The characters referenced in Woody Allen’s movie “Midnight in Paris” (Part 26,James Joyce)

I have really been enjoying this series on the characters referenced by Woody Allen’s latest movie “Midnight in Paris.” Today is James Joyce.

File:Revolutionary Joyce Better Contrast.jpg

Joyce in Zurich around 1918

  • Birthplace: Rathgar (near Dublin), Ireland
  • Died: 13 January 1941 (perforated ulcer)
  • Best Known As: Author of Ulysses and Finnegan’s Wake

Name at birth: James Augustine Aloysius Joyce

Joyce was to modern literature what Picasso was to modern art: he scrambled up the old formulas and set the table for the 20th century. Joyce’s books Ulysses (1921) and Finnegan’s Wake (1939) ignored traditional plot and sentence structure in favor of sprawling, witty, complex mixtures of wordplay, streams of consciousness, and snatches of sights and aromas woven in with the rambling reveries of the characters. Joyce grew up in Dublin, set all his major stories there, and is intricately associated with the city; Ulysses tells the story of one day in the life of Leopold Bloom as he travels the city’s streets. (Bloom’s wanderings are compared to those of mythical hero Ulysses — hence the book’s title.) Finnegan’s Wake went even further with dreamy wordplay and inventive genius, but also cemented Joyce’s reputation as a challenging, even difficult author to read. Joyce moved from Dublin in 1904 with his girlfriend Nora Barnacle; they had a son (Giorgio) in 1905 and a daughter (Lucia) in 1907, but were not married until 1931. They lived in Paris from 1920 until World War II forced a move to Zurich, where Joyce died in 1941. His other works include The Dubliners (1914) and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916).

Joyce worked on Finnegan’s Wake for 17 years before its publication in 1939… Joyce suffered from weak eyesight throughout his life and wore thick, owlish glasses… The day described in Ulysses is 16 June 1904, and in some cities 16 June is whimsically celebrated as “Bloomsday”… Though Joyce is closely tied to Dublin, he never returned to the city after a visit in 1912… Joyce’s birthday also happens to be Groundhog Day… The main character of Finnegan’s Wake is named Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker… The famous first line of Finnegan’s Wake is: “riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.”
‘Midnight in Paris’ brims with wit, soul

The Washington Post
Sunday, June 5, 2011

From its rapturous opening sequence, “Midnight in Paris” announces that Woody Allen has returned to at least one of his most beloved forms.

The writer-director, whose work has skimmed screwball comedy, Bergman-esque drama, melancholic romance and misanthropic satire, comes back to his “Manhattan” roots here, as that opening number soaringly attests.

While saxophonist Sidney Bechet plays “Si Tu Vois Ma Mere,” images of Paris amble past, each street corner, rooftop and rainy square more unabashedly romantic than the last. Allen lingers on the sequence, letting it play just a tad longer than is strictly comfortable. His message to the audience is underlined, italicized and written in bold: This is my Paris. Sink in, soak it up and surrender yourself.

Those who follow his lead will be richly rewarded. “Midnight in Paris” finds Allen in a larky, slightly tart and altogether bountiful mood, giving filmgoers a movie that, while unabashedly funny and playful, provides a profiterole or two for thought. Owen Wilson plays Gil, a screenwriter and would-be serious author who’s visiting Paris with his fiancee, Inez (Rachel McAdams), and her parents (Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy).

Gil is besotted with the Paris of the 1920s, when his heroes F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway traded dry martinis and drier barbs with the likes of Gertrude Stein and Pablo Picasso. Inez and her family, on the other hand, couldn’t care less. When Gil mentions that Hemingway called Paris a moveable feast, Inez’s mom quips that “in this traffic, nothing moves.” The mood is doubly spoiled when they bump into Paul (Michael Sheen), an old college crush of Inez’s, now an incorrigible pedant. (Versailles, he helpfully advises Gil and Inez, originally meant “terrain where the weeds have been pulled”).

Newly alive to his own thwarted literary ambitions, or perhaps threatened by the obvious attraction between Inez and Paul, Gil winds up exploring Paris on his own, embarking on an enchanted journey that brings him into contact with a ravishing designer named Adriana (Marion Cotillard).

Toggling easily between the contemporary Paris and the idealized city of Gil’s imagination, “Midnight in Paris” finds Allen at his most fluid and fluently witty in years.

The filmmaker has set himself a tricky technical needle to thread, but Allen moves with ease between contemporary satire and a fairy tale inhabited by such legendary artists as Dali, Picasso and Hemingway, the last played here by Corey Stoll (”Law & Order: L.A.”) in scene-stealing line readings from Papa’s famously terse prose. (Once in a while the two worlds collide with particular hilarity, as when Gil slips a Valium to Zelda Fitzgerald, played by Alison Pill.)

Allen is less generous toward his present-day cast of characters. With more texture and depth, for example, Inez and Paul could have been far more interesting and amusing than the odious caricatures they are here.

In Wilson, however, Allen has lighted on an improbably appealing guide. Granted, it’s a bit of a stretch to believe the ultimate surfer dude as the type of guy who would know what James Joyce ate during his Paris sojourn. But he makes for a refreshingly sunny Allen avatar, displaying none of his director’s neurotic mannerisms and, in crucial sequences, perfectly embodying a quintessential 21st-century man utterly at odds with his archaic surroundings.

As an exhilarating valentine to the luminosity that gives the City of Light its name, “Midnight in Paris” is sheer pleasure to watch, full of rich visuals and felicitous comic turns. But there’s also substance beneath the glossy veneer and fanciful high jinks: a wistful meditation on nostalgia, self-deception and commitment that reminds viewers of the philosophical heft that has always characterized Allen’s strongest work.

As Gil succumbs to the enticements of ambered memory and Paris’ most alluring charms, “Midnight in Paris” becomes not so much an escape into fantasy as a seductive, oddly affecting reverie on the most timeless reality of all: that love may have less to do with physical attraction or even intellectual harmony than with the willingness to inhabit someone else’s dreams. “Midnight in Paris” may be a mere bagatelle, but it’s a beguiling one, brimming with sweetness and soul.

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