What I didn’t like about “Midnight in Paris” (2011)
I haven’t read any reviews, but judging by the discussion amongst people, this latest film is being hailed as a brilliant return to ‘true’ Woody Allen. I have to disagree.
Why did he feel the need to make such a movie? Does Allen himself have misgivings about not having settled in Europe (read Paris) living the life of the ‘true’ artist? The plot attempts to address regrets and missed (artistic) opportunities, but it’s likely that the film itself stems from these very things. The nostalgia is consequently one-dimensional and depressing.
It takes us just one utterance from Paul to realise this is an intolerably unrealistic character. More annoying even than the fellow talking about Marshall McLuhan in the cinema queue in “Annie Hall” (1977). Why not make him more like Mary Wilkie in “Manhattan” (1979) - opinionated but with real qualities from real life? The relationship conflict in the present day would have then been much more convincing. As it is, the Gil and Inez relationship is absurd, they have no spark or interest in one another. And nor do the actors - it’s as if they are imitating the improv and natural chemistry of Allen and Keaton without feeling it or understanding it.
The Paris portrayed may as well be an exhibit at Disneyland - how many postcard shots of tourist destinations: that river, Notre Dame, boulevard coffee shops, and the bloody Eiffel Tower do we really need to see? Is this really anybody’s experience of Paris, beyond the most unimaginative visitor? Or if it is, can’t Woody Allen do better than that?
The vintage jazz soundtrack, with obligatory accordion drivel popping up from time to time, was tired and did not evoke any of the musical spark of the 1920s. I yearn for a music that energises and propels, not blends into the background as another overused and standard Woody Allen device that we come to expect. Not to mention the awful Cole Porter imitation. Just as Allen experimented with the ‘fourth wall’ in earlier films, he and his team need to be now more courageous with their sound design. Our sonic expectations and listening environment have changed monumentally in the last twenty years; much more subtlety and sophistication could be attempted with the sound and music.
The 1920s in the film felt and looked a little better than the present day, however I feel insulted to have cameo modernist figures popping up every few minutes delivering predictable monologues. This is like “How To Become Ridiculously Well Read In One Evening” (O. E. Parrott 1985), but without the humour. Bogey in “Play it Again, Sam” (1972) worked because we got to know him and his message was consistent and spot on. These imitations were like ghoulish robots springing to life as you turned the corner. Is the filmmaker trying to educate us on modernism? Or, if it is indeed a dreamlike mirroring of the main character’s art-and-literature-rain-addled mind, then why didn’t Freud pop up? And what about Stravinsky - where the hell was he hiding? At least Kugelmass (from “The Kugelmass Episode”, The New Yorker, 1977) attempted to interact with his ‘new’ world - explaining his leisure suit to Emma... - instead of repeating “wow, you’re....?”, which is all Gil Spender managed.
If Woody Allen is to be remembered as the great artist and filmmaker that he is, he needs to extract further pages from Ingmar Bergman’s book. Bergman’s later works were revelatory from “Fanny and Alexander” (1982) - exploring the artist’s own childhood and upbringing - to “Saraband” (2003), which revisited “Scenes from a Marriage” (1973) with the fresh reflections that only a mature and wise filmmaker can have.
“Midnight in Paris” is a poor imitation of Allen’s previous work - stepping into different dimensions or decades no longer surprises us, and the historical characters’ portrayals give us no insights other than what we can learn in five minutes on the internet.
I am nostalgic for Woody Allen’s film masterpieces of the 1970s; fortunately they can be easily revisited and their various messages and references continue to resonate differently as my own insights and experiences develop - an essence that seems almost entirely missing from “Midnight in Paris”.