The Characters referenced in Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” (Part 29, Pablo Picasso)

In his weekly opinion piece, Andy Rooney shares his views on public art.
I have really enjoyed this series on the characters referenced in the film “Midnight in Paris.” I can’t express how much I have learned during this series on the characters referenced in Woody Allen’s latest movie “Midnight  in Paris.” Today I am looking at Pablo Picasso. We are going to explore the life and worldview of Picasso too.
The character Adriana in “Midnight in Paris” is a fictional character but she exposes the fact that Picasso was constantly possessive of his mistresses and hateful at times to the women in his life. Francis Schaeffer in his film series “How should we then live?” has some very insightful commentary on Picasso and the loss of humanity pictured in his paintings. However, Picasso could not be consistent because when it came to painting Olga, Jacqueline and his children, Picasso would use  all of abilities to show them the way God made them and not in a fragmented way.
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Above is Picasso’s greatest masterpiece, Les Desmoiselles d ’Avignon (1907).

Roy Saper wrote in 2006 (and many of these pictures below come from Saper Galleries):

In 1943 Picasso (age 62) then kept company with young art student Françoise Gilot (born in 1921).  Their two children were Claude (1947) and Paloma (1949) who was named for the dove of peace that Picasso painted in support of the peace movement post World War II.  Gilot, frustrated with Picasso’s relationships with other woman and his abusive nature left him in 1953.   Gilot’s book “Life with Picasso” was published 11 years after their separation.  In 1970 she married American physician-researcher Jonas Salk (who later died in 1995).

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Picasso and Françoise with their two children were Claude (1947) and Paloma (1949) pictured below in the early 1950’s.

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Picasso’s drawing, Portrait of Francoise, from 1946:

Francis Schaeffer in the episode, “The Age of Fragmentation,” Episode 8 of HOW SHOULD WE THEN  LIVE? noted:

Monet, Renoir, Pissaro, Sisley, Degas were following nature as it has been called in their painting they were impressionists.They painted only what their eyes brought them. But was there reality behind the light waves reaching their eyes? After 1885 Monet carried this to its conclusion and reality tended to become a dream. With impressionism the door was open for art to become the vehicle for modern thought. As reality became a dream, impressionism began to fall apart. These men Cezanne, Van Gogh, 
Gauguin, Seurat, all great post Impressionists felt the problem, felt the loss  of meaning. They set out to solve the problem, to find the way back to reality, to the absolute behind the individual things, behind the particulars, ultimately they failed. I am not saying that these 
painters were always consciously painting their philosophy of life, but rather in their work as a whole their worldview was often reflected. Cezanne reduced nature to what he considered its basic geometric forms. In this he was searching for an universal which would tie all kinds of individual things in nature together, but this gave a broken fragmented appearance to his pictures. In his bathers there is much freshness, much vitality. An absolute wonder in the balance of the picture as a whole, but he portrayed not only nature but also man himself in fragmented form. 
I want to stress that I am not minimizing these men as men. To read van Gogh’s letters is to weep for the pain of this sensitive man. Nor do I minimize their talent as painters. Their work often has great beauty indeed. But their art did become the vehicle of modern man’s view of fractured truth and light. As philosophy had moved from unity to fragmentation so did painting. In 1912  Kaczynski wrote an article saying that in so far as the old harmony, that is an unity of knowledge have been lost, that only two possibilities remained: extreme abstraction or extreme naturalism, both he said were equal.
With this painting modern art was born. Picasso painted it in 1907 and called it Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. It unites Cezzanne’s fragmentation with Gauguin’s concept of the nobel savage using the form of the african mask which was popular with Parisian art circle of that 
time. In great art technique is united with worldview and the technique of  fragmentation works well with the worldview of modern man. A view of a fragmented world and a fragmented man and a complete break with the art of the Renaissance which was founded on man’s humanist hopes.
Here man is made to be less than man. Humanity is lost. Speaking of a part of Picasso’s private collection of his own works David Douglas Duncan says “Of course, not one of these pictures was actually a portrait, but his prophecy of a ruined world.”
But Picasso himself could not live  with this loss of the human. When he was in love with Olga and later  Jacqueline he did not consistently paint them in a fragmented way. At crucial 
points of their relationship he painted them as they really were with all his genius, with all their humanity. When he was painting his own young children he did not use fragmented techniques and presentation. I want you to understand that I am not saying that gentleness and humanness is not present in modern art, but as the techniques of modern art advanced, humanity was increasingly 
fragmented. The opposite of fragmentation would be unity, and the old philosophic thinkers thought they could bring forth this unity from  the humanist base and then they gave this up.

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Olga Khokhlova and Picasso (1917-1927)

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In 1917 ballerina Olga Khokhlova (1891-1955) met Picasso while the artist was designing the ballet “Parade” in Rome, to be performed by the Ballet Russe.

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They married in the Russian Orthodox church in Paris in 1918 and lived a life of conflict.

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Olga Khokhlova by Picasso

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She was of high society and enjoyed formal events while Picasso was more bohemian in his interests and pursuits.

Picasso and Olga Khokhlova

Their son Paulo (Paul) was born in 1921 (and died in 1975), influencing Picasso’s imagery to turn to mother and child themes.  Paul’s three children are Pablito (1949-1973), Marina (born in 1951), and Bernard (1959).  Some of the Picassos in this Saper Galleries exhibition are from Marina and Bernard’s  personal Picasso collection.

Pablo Picasso. Portrait of Paul Picasso as a Child.

Portrait of Paul Picasso as a Child. 1923. Oil on canvas.
Collection of Paul Picasso, Paris, France.

PABLO PICASSO
The Art History Archive – Cubism


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The Most Famous Artist of the 20th Century

Biography by Charles Moffat.

Full Name: Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Clito Ruiz y Picasso

Born October 25, 1881 – Died April 8, 1973.

“Everyone wants to understand art. Why don’t we try to understand the song of a bird? Why do we love the night, the flowers, everything around us, without trying to understand them? But in the case of a painting, people think they have to understand. If only they would realize above all that an artist works of necessity, that he himself is only an insignificant part of the world, and that no more importance should be attached to him than to plenty of other things which please us in the world though we can’t explain them; people who try to explain pictures are usually barking up the wrong tree.” – Picasso

The Beginning, Childhood and Youth: 1881-1901

Pablo Ruiz Picasso was born on October 25, 1881 to Don José Ruiz Blasco (1838-1939) and Doña Maria Picasso y Lopez (1855-1939). The family at the time resided in Málaga, Spain, where Don José, a painter himself, taught drawing at the local school of Fine Arts and Crafts. Pablo spent the first ten years of his life there. The family was far from rich, and when 2 other children were born — Dolorès (“Lola”) in 1884 and Concepción (“Conchita”) in 1887 — it was often difficult to make ends meet. When Don José was offered a better-paid job, he accepted it immediately, and the Picassos moved to the provincial capital of La Coruna, where they lived for the next four years. In 1892, Pablo entered the School of Fine Arts there, but it was mostly his father who taught him painting. By 1894 Pablo’s works were so well executed for a boy of his age that his father recognized Pablo’s amazing talent, and, handing Pablo his brush and palette, declared that he would never paint again.

The Blue and Rose periods: 1901-1906

In February 1901 Picasso’s friend Casagemas committed suicide: he shot himself in a Parisian café because a girl he loved had refused him. His death was a great shock to Picasso, and the painter would return to it again and again in his art: he painted the Death of Casagemas in color, the Death of Casagemas again in blue and then “Evocation – The Burial of Casagemas”. In this latter canvas the compositional and stylistic influence of El Greco’s “The Burial of Count Orgaz” can be traced. Picasso began to use blue and green almost exclusively. “I began to paint in blue, when I realized that Casademas had died” Picasso later wrote.

Restless and lonely, the arist moved constantly between Paris and Barcelona, depicting isolation, unhappiness, despair, misery of physical weakness, old age, and poverty; all of it in shades of blue. In the allegorical La Vie (1903), in monochrome blue, the man has the face of his deceased friend.

In 1904 Picasso finally settled in Paris, at 13 Rue Ravignan, called “Bateau-Lavoir”. He met Fernande Olivier, a model, who would be his mistress for the next seven years. He even proposed to her, but she had to refuse because she was already married. They paid frequent visits to the Circus Médrano, whose bright pink tent at the foot of the Montmartre shone for miles and was quite close to his studio. There, Picasso got ideas for his pictures of circus actors. The pub Le Lapin Agile (The Agile Rabbit) was a meeting place of young artists and authors. In the pub, Picasso got acquainted with the poets Guillaume Apollinaire and Max Jacob. The landlord, Frédé, accepted pictures as payment, and this made his café attractive for the artists and he acquired a splendid collection of paintings, including, of course, one by Picasso “At the Lapin Agile”, with Picasso as a harlequin and Frédé as a guitar player. The picture “Woman with a Crow” shows Frédé’s daughter.

By 1905, Picasso lightened his palette, relieving it with pink and rose, yellow-ochre and gray. His circus performers, harlequins and acrobats became more graceful, delicate and sensuous. In 1906 the art dealer Ambroise Vollard bought most of Picasso’s “Rose” pictures. This marked the beginning of Picasso’s prosperity: he would never again experience financial worries. Accompanied by Fernande the painter traveled to Barcelona, then to Gosol in the north of Catalonia, where he painted “La Toilette”. Deeply impressed by the Iberian sculptures at the Louvre, he began to think over and experiment with geometrical forms.

Cubism: 1907-1917

“Cubism is no different from any other school of painting. The same principles and the same elements are common to all. The fact that for a long time cubism has not been understood and that even today there are people who cannot see anything in it, means nothing. I do not read English, and an English book is a blank to me. This does not mean that the English language does not exist, and why should I blame anyone but myself if I cannot understand what I know nothing about?” – Picasso

African Period

In 1907, after numerous studies and variations Picasso painted his first Cubist picture – “Les demoiselles d’Avignon”. Impressed with African sculptures at an ethnographic museum he tried to combine the angular structures of the “primitive art” and his new ideas about cubism. The critics immediately dubbed this stage in his work the African Period, seeing in it only an imitation of African ethnic art.

“In the Demoiselles d’Avignon I painted a profile nose into a frontal view of a face. I had to depict it sideways so that I could give it a name, so that I could call it ‘nose’. And so they started talking about Negro art. Have you ever seen a single African sculpture — just one — where a face mask has a profile nose in it?”Picasso wrote.

Picasso’s new experiments were received very differently by his friends, some of whom were sincerely disappointed, and even horrified, while others were interested. The art dealer Kahnweiler loved the Demoiselles and took it for sale. Picasso’s new friend, the artist Georges Braque (1882-1963), was so enthusiastic about Picasso’s new works that the two painters came together to explore the possibilities of cubism over several of the following years. In the summer of 1908, the two began their experiments by going on holidays in the countryside. Afterwards, they found that they had painted very similar pictures completely independently of each other.

Analytical Cubism

Bread and Fruit Dish on a Table (1909) marks the beginning of Picasso’s “Analytical” Cubism: he gives up a central perspective and splits forms up into facet-like stereo-metric shapes. The famous portraits of Fernande, Woman with Pears, and of the art dealers Vollard and Kahnweiller are fulfilled in the analytical cubist style .

By 1911, Picasso’s relationship with Fernande went through a crisis. He broke up with her and started a liaison with Eva Gouel (Marcelle Humbert), whom he called “Ma Jolie”.

Synthetic or Collage Cubism

By 1912 the possibilities of analytical cubism seemed to be exhausted. Picasso and Braque began new experiments. Within a year they were composing still lifes of cut-and-pasted scraps of material, with only a few lines added to complete the design, such as Still-Life with Chair Caning. These collages led to synthetic cubism — paintings with large, schematic patterning, such as The Guitar.

“Cubism has remained within the limits and limitations of painting, never pretending to go beyond. Drawing, design and color are understood and practiced in cubism in the spirit and manner that are understood and practiced in other schools. Our subjects might be different, because we have introduced into painting objects and forms that used to be ignored. We look at our surroundings with open eyes, and also open minds. We give each form and color its own significance, as we see it; in our subjects, we keep the joy of discovery, the pleasure of the unexpected; our subject itself must be a source of interest. But why tell you what we are doing when everybody can see it if they want to?” wrote Picasso.

World War I (1914-18) changed the life, mood, state of mind, and, of course, art of Picasso. His fellow French artists, Braque and Derain, were called up into the army at the beginning of the war. The art dealer Kahnweiler, a German, had to go to Italy, and his gallery was confiscated. Picasso’s pictures became somber, showing realistic more often, for example Pierrot.

“When I paint a bowl, I want to show you that it is round, of course. But the general rhythm of the picture, its composition framework, may compel me to show the round shape as a square. When you come to think of it, I am probably a painter without style. ‘Style’ is often something that ties the artist down and makes him look at things in one particular way, the same technique, the same formulas, year after year, sometimes for a whole lifetime. You recognize him immediately, for he is always in the same suit, or a suit of the same cut. There are, of course, great painters who have a certain style. However, I always thrash about rather wildly. I am a bit of a tramp. You can see me at this moment, but I have already changed, I am already somewhere else. I can never be tied down, and that is why I have no style,” Picasso wrote.

In 1916, the young poet Jean Cocteau brought the Russian ballet impresario Diaghilev and the composer Erik Satie to meet Picasso in his studio. They asked him to design the décor for their ballet “Parade”, which was to be performed by Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe. The meeting and Picasso’s affirmative answer would bring major changes to his life in the followng years. In 1917, he traveled to Rome with Cocteau and spent time with Diaghilev’s ballet company, working on décor for “Parade”. There, Picasso met Igor Stravinsky and fell in love with the dancer Olga Khokhlova. He accompanied the ballet group to Madrid and Barcelona because of Olga, and eventually persuaded her to stay with him.

Between Wars, Classicism and Surrealism: 1918-1936

In 1918, Olga and Picasso got married. The young couple moved to an apartment that occupied two floors at 23 Rue La Boétie, acquired servants, a chauffeur, and began to move in different social circles, no doubt due to Olga’s influence. The chaotic get-togethers Picasso had with his artist friends gradually changed into formal receptions. Picasso’s image of himself changed as well, and this was reflected in the more conventional style he adopted in his art and the way in which he consciously made use of artistic traditions and ceased to be provocative.

After cubism, Picasso returned to more traditional patterns — if not exactly classical ones — and this period is thus known as his Classicist period. A typical example of this new style is The Lovers. From time to time, he would return to cubism. His collaboration with the Ballet Russe went on: he worked on décor for “Le Tricorne” and drew portraits of the dancers. In 1920, he began to work on the décor for Stravinsky’s ballet Pulcinella. With the birth of his son Paul (Paolo) (1921), he returned to the Mother and Child theme again and again: Mother and Child.

In 1921, he painted his Cubist Three Musicians, in which he used a group of people as a cubist subject for the first time. The three figures are characters from the Italian Commedia dell’Arte (Pierrot, Harlequin and a monk). Though created after his Cubist period, the picture came to be regarded as a masterpiece of cubism. “Those who set out to explain a picture are setting out on the wrong foot. A short time ago Gertrude Stein elatedly informed me that at last she understood what my painting ‘Three Musicians’ represented. It was a still life!” wrote Picasso.

In 1923, Picasso painted The Pipes of Pan, which is regarded as the most important work of his “classicist period”. Other interesting works include The Seated Harlequin and Women Running on the Beach.

“Of all the misfortunes – hunger, misery, being misunderstood by the public – fame is by far the worst. This is how God chastises the artist. It is sad. It is true,” wrote Picasso

God had chastised Picasso. By the mid-twenties he became so popular that he “had to suffer a public that was gradually suppressing his individuality by blindly applauding every single picture he produced.” In addition to this, the artist was having marital problems. His wife Olga, a former ballet dancer, for whom the attention and admiration of the public was necessary, vital, and natural, could not understand Picasso’s discomfort with his fame.

Picasso tried to preserve his independence by taking an interest in the unknown and the unfamiliar. He set up a sculptor’s studio near Paris and began to experiment with this new artistic medium. He produced a series of assemblies with a Guitar theme, using objects such as shirts, floor-rags, nails and string, as well as sculptures. In 1927, Picasso began an affair with seventeen-year old Marie-Thérèse Walter, his son Paolo’s nurse.

Much of his work after 1927 is fantastic and visionary in character. His Woman with Flower (1932) is a portrait of Marie-Thérèse, distorted and deformed in the manner of Surrealism. The Surrealism movement was growing in strength and popularity at the time, and even Picasso could not really avoid being influenced by this group of Parisian artists, although they, conversely, regarded him as their artistic stepfather.

“I keep doing my best not to lose sight of nature. I want to aim at similarity, a profound similarity which is more real than reality, thus becoming surrealist,” Picasso wrote.

The worst time of his life, according to Picasso himself, began in June 1935. Marie-Thérèse was pregnant with his child, and his divorce from Olga had to be postponed again and again: their common wealth had become a target for lawyers. During this time of personal financial crisis, Picasso would add the bull, either dying or snorting furiously and threatening both man and animal alike, to his artistic arsenal. Being Spanish, Picasso had always been fascinated by bullfights, the so-called “tauromachia”. On October 5th of that year, his second child, a daughter, Maria de la Concepcion, called Maya, was born.

In 1936, he met Dora Maar, a Yugoslavian photographer. Later, during the war, she became his constant companion. See Portrait of Dora.

Wartime Experience: 1937-1945

“Guernica, the oldest town of the Basque provinces and the center of their cultural traditions, was almost completely destroyed by the rebels in an air attack yesterday afternoon. The bombing of the undefended town far behind the front line took exactly three quarters of an hour. During this time and without interruption a group of German aircraft – Junker and Heinkel bombers as well as Heinkel fighters – dropped bombs weighing up to 500 kilogrammes on the town. At the same time low-flying fighter planes fired machine-guns at the inhabitants who had taken refuge in the fields. The whole of Guernica was in flames in a very short time.” – The Times, April 27, 1937.

The Spanish government had asked Picasso to paint a mural for the Spanish pavilion at the Paris World Exhibition. He planned to depict the subject “a painter in his studio”, but when he heard about the events in Guernica, he changed his original plans. After numerous sketches and studies, Picasso gave his own personal view of the tragedy. His gigantic mural Guernica has remained part of the collective consciousness of the twentieth century, a forceful reminder of the event. Though painted for the Spanish government, it wasn’t until 1981, after forty years of exile in New York, that the picture found its way to Spain. This was because Picasso had decreed that it should not become Spanish property until the end of fascism. In October 1937, Picasso also painted the “Weeping Woman” as a kind of postscript to “Guernica”.

In 1940, when Paris was occupied by the Nazis, he handed out prints of his painting to German officers. When they asked asked him “Did you do this?” (referring to the pictures), he replied, “No, you did”. Whether those world-reknowned military brains were simply unable to perceive the symbolism of the picture, or whether it was Picasso’s fame that stopped them from taking any action, the painter was not arrested and went on working. During the war, he met a young female painter, Françoise Gillot, who would later become his third official wife.

With his Charnel House of 1945, Picasso concluded the series of pictures that he had started with “Guernica”. The connection between the paintings becomes immediately obvious when we consider the rigidly limited color scheme and the triangular composition of the center. However, in the latter painting, the nightmare had been superceded by reality. The Charnel House was painted under the impact of reports from the Nazi concentration camps which had been discovered and liberated. It wasn’t until then, that people realized the atrociousness of the Second World War. It was a time when the lives of millions of people had been literally pushed aside, a turn of phase which Picasso expressed rather vividly in the pile of dead bodies in his Charnel House.

After WWII, The Late Works: 1946-1973

In 1944, after the liberation of Paris, Picasso joined the Communist Party and became an active participant of the Peace Movement. In 1949, the Paris World Peace Conference adopted a dove created by Picasso as the official symbol of the various peace movements. The USSR awarded Picasso the International Stalin Peace Prize twice, once in 1950 and for the second time in 1961 (by this time, the award had been renamed the International Lenin Peace Prize, as a result of destalinization) . He protested against the American intervention in Korea and against the Soviet occupation of Hungary. In his public life, he always expressed humanitarian views.

After WWII, Françoise gave birth to two children: Claude (1947) and Paloma (1949). Paloma is the Spanish word for “dove” — the girl was named after the peace symbol.

Picasso would not settle down, and more women would come into his life, some coming and going, like Sylvette David; and some staying longer, like Jacqueline Rogue. Picasso would remain sexually active and seeking throughout most of his life; it wasn’t that he was looking for something better than what he had had previously; the artist had a passion for the new and untried, evident in his travels, his art and, of course, his women. For him, it was a way of staying young.

In the summer of 1955, Picasso bought “La Californie”, a large villa near Cannes. From his studio, he had a view of the enormous garden, which he filled with his sculptures. The south and the Mediterranean were just right for his mentality; they reminded of Barcelona, his childhood and youth. There, he painted “Studio ‘La Californie’ at Cannes” (1956) and Jacqueline in the Studio (1956). By 1958, however “La Californie” had become a tourist attraction. There had been a constantly increasing stream of admirers and of people trying to catch a glimpse of the painter at his work, and Picasso, who disliked public attention, chose to move house. Picasso bought the Chateau Vauvenargues, near Aix-en-Provence, and this was reflected in his art with an increasing reduction of his range of colors to black, white and green.

The mass media turned Picasso into a celebrity, and the public deprived him of privacy and wanted to know his every step, but his later art was given very little attention and was regarded as no more than the hobby of an aging genius who could do nothing but talk about himself in his pictures. Picasso’s late works are an expression of his final refusal to fit into categories. He did whatever he wanted in art and did not arouse a word of criticism.

With his adaptation of “Las Meninas” by Velászquez and his experiments with Manet’s Luncheon on the Grass, was Picasso still trying to discover something new, or was he just laughing at the public, its stupidity and its inability to see the obvious.

A number of elements had become characteristic in his art of this period: Picasso’s use of simplified imagery, the way he let the unpainted canvas shine through, his emphatic use of lines, and the vagueness of the subject. In 1956, the artist would comment, referring to some schoolchildren: “When I was as old as these children, I could draw like Raphael, but it took me a lifetime to learn to draw like them.”

In the last years of his life, painting became an obsession with Picasso, and he would date each picture with absolute precision, thus creating a vast amount of similar paintings — as if attempting to crystallize individual moments of time, but knowing that, in the end, everything would be in vain.

Pablo Picasso passed away at last on April 8, 1973, at the age of 92. He was buried on the grounds of his Chateau Vauvenargues.

“The different styles I have been using in my art must not be seen as an evolution, or as steps towards an unknown ideal of painting. Everything I have ever made was made for the present and with the hope that it would always remain in the present. I have never had time for the idea of searching. Whenever I wanted to express something, I did so without thinking of the past or the future. I have never made radically different experiments. Whenever I wanted to say something, I said it the way I believed I should. Different themes inevitably require different methods of expression. This does not imply either evolution or progress; it is a matter of following the idea one wants to express and the way in which one wants to express it.” – Picasso

A Christian Manifesto Francis Schaeffer

Published on Dec 18, 2012

A video important to today. The man was very wise in the ways of God. And of government. Hope you enjoy a good solis teaching from the past. The truth never gets old.

The Roots of the Emergent Church by Francis Schaeffer

How Should We then Live Episode 7 small (Age of Nonreason)

#02 How Should We Then Live? (Promo Clip) Dr. Francis Schaeffer

10 Worldview and Truth

Two Minute Warning: How Then Should We Live?: Francis Schaeffer at 100

Francis Schaeffer Whatever Happened to the Human Race (Episode 1) ABORTION

Francis Schaeffer “BASIS FOR HUMAN DIGNITY” Whatever…HTTHR

Rachel McAdams as Inez and Owen Wilson as Gil in "Midnight in Paris." 2011 Roger Arpajou / Sony Pictures Classics

Rachel McAdams as Inez and Owen Wilson as Gil in “Midnight in Paris.”

Owen Wilson as Gil and Marion Cotillard as Adriana in "Midnight in Paris." 2011 Roger Arpajou / Sony Pictures Classics

Owen Wilson as Gil and Marion Cotillard as Adriana in “Midnight in Paris.”

“Midnight in Paris” is, without question, the best Woody Allen film I’ve seen in the past decade.And, I should stop right there. As I was setting out to catch the screening of “Midnight in Paris”, it occurred to me that it has actually been some time since I last saw a Woody Allen film when it was new. It sure didn’t feel that way, as I’ve been keeping up the director vicariously, but the last one I saw in the theater was “Small Time Crooks”, in 2000. Sheesh, that is a while ago.
In the meantime, Allen has, for better or for worse, continued to churn out movie after movie at his standard clip of one per year. Obviously, with a regiment like that, particularly at this point in ones career, we cannot expect every effort to be a masterpiece. And although it seems that for almost every new Allen film, there’s at least a small contingent of critics who shrug and say, “well, it’s the best he’s done in the past decade”, it occurs to me that “Midnight in Paris” must be different. Different in a good way. Naturally, with my dismal recent Allen track record, I cannot say for sure, not by a long shot. But I do know this – “Midnight in Paris” has a little bit of magic in it.”Midnight in Paris” has been most compared to Allen’s 1986 classic “The Purple Rose of Cairo”, an apt comparison if not a perfect one. The melancholy comedic tone fused with the protagonist’s longing to escape to a more lush, romantic time (and then doing so) are the greatest common bonds, although both films also stand close in terms of overall quality (the edge of course going to “Purple Rose”, a perennial favorite of mine). Also, Allen himself does not appear in either film. (Consider that fact however you will.)Unlike Mia Farrow’s desired “Purple Rose” escapism from the Great Depression of 1930s America, this time, for Gil – Owen Wilson’s frustrated-but-successful screenwriter of Hollywood schlock – his depression is now. And who can blame him, as his vacation in Paris is comprised of either being dragged from one high-end shop to the next by his steamroller of a fiancée (Rachel McAdams) and her staunchly conservative parents, or being condescended to in various museums and galleries by her insufferable know-it-all friends. Even as he finds himself in the most wonderful and romantic of cities, he is all the more pained by the fact that he’s there in the wrong decade, with the wrong people. Paris in the 1920s. Now THAT was a time. Pablo Picasso, on the cusp on his painterly brilliance. Ernest Hemingway, hunting wild beasts and churning out prose of inner bravado. Gertrude Stein, at the hub of it all. And the surrealists – Dali, Bunuel, and Man Ray – striving valiantly to live life in the non sequitur. Right city, wrong time. If only…And then it happens. One night as Gil is out for a midnight stroll, an extended vintage motor carriage comes by and picks him up. This is his magical ride to the Paris of yore, the Paris he’s been pining for, the Paris he’s been utterly romanticizing. All the luminaries are there. He takes this trip each night, developing relationships with them, and realizing their own human neuroses. Pablo Picasso, the uncertain lover. Ernest Hemingway, the unblinking blowhard. Gertrude Stein, enduring mother hen. And the surrealists – Dali, Bunuel, and Man Ray – striving ridiculously to live life in the non sequitur. This abrupt humanization of these icons of the art and literature is as amusing to Gil as it is to us. The electricity of the time is felt as he makes not just priceless connections and contacts, but friendships. The magic and charm of 1920s Paris is right out in front of everything, but at the same time, the imperfections begin to show, and not just the contrasts, but the comparisons to his present-time situation grow all the more evident.Allen does a remarkable job of putting a fresh and fun spin on the well-worn time travel story device. One must bear in mind Allen’s age, as the pacing and flow of the film veers into that fascinatingly tempered category of “old man cinema”, a type of film that although it’s in no hurry, does not have to lack spark or wisdom for years. Heck, Allen even has the audacity to begin his film with a five-minute travelogue pictorial of modern day Paris, in all its charm. Wilson, as one-note as his performances can be, here proves to be yet another quality Woody Allen surrogate protagonist – watchable, witty and yes, neurotic. For those even a little familiar with the luminaries met in vintage Paris, this will prove to be an engaging and rewarding trip.Nostalgia for a past time is a theme not only of this film, but of the film career of Woody Allen (as many continue to pine away for his “older, funnier movies”). But of the several things that “Midnight in Paris” tells us, one big one is that for fans of its filmmaker, 2011 is a perfectly fine time to be in.
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