Woody Allen offers a simply idyllic vista of Paris from the eyes of a hackneyed Hollywood writer in “Midnight in Paris,” one who somehow got hooked in to a conservative family, with a fiancee (Rachel McAdams) who is ready to hen-peck his every move.
Gil is staying with his fiancee and her family at a 5-star hotel in Paris. Still, as the renegade script writer, he feels unrestrained by this sizable generosity and finds a way to bash his future father-in-law’s political stance while sitting down to breakfast:John: I’m excited about the venture between the French folks and for the corporation, but otherwise, I’m not a big Francophile.
Gil is already smitten with Paris by the time the group tour of Versailles begins. He gets his a novel writing idea tested by both Inez and Michael Sheen (Paul), who plays a high-minded art historian who has been tapped to lecture at the Sorbonne.
The trouble starts when her friend, asks here where they will live after they get married: Malibu or Paris?
Gil does get a good bashing, but more than makes up for it with his trips to ‘20s Paris, where he gets some personal exposure to Bohemian culture. And there certainly are entertaining elements in the dialogue: You’ll never write well if you fear writing, Hemmingway says to Gil, alone in a Packard.
Overall, the scenes of Gil, the overwhelmed American scriptwriter reveling in artists of the ‘20s, makes the movie worth seeing. The trouble is not that Gertrude Stein (1874 - 1946) did not have contact with many great writers and painters, like Picasso and Matisse. It’s that as a Jew, she assisted the Nazi Party during WW II.
Stein was a close friend, or the lover of Bernard Faÿ, director of the Bibliothèque Nationale, under the collaborationist Vichy government in France. In 1941, at Faÿ’s suggestion, Stein agreed to translate a set of speeches by Marshal Philippe Pétain—a hundred eighty pages of explicitly anti-Semitic tirades—into English. (She hoped that they would be published in America, although they never were.)
In her preface to the translation, she compared Pétain with George Washington as “first in war, first in peace and first in the hearts of countrymen. ”Pétain is credited with sending thousands of French Jews to their death.
In New York City, Spring of 2012, “The Steins Collect,” came to the Metropolitan Museum of Art from stops in San Francisco and Paris. The show presented two hundred works of painters like Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, as obtained by her brothers, Leo and Michael, and Michael’s wife, Sarah, who were the earliest collectors to recognize the talents of painters like Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse.
But the show left out any mention that Gertrude did work on behalf of France’s Vichy government. Meanwhile, concerned citizens in New York voiced their complaint before the Met show - that facts about the exhibit were excluded. The Met, bowing to pressure, added an incriminating footnote to Gertrude, directing them to Barbara Will’s book: “Unlikely Collaboration: Gertrude Stein, Bernard Faÿ, and the Vichy Dilemma.”
The question for Allen is still that Stein’s life and loves and evident passion for the Nazi Party were not a closely guarded secret before production and filming of Midnight in Paris in 2011. Another book, by Janet Malcolm, “Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice,” and Alan Riding’s “And the Show Went On,” were published a few years before filming began on the movie.
Besides, one would think that someone of Allen’s wit would be able to pick up bits and pieces about Stein while schlepping about New York City or meandering through a bookstore.
Allen about writing the "Midnight in Paris" script: “I was excited about this deliciously direct character (Gil); I was writing about them in a satirical way; I wasn’t trying to make them meaningful or profound characters; I was trying to make them amusing and entertaining. ”If Allen was attempting to satirize or ridicule the Tea Party, Republicans or conservatives, he succeeded with Gil.
But does Allen really believe that Gil’s encounters at midnight were not so meaningful or profound? Or is it that Allen resembles Hollywood more than he would care to admit - oblivious to history when it suits him; more concerned with modern day politics - Tea Party Republicans - than with getting the history of the Holocaust right. Which brings us back to the New Yorker story about Stein, and begs the question: If the Met and “The Steins Collect” exhibit is held to this standard of full disclosure, then why not Allen? Where is his Gertrude Stein footnote to "Midnight in Paris?"
© 2013 Larry Ingram
Based in St Louis,
Larry Ingram writes about the news media, movies and culture, as well as topics like race, privilege, Christianity, religious expression and tolerance.
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