For a long time I avoided Woody Allen films … they just seemed so boring to me – perhaps that was to be expected since I’d been raised on Disney and science fiction.
The first Woody Allen I saw was: “Bananas” … and I thereby decided I could do without Woody Allen (I saw it again years later and enjoyed it very much). The second was “Manhattan” – I was on an Alitalia flight doing the Atlantic crossing from New York to Rome … and fell asleep.
It wasn’t until I saw “The Purple Rose of Cairo” (1985) that I “discovered” Woody Allen. Since then I’ve seen quite a few of his films which I’ve really enjoyed especially, the aforementioned “The Purple Rose of Cairo”, “Zelig”, “Radio Days” and now “Midnight in Paris”.
What’s the common denominator of these films … I’d say nostalgia and wanting to be “elsewhere” or someone else.
Midnight in Paris is the story of a Californian screenwriter, Gil Pender who has a prospering career in Hollywood and a beautiful fiancée Inez. He and his future wife are vacationing in Paris, a trip paid for by Inez’s wealthy conservative parents, who are also accompanying the young people.
We immediately get the impression that he’s doesn’t feel creatively fulfilled with his successful career and would, like many writers, like to publish his first “novel” (the story he’s written is about a man fascinated with memorabilia – which he’s completed but is unsure whether to present it for publication). He keeps throwing around the idea of moving permanently to Paris and write rather in the more stimulating atmosphere of that city rather than return to the Malibu But Inez who is very materialistic and attached to her way of life, categorically refuses to even consider giving up her comfy life in the U.S. to share the Bohemian existence of a “starving writer’s” life.
The character of Gil Pender is a figure we’ve met often in Woody Allen films (both in female roles as well as roles Allan has interpreted): the shy, insecure intelligent person with a vague ambition of “going somewhere” … without exactly knowing where. Gil Pender in particular would like to have lived in the glorious past of the roaring twenties. One evening, Gil while at a party with Inez and her pedantic friend Paul (whom Inez admires very much) and Paul’s wife, drinks too much wine. While the other three decide to go dancing, he decides to go for a quiet walk alone. During his evening promenade he is approached by a Peugeot Type 176 car whose occupants invite him to come with them to a party and finds himself rubbing elbows with his literary heroes in the Paris of the twenties.
As a point of interest, Allen wrote the screenplay employing a reverse approach – he started with his title “Midnight in Paris” and went from there. He’d conceived Gil Pender as a New England intellectual (a Woody Allen alter-ego), until he began taking into consideration Owen Wilson for the part: “I thought Owen would be charming and funny but my fear was that he was not so eastern at all in his persona,” says Allen. Rewriting the scenes he wrote Gil Pender as a Californian, which worked very well. A. O. Scott of The New York Times commented on Owen Wilson’s success at playing the Woody Allen persona stating that the film is “marvellously romantic” and credibly blends “whimsy and wisdom”.
This was Allen’s first film completely shot on location in Paris … from the first clips of the film, three and a half minutes of “post card” shots of Paris, with that historical great musical piece “Si tu vois ma mère” by Sidney Bechet – we know we’re in for magic. And what about the magical aspect of”Midnight in Paris” compared to “The Purple Rose of Cairo”. The magical events of both films is never explained but are just accepted as being somehow part of reality. David Edelstein, New York, commended this approach, since “the sci-fi wheels and pulleys … tend to suck up so much screen time in time-travel movies.” Edelstein goes on to applaud the film stating that, “this supernatural comedy isn’t just Allen’s best film in more than a decade; it’s the only one that manages to rise above its tidy parable structure and be easy, graceful, and glancingly funny, as if buoyed by its befuddled hero’s enchantment.” (Edelstein, D. “It’s a Good Woody Allen Movie”, New York. Retrieved October 2, 2011.)
© G.s.k. ‘15