sport’!, and it is such a dull and shallow portrait, and I think about what could have happened here- at least make mention of The Beautiful and the Damned, for God’s sake.
5. Josephine Baker- naturally- is dancing at the next bar. Then Gil is confronted by Hemingway! And he is truly awful- ok no-one in the film is as bad as Hemingway- ‘yes it was a good book because it was an honest book, and that’s what war does to men…’, all said with a straight face and an earnest tone, as if Allen is being serious here, and looking at the film again I’m thinking ‘he’s having a great joke here at everyone’s expense.’ Then there’s ‘no subject is terrible if the story is true and the prose is clean and honest and it affirms courage’, and blah, blah, blah. Hemingway goes on about courage ad nausea and pretty soon I wish he wasn’t in it, and was replaced by Joyce, or even D H Lawrence who flitted in and out of Paris around this time. Hemingway bangs his fist on the table and accuses Gil of being not manly enough. Need I say anymore? Allen dumps the Fitzgerald’s around this time, and goes on with Hemingway unfortunately. Aaaahhhhh!!!
6. Some pretty boring stuff ensues about a bourgeois mother wanting to spend a ridiculous amount of money on a chair, and then Gil is suddenly ready for another nocturnal sojourn into the past. His wife goes home first, angry, because she doesn’t share the romantic imagination. Poor Gil, they aren’t suited, she’s far too dull. Actually all of this isn’t too bad, but then we go off to Hemingway again, in the back of a vintage car, talking about courage and death no less and being incredibly clichéd and dull, and you just want to shoot him and the person who created him, and now I’m put off forever by ‘A Moveable Feast’, and it’s a pity because it’s probably a very good book. Thank God Gertrude Stein comes into it, except she’s pretty hopeless (even if it is Kathy Bates) and she is preaching to Picasso who has the Spanish black bangs over his eyes and looks and acts completely toothless and stupid and hopeless- Picasso would be in hysterics over seeing this if he could. Picasso’s famous portrait of Gertrude Stein hangs on the wall behind her in case the audience doesn’t make the connection, and poor old Alice B Toklas only gets to open the door.
7. More silly daylight filling in, then Gil is dancing with Djuna Barnes (‘no wonder she was leading’), and then Hemingway again- oh, no! –did you know that ‘a woman is equal to a man in courage’??- it gets worse when Salvador Dali jumps into the frame- second only to Hemingway in embarrassment- I keep thinking of how good Adrian Brody was in ‘The Pianist’, and now as Dali! What a come down, the look, the accent, everything. All this Surrealist mumbo jumbo that doesn’t work, and that goes too, Woody Allen, for Man Ray and Bunuel who walk in as well and are pretty mute as if even Allen isn’t too sure what to make of them- except he knows their professions. Gil talks and Man Ray says ‘I see a photograph!’, and Bunuel says ‘I see a film!’
8. Enter TS Eliot! Briefly. He is shadowy, and doesn’t say much. That’s probably a good thing. Actually the best line from the film comes here when Gil tells him ‘where I come from we measure out our lives through coke spoons.’ Then one of the more promising bits emerges in the film when Gil talks to Bunuel about a scenario for a film, that Bunuel comically cannot see any possibilities for. The script Gil describes is for Bunuel’s ‘The Exterminating Angel.’ Now that’s not a bad idea. Maybe Allen could’ve done more with this kind of thing. Told Dali never to play ‘Tristan and Isolde’, for example.
9. Well the film then goes to Maxim’s, of course, and even more, of course, to the Moulin Rouge- thank God Nicole Kidman isn’t there- and Gil’s new girlfriend gets to experience La Belle Époques. There’s Toulouse-Lautrec sitting there- or it actually looks to me like he’s kneeling, and no! if it isn’t Degas and Gauguin, in all their finery. Actually, an ok point is being made here. No-one really seems to be enjoying their era. The old painter guys want to go back to the Renaissance, Adriana to stay in La Belle Époques, and Gil for some crazy reason to go back to Hemingway. It’s food for thought, actually.
10. Well when it comes down to it, there really is no number 10 after all, because after all there’s only really 9 things I don’t like about this film. The second time around it’s a bit more calming than I thought. I quite like the ending when Gil and his new romantic number walk off into the Parisian rain. I’d quite like to do that too, right now.