Each month in TAP, we select a Movie of the Month to help prepare our students for their overseas trip. This month we’re starting to prepare for our 2016 adventure in France and the Benelux countries, so we’ve selected the Woody Allen film,Midnight in Paris, to watch first. The big question, of course, is what is this movie about?
Well, this is one of those movies that is just about so much. First, it’s about the idea that being somewhere else is better than being here. That’s an idea that’s near and dear to TAP’s heart, and it’s one of the reason why we’ve continued to travel the world with students for the ten years now. It’s not that home is a bad place, it’s that home isn’t the only place, and history books aren’t the only way to learn. In the movie, an American author named Gil Pender (played by Owen Wilson), who is vacationing in Paris while trying to complete his novel. In the movie he visits a bunch of places that we’ll see on our trip (the Palace of Versailles, Monet’s gardens in Giverny, the used book stalls along the Seine River, Notre Dame, and the Eiffel Tower) and many places we could visit during our free time (The Musee de l’Orangerie, the Rodin Museum gardens, and the Moulin Rouge).
Gil’s trouble is that creatively he’s stuck, but suddenly he’s magically transported back in time to the 1920s in Paris. In TAP, we’re lucky enough to travel the world, but how amazing would it be to travel the world and visit different time periods too? That’s what Gil gets to experience.
It’s also sort of about the famous question, “If you could have dinner with any three people from history, living or dead, who would you choose?” Gil gets to experience that. The 1920s in Paris was a time in between WWI and WWII when authors and artists from all over the world settled in the City of Lights, forming an incredibly creative community we call The Lost Generation. Gil gets to meet authors like Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Stein, Faulkner, Barnes, and Eliot along with artists and musicians like Dali, Cole Porter, Picasso, and Matisse, who hung out and talked about art and literature while sitting in cafes, drinking in bars, and dancing the night away in Paris’ hottest clubs. What better place for Gil to get transported to?
It’s also about the very simple idea that there’s just something magical about Paris. I’ve been lucky enough to travel to a lot of places, but there is no place that has quite the same magic as Paris. You guys will know that soon. There’s just something unbelievably special about Paris, and I’d be a fool to try and put into words what that is. Far greater writers than me have made that effort and have failed, so you’re just going to have to wait and see what that feeling is like first hand next year.
For the time being, though, you can watch Gil travel back in time, meet his idols, and stroll through the magical streets of Paris. Every time I’ve been to Paris since seeing this movie, I can not help but hope a magical limo will transport me to different times in Paris’ past. This movie, unlike any other, captures a little bit of that magic that you feel what strolling through the City of Lights.
While you’re watching the movie, here’s a little Lost Generation guidebook to help you better understand and connect with what’s going on.
The Lost Generation
The term “Lost Generation” refers to the generation that grew up and became adults during World War I. The phrase was popularized by the American author Ernest Hemingway in his novel The Sun Also Rises, which was written about the group of “lost” artists (writers, painters, actors, musicians…) who found one another in 1920s Paris. Hemingway claims the phrase actually comes from his mentor, another American author living in Paris during that time, Gertrude Stein.
Hemingway kept journals during the time he was living in Paris, and after his death, those thoughts were published as a memoir called A Moveable Feast. If you really want to know what it was like to be Hemingway or one of his friends, that book would give you incredible insight into their lives. Some of the cafes and bars that Hemingway talks about in the book are still there today, and, if you do your research, maybe you can have lunch where Hemingway ate.
In A Moveable Feast, Hemingway explains that Stein heard an auto mechanic call that generation a “generation perdue,” or a lost generation. Stein, who was a great deal older than the younger authors and artists she mentored, said to Hemingway, “That is what you are. That is what you all are… all of you young people who served in the war. You are a lost generation. In this context, lost doesn’t mean missing, but disoriented, wandering, aimless, or directionless – which is recognizing the fact that there was a great deal of confusion and lack of direction among the young men (and women) who served in WWI in the years following the war.
Below is a very good video that explains the existence and influence of this Lost Generation.
Hemingway, who is originally from Oak Park, Illinois (near the Brookfield Zoo – and you can still visit two of the houses he lived in there), plays a key role in the movie, and is probably the most famous member of this “lost generation” of artists.
During his lifetime, Hemingway wrote seven novels, six collections of short stories, and two nonfiction books. Several more pieces (like A Moveable Feast) were published after his death. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954 and is considered one of the greatest American writers ever.
He was born and raised right here in Illinois, and soon after graduating high school, he enlisted in the military to help in WWI. Working as an ambulance driver near the front lines, Hemingway was seriously injured. These experiences became his novel, A Farewell to Arms.
Shortly after the war, he married and moved to Paris. He worked as a journalist, but also found himself amongst other American, British, and Irish authors and artist known as the “lost generation.” During this time, he wrote and published The Sun Also Rises. Later, living up to the concept of being “lost” he found himself reporting (and on some levels) participating in the Spanish Civil War. He turned that experience into For Whom the Bell Tolls (Mr. Curtis’ favorite Hemingway book). He made his way to London, then back to France. Acting as a reporter, he was there for both the D-Day landings at Normandy and later, the liberation of Paris.
Later he became a big game hunter in Africa, lived in Cuba and in Key West, Florida, eventually retiring to Idaho, where he committed suicide in 1961, just weeks before his 62nd birthday. Throughout his life, four marriages, and countless adventures, he always appeared to be “lost.”
If you’re anything like me, and I imagine a lot of you are, you’ll want to check out some of Hemingway’s (and the other members of the Lost Generation’s) favorite spots while we’re in Paris. Many of them still exist.
Of course, this isn’t required viewing, but you might want to know a bit more about Hemingway. This biography should get you ready for your trips, and have you wishing, just like Gil (from the movie) you could travel back to Paris of the 1920s too.
Cole Porter appears in Midnight in Paris for only a few moments, but his music is heard throughout and plays an important role.
Despite the wishes of his wealthy family in Indiana, Cole Porter was an American musician, composer, and songwriter. He began writing for Broadway in the 1920s, and by the 1930s he was one of the most successful composers around.
Before that, in 1917, when the United States entered WWI, Porter moved to Paris to work with the relief organizations. He joined the French Foreign Legion and served in the war in North Africa. During his military service, he had a portable piano that he could carry on his back so that he could entertain the troops.
After the war, Porter lived in a luxurious apartment in Paris, where he held extravagant and scandalous parties. Porter’s “lost”-ness was part the artistic lifestyle his family did not want him to pursue, part the aftereffects of the war, and part the fact that he was homosexual in an era where his lifestyle was not widely accepted here at home.
Porter eventually married Linda Lee Thomas, a rich American divorcee. She was well aware of his homosexuality, but his success and status in society gave her better social position, and she enabled him to hide his true self publically, where his lifestyle was not accepted.
He was very successful in the 1930s and 40s, but a horseback riding accident in the late 30s left him severely crippled. After the deaths of his wife and mother in the early 50s, Porter’s injury became too much for him. His leg was amputated in 1958, and he never wrote music again. He died six years later, having been isolated from all but his few closest friends for those final years.
For a little bit more about Porter, check out the video below – his life in Paris begins at about the 10:30 mark, and it continues into the first few minutes of part two of the video (which will have a link at the end of this video). Be sure to watch long enough into part two to hear some of Porter’s timeless show tunes like Anything Goes, I Get a Kick out of You, and Let’s Fall in Love.
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Scott Fitzgerald was an American author, from Minnesota, who wrote both novels and short stories. He is considered by many to be one of the greatest American authors of all time. He and Hemingway formed a close friendship during their years in Paris.
Fitzgerald, along with his wife, Zelda, spent a great deal of time in Paris in the 1920s. He befriended Hemingway and several other members of the American expatriate (means citizens of one country living in another) community. During his time in Paris, Fitzgerald wrote countless short stories for American magazines and also worked on his novels The Great Gatsby (which Hemingway read an early draft of) and Tender is the Night (which is partially about his time in Paris with Zelda).
Although he is now considered one of the greatest authors of the 20th century, Fitzgerald’s his first novel was the only one that sold well enough to support the extravagant lifestyle that he and Zelda lived. The Great Gatsby, now considered his masterpiece, did not become popular until after Fitzgerald died.
Because he lived beyond his means, and due to the medical care that Zelda later needed, Fitzgerald was constantly in money trouble. He often took loans from his agent and friends. The financial mess, his wife’s mental illnesses, his own alcoholism, and the fact that his work was poorly received by critics of the time and did not sell well, all took it’s toll on Fitzgerald.
Scott Fitzgerald’s wife, Zelda, was also an author. Zelda was brought up in the American south in a wealthy family who felt Scott was not successful enough for her. This motivated him to move forward from selling short stories to magazines to writing his first novel. However, Scott’s friend, Ernest Hemingway, felt that while the couple lived in France, Zelda intentionally sabotaged Scott’s writing by luring him away from work with parties and alcohol.
Their marriage suffered greatly under the weight of financial troubles, his alcoholism, and her mental illness. For much of the 1920s, the two lived unhappily, Scott focused on his writing, but not progressing as much as he’d like with Zelda distracting him – and Zelda bored. They both mined their relationship for writing material and Zelda’s 1932 novel Save Me the Waltz was a semi-autobiographical look at their declining relationship. The book itself didn’t help matters, as it touched on many of the themes and incidents Scott was drawing from for Tender is the Night, which he worked on for years and finally published in 1934.
Scott Fitzgerald died of a heart attack in 1940. He hadn’t seen Zelda, who was in and out of mental health facilities for several years. She died in a fire in a mental hospital in 1948.
Gertrude Stein was an American author, poet, and playwright. She served as sort of the matriarch for the lost generation of American expatriate artists living in Paris in the 1920s. She hosted salons (small parties for artists and writers to discuss art, music, literature, and culture) at her home and Paris every Saturday. Many of the younger writers and artists living in Paris at the time saw Stein as a mentor of sorts, so the regular Saturday salons were an effort to make sure she had the rest of the week to work on her own writing instead of being constantly interrupted. Regular attendees of the salons (which are shown in the movie) included Picasso, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Sinclair Lewis, Ezra Pound, Thornton Wilder, and Henri Matisse – among many others.
Stein’s most famous work is The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, which isn’t really an autobiography at all. Alice B. Toklas was Stein’s long time romantic partner. The two lived together in Paris for almost forty years. During Stein’s salons, Toklas would act as hostess and entertain the wives and girlfriends of the authors and artists Stein would work with. The book is a look at the years the couple spent in Paris told through Alice’s eyes.
Stein is arguably the most important person in all of this. Here’s a mini-biography of her.
Josephine Baker was an American-born actress, singer, and dancer. She was sometimes known as the Black Pearl or the Bronze Venus. Baker, who was African-American, refused to perform for segregated audiences in America, so she moved to France, became a French citizen, and became incredibly famous and successful in Paris. She was considered to be the most successful American entertainer working in Paris. Not only were the French more tolerant of homosexuals (like Cole Porter, Gertrude Stein, and Oscar Wilde) in the 1920s than Americans were, but there wasn’t the racial segregation that we had here in the States.
Baker’s act, which was unique and quite risque, became the talk of Paris. She began starring in movies, as well as dancing on stage, and she became a muse of sorts to other artists like Picasso, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Langston Hughes, and Christian Dior. In the movie, Gil sees her for just a few moments dancing at Chez Bricktop’s, a nightclub.
One of Spain’s most successful painters and sculptors, Pablo Picasso spent most of his adult life living in France. He is considered one of the best and most influential artists of the 20th century. Known for helping found the cubist style, the collage, and many other artistic movements, Picasso achieved international fame.
During the 1920s, Picasso was living in Paris with his wife, who introduced him to the high society and social life of wealthy Paris. This wasn’t Picasso’s style, he preferred to live a more isolated life, so a wedge was driven between the two. Eventually, Picasso started an affair with a younger woman and his marriage fell apart. This was just the first in a series of affairs, as Picasso had four children with three different women. He never divorced his wife, though, as it would have been too expensive for him to do so. Their marriage ended when she died in the 1950s. He eventually remarried and continued to work until his death in 1973. Gil meets Picasson at Gertrude Stein’s house while he is showing Stein a new piece of art, and his mistress, the fictional Adrianna looks on.
Here’s a video about Picasso, his time in France, and some of the works you can see while we’re in Paris. The modern art museums aren’t in the itinerary, though, so you’ll have to plan to see it during free time if it’s something you want to see. That’s definitely something you can do, you just have to plan ahead.
Another Spanish artist living in Paris at the time was Salvador Dali. Dali had achieved a small amount of success in Spain, but in the late 20s he traveled to Paris where he was introduced to Picasso, whom he idolized. Picasso had heard of Dali through mutual friends and took the younger artist under his wing.
Dali is best known for his surrealistic work, like The Persistence of Memory (which you probably know as the painting with the melting clocks), but he was also a sculptor, a filmmaker, and a photographer. The movie portrays his collaboration with filmmaker Luis Bunuel, and it was during the making of that film that Dali met his future wife, Gala. The two of them lived in Paris, as the surrealist movement grew and Dali became more and more famous, until WWII broke out, then the two moved to the United States.
The Dali scene in Midnight in Paris is one of my favorite’s in the movie. It perfectly shows you that Dali was a weird dude. There’s a museum of his work in the Monmartre neighborhood of Paris, and that’s another option for your free time. The video below gives you a sneak preview of that museum.
Emmanuel Radnitzky, known better as Man Ray, was an American artist who lived much of his life in France. He was an important contributor to the surrealist movements (like Dali), and considered himself a painter and photographer. He moved to Paris in 1921, eventually meeting (and photographing) James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, and other important figures. He befriended Picasso and soon became a regular figure at Stein’s Saturday salons.
An American poet, considered one of the most influential poets of the 20th century, T.S. Eliot spent most of his adult life living in Europe. He spent a year in Paris in the early 1900s, near the end of his college years, and returned often. His time in Paris influenced his writing a great deal, even his most famous poem, which is often considered the best poem of the 20th century,The Waste Lands.
During one trip in 1920, Eliot met another writer, the Irishman James Joyce (another writer who lived in Paris). It’s said that Eliot didn’t like Joyce at first, and that Joyce didn’t think much of Eliot’s poetry – however, the two eventually became very close friends, and Eliot visited Joyce everytime he went to Paris. Joyce, for whatever reason, is not included in the movie.
Gil meets him one night while getting into the magical limo, and Gil gushes about one of Eliot’s most famous works, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.
Okay, I just said James Joyce isn’t in the movie, Midnight in Paris, but he is mentioned by Gil (Owen Wilson) in a key scene. Joyce was an Irish novelist and poet, considered to be one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. He is best known for his novels , Ulysses, A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, and Finnegans Wake.
Joyce finished writing Ulysses while living in Paris. He was just starting to gain a bit of fame, so he was able to stay in Paris and socialize with the other literary figures living in the city – he spent a great deal of time at the bookshop, Shakespeare and Company (more on the bookshop below) to meet other writers. Many people consider Ulysses among the greatest novels ever written, but it was banned in England, Ireland, and America and no company would publish it. Instead, Sylvia Beach, owner of Shakespeare and Company published the first edition of the classic.
Joyce left Paris in the early 40s when the Nazi occupation of France began. Beach also closed the shop during the occupation (don’t worry, it’s back).
French artist, Henri Matisse, was known primarily as a painter, but also worked as draughtsman, a printmaker, and a sculptor. Along with Picasso, he is thought to be one of the one of the most influential artists of his time.
Gertrude Stein, along with her brothers and sister-in-law, was a great supporter of Matisse and bought a lot of his work to display in her home. In some ways, it was Matisse who was responsible for starting the regular salons. Matisse was so proud of his work being displayed at Stein’s home that he would bring people to see it regularly. It became somewhat of a nuisance, and Stein was unable to get any of her own work done, so she started the Saturday salons to give everyone a chance to socialize and share on her schedule.
In the early 1900s, Matisse met Picasso at one of the Saturday salons (he also meets Gil at Stein’s house). The two artists quickly became great friends and rivals. Matisse’s style was much more realistic and detailed than Picasso’s but the two men, along with other artists they socialized with at Stein’s salons, were a great influence to one another.
Some of Matisse’s work is on display at the Pompidou Centre in Paris, another free time option. Here’s a brief video someone took of some of his work.
Djuna Barnes was an American poet, playwright, journalist, artist, and short-story writer. Today, she is best known for her novelNightwood, but in the time period Midnight in Paris takes place in, she was more known as a journalist. In the early 20s, an assignment from an American magazine took her to Paris, where she lived for the next decade. During this time she interviewed numerous artists and authors living in Paris, which led to a close friendship with James Joyce. During this time she also published a novel, a collection of poetry, and numerous short stories. Gil dances with her briefly in one scene in the movie.
Luis Buñuel was a Spanish filmmaker who worked in Spain, Mexico and France. He is thought to be a huge influence on the art of filmmaking, especially short film. Critic Roger Ebert called Buñuel’s first film “the most famous short film ever made.” It was a piece that he co-wrote and co-directed with Salvador Dali. In the movie, when Gil meets Buñuel, he makes some suggestions about a future film about a dinner party that the director should make – eventually the filmmaker did make that movie.
The video below is the movie, Un Chien Andalou, that Bunuel and Dali made together. It is probably the weirdest movie I’ve ever watched, and I understood almost none of it. Enjoy.
More Famous Names
If you pay close attention, you’ll hear a few more famous names tossed out during the movie. Jean Cocteau was a French writer and filmmaker, Archibald MacLeish was an American poet, Juan Belmonte was a Spanish bullfighter, Jack Turner was an abstract painter, H.M. Brock was a British painter, Amedeo Modigliani was an Italian painter, Coco Chanel was a French fashion designer, and William Faulkner was an American novelist.
Shakespeare and Co.
Shakespeare and Company is the name of an independent bookstores on Paris’ Left Bank, near the Notre Dame Cathedral. It was owned by Sylvia Beach, an American living in Paris, and opened in 1919. During the 1920s, it was a hangout for writers and artists like Ezra Pound, Hemingway, Joyce, Ford Madox Ford, Fitzgerald, Stein, and Man Ray.
Customers could buy or borrow books, and often young authors could live/sleep in the store in exchange for stocking the shelves and working on their own writing. Beach supported writers, and she offered many books that were banned in the US and UK. In fact, Joyce’s biggest book, Ulysses, was originally published by Beach, because it was banned everywhere else. The store plays a big part in Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast.
The store closed in 1940, during the German occupation, and (at least this version of it) never re-opened.
In 1951 a former American soldier named George Whitman opened another English-language bookstore on Paris’s Left Bank. The store was named Le Mistral. Much like Shakespeare and Company, the store became a hangout for American and British poets and writers living in Paris, writers like Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs. When he opened, Whitman had intentionally modeled his shop after Beach’s and, in 1964, after Beach’s death, Whitman renamed his store “Shakespeare and Company” in tribute to the original (it’s okay, he had Beach’s blessing – they had become close friends).
Now run by Whitman’s daughter, Sylvia Beach Whitman (yes, she was named after the original owner), the bookstore is still there today. Sylvia Whitman runs the store the same way as her father – it still has sleeping facilities, with thirteen beds for young writers, and there are regular poetry readings, writer’s meetings, and other activities. The bookstore does play a small roll in Midnight in Paris, and it is one of Mr. Curtis’ favorite spots in the city.
More Famous Places
One of the first places Gil visits in the 1920s (where he saw Josephine Baker dancing), was Chez Bricktop’s, owned by an America woman named Ada “Bricktop” Smith from 1924-1961. Bricktop’s was an iconic club and one of the most important cultural hotspots of the 20th century. Sadly, Chez Bricktop is long gone.
The scene where Gil first meets Hemingway was set at Crémerie-Restaurant Polidor, a historic restaurant in the Latin Quarter of Paris. The restaurant’s interior looks almost the same as it did 100 years ago, and the menu has been virtually unchanged for longer than that. Back in the ’20s, Hemingway really did hang out there, as did Joyce, and later Henry Miller and Jack Kerouac. Polidor is still there, and perhaps you could have lunch or coffee where Hemingway and Fitzgerald debated and argued about their work and about Zelda.
The Church of St Etienne du Mont is a real Parisian church where Gil was picked up each night at midnight by the magical limo. The church can be visited during our free time, and maybe Mr. Curtis will take a select group of literature enthusiasts to be there for the chime of midnight just in case something magical happens.
Gil, Inez, and their friends tour the Musee Rodin early in the movie. Interestingly enough, the tour guide in those scenes was played by Carla Bruni, an Italian/French actress who just happened to be the French First Lady at the time of the filming. She married French president Nicolas Sarkozy in 2008. The museum, however, was originally the Hotel Biron, where Rodin lived and worked. When he died, he left his work to the French people, on the condition that it be displayed at the Hotel Biron. You can visit the Rodin Museum during free time, but there is an admission charge. The gardens Gil walked through are accessible also – admission to Rodin’s gardens is just €1.
Gertrude Stein’s scenes take place at the writer’s real home, 27 rue de Fleurus. It’s here that Gil also meetsPicasso and Adriana. Unfortunately, the house isn’t open to tours, but there is a plaque above the door that commemorates the Stein’s time in Paris.
Free time can be spent at the Musee de l’Orangerie, where Gil sees several of Monet’s water lily paintings. The museum is also home to works by Paul Cézanne, Henri Matisse, Renoir, and Picasso.
Late in the movie, Gil is able to travel further back in time to a time known as La Belle Epoque (The Beautiful Era). There, he meets three more artists from Paris’ past – this time the 1890s.
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was a French painter who was drawn to the colorful life of Parisian theatre and music, including places like the famous Moulin Rouge. He painted exciting and provocative pictures of the life of that time period. He is among the most famous of the post-impressionist painters (along with Cezanne, Van Gogh, and Gauguin).
Gauguin was a French artist who was not well recognized until after his death. Today we appreciate his experimental use of color and style that were very unique to the time period. His work heavily influenced later artists like Picasso and Matisse.
Degas was a French artist famous for his paintings, sculptures, and drawings. Many of his most famous works deal the subject of dance. He is also thought to be one of the founders of the impressionist style, but he preferred the term realist. His portraits of people are most famous for the realistic looks on their faces, indicating a psychological complexity.
I hope you all enjoy Midnight in Paris as much as I did the first time I saw it. I hope it makes you dream about strolling down the quiet streets of Paris. I hope it makes you want to travel back in time. I hope it gets you excited about visiting Paris in just over a year. It’s a fun movie that gives a unique insight into a different time in Paris, and, if you’re anything like me, you’ll be quietly hoping that somehow our plane takes us to 1920s Paris by mistake.
Each of the movies we select are chosen for that very reason, to give you different perspectives on the people, history, and culture of the places we’re visiting. This movie is definitely well worth a few hours of your time before we fly to Europe.
So, sit back, relax, grab some macarons and a croque monsieur, and watch our Movie of the Month,Midnight in Paris, along with the other videos we’ve posted today. You can find Midnight in Paris free at some online streaming sites, or check the local libraries or video stores if you prefer. If it costs money to rent, we suggest you team up and watch it with a few other students in the group.
We ask that all of our France/Benelux travelers take the time to watch our Movies of the Month, then come back here to discuss the movie, the history, and the impact this story had on the people and places we’ll visit. In your response, we’d like you to tell us first what you thought of the movie and why. Second, tell us three specific things you learned from watching this movie (and reading this post) that you think will make your experience in Paris even better than it would have been. The longer and more in depth our discussion gets, the better it is for all of us.
Keep in mind, also, that several books written by the Lost Generation authors are on your Around the World in 80 Books assignment, including Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises and A Moveable Feast and Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night. If there are different books, poems, plays, or short story collections you heard about while reading this post or watching the videos that you’d like to read, please go for it. Those will count towards your Around the World in 80 books assignment too.