This is going to be too long...I’m sorry in advance.
Damnit, I wish I had seen Midnight in Paris earlier so that I could have gotten in the middle of your terrific debate, John and Jason. Now I feel like a guy who’s shown up late to a fight and with everyone gone home starts punching the air. Well, I guess I’ll punch that air and if anyone feels like taking a swing back...just let me take off my glasses first.
SHOCK: I quite liked Midnight in Paris and will stick up for Jason and Ben. I know, can you believe that the resident Woody Allen apostle and frequent apologist liked the new Woody Allen movie that’s supposed to be his best in years? Shocking. Considering I really like and maybe even love more recent films by Woody Allen than any person rightfully should, it should be pretty (painfully) obvious that I’d dig this one too. I just love the guy’s films, what can I say? He’s meant a lot to me in my life. He’s been validating my skinny, neurotic nerdiness since I was 16. I even wear his glasses in honor of him (though they are so trendy now that no one would notice or care). As Jason mentioned, his adeptness at mixing high and low comedy is what really spoke to me as a nerdy teenager. I was the kid in a hick-town high school with 90 kids in his graduating class who wanted to talk and make jokes about literature and films with absolutely zero friends interested in doing the same. I remember discovering Woody and finally feeling validated for my interest in such things. Here was a guy who not only was hilarious but was interested in books and movies and philosophy and was constantly using them as gags/elements in his movies.
In Love and Death there is a joke about line from T.S. Eliot’s Prufrock. Did I appreciate the hell out of this because I knew and loved the poem? Yes. Did it make me feel like I was in-the-know? You’re goddamn right it did.
I feel like I’m in-the-know every time The Simpsons makes a reference to a Stanley Kubrick film or any other film or cultural artifact I’m aware of. Are they doing this just to flatter my knowledge of film and culture? Maybe. Or maybe they are including these references because they are things the writers and producers are interested in or want to make fun of, and they are hoping that others are aware of these things so that they can appreciate the joke. And if they aren’t aware of these things, they hopefully they will seek out these things. Jason’s right, if someone doesn’t know Hemingway and sees Midnight then maybe they’ll want to find out who Hemingway was and maybe even read a book by him (I’d prefer this to someone hearing about “twitter” in a movie and then deciding to join the site to be in-the-know). I appreciated seeing Luis Bunuel in the film because I love him and I got the reference to The Exterminating Angel and smiled at it. If someone never heard of Bunuel or this film, then maybe they will check him out and watch this movie. That’d be awesome.
Taratino makes copious references to pop culture and has various homages to films he loves in his films. The opening of Inglourious Basterds is a nod to The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. I can imagine that Tarantino did this at least partly because he loves that movie and he’s hoping others do too or that they’ll want to check it out.
Jokes and references are all about being in-the-know. If I knew nothing about current events I might not laugh at the jokes Stephen Colbert makes.
I get your gripe that Midnight flatters the audience’s knowledge of various people and things John, but I just can’t stick with it as a legit criticism because it can be extended to soo many things. Does part of your pleasure for westerns stem from your knowledge of the genre and does seeing a western you love validate your love for guns, horses, story, character, etc.? We will be discussing Destry Rides Again soon, I’m sure. It’s feasible that a western film lover could derive pleasure from that film because it’s aware of other westerns at the time and seems to comment on them. That doesn’t mean the film is bullshit flattery for people who like westerns (or if it is then all films can be reduced to bullshit flattery on some level).
I’m sorry to give you the old reductio ad absurdum, but I just don’t like the flattery argument. I will say that I understand where this argument is coming from considering your theater going experience, and trust me, I can sympathize. I might be annoyed by it too.
There were two annoying, airheaded girls sitting close to me during Midnight and at times I could hear their superficial and inane chatter. The first time the word “pedantic” was used in the film they both turned to each other and asked what the word meant. One the girls pulled out her cell phone and proceeded to look up the word and share it with her friend. This means the film was working on many levels. I’ll explain: 1) the film exposed their stupidity and rudeness to me 2) the film made me feel superior to them 3) I knew what the word meant so I felt validated as an English major haha 4) despite my incredible arrogance and contempt for people I think are stupid, these people learned a new word! haha I use this anecdote to validate your hatred for the film John. It’s because of people like me. I’m an asshole (in my head at least).
All jokes aside, I don’t think Woody included the word pedantic in his script to elicit this sort of arrogant response. I think he used it because he knows the word and it was the precise word he was looking for. I do the same thing with my own writing. If I use a fancy word it’s probably because I like the word (its sound and shape) and because it has the closest definition to the idea/feeling I’m trying to express. If my reader knows the word, then awesome, and if they don’t they’ll look it up.
I would say the same for Woody’s inclusion of all the various people in the film. To me, the film played like Woody wanting to bring to life and write for all these characters he admires from a different time period. I bet he’s fascinated, like many of us, with the idea that Stein, Picasso, Hemingway, and all these great artists were hanging out in Paris together. If he included all these references to these people its because he’s fascinated by them and not because he’s trying to reward us for being English or art majors.
My only two real complaints with the film (it’s over-cuteness at times aside) are that my hero Faulkner wasn’t characterized but only mentioned (Hemingway’s great and all, but I wanted to hear Faulkner’s southern drawl) and that Woody is too old to play the lead character. Owen Wilson is one of the better Woody surrogates in some time because he doesn’t overdo it and sticks to his own charming guns instead. Still, I always envision Woody in the Woody role! I can always hear his nagging voice through the dialogue and I pine for him to recite it. Having Woody gush over sitting with Hemingway would make it all the more better because we see that he included Hemingway not to flatter the audience but because he’s thrilled at the idea of sitting with him and also getting to write for him. (By the way, I do a really great/awful Woody Allen impression...ask me to do it sometime if you see me).
Okay, I’m starting to ramble too much on this flattery issue. I sound insane. I’ll mention another point of disagreement I have with you John and then I’m done. I won’t get into the moral truth argument because then I’d never finish this already too long post.
About the characters as caricatures. Woody often makes his characters into caricatures because he’s a comedian. Usually, his protagonist is a well-developed surrogate for himself and the characters around him are comedic elements to play off of. Michael Sheen plays a one-dimensional, pedantic, pseudo-intellectual in Midnight because this caricature is a Woody Allen staple for comedic derision. The same character repeats throughout his films (Alan Alda in Crimes and Misdemeanors being one of my favorites). The same thing with the nagging wife/girlfriend who is fed up with the Woody-surrogate’s various neuroses and complaints. A Woody Allen stock character. I understand the point that these characters are caricatures, but he’s using them for comedic purposes (as comedy often will).
I would actually agree with you John that the “moral” of the film isn’t to dash people’s romantic dreams. If anything, it tells you to keep being romantic forever. In this way, while the film certainly reminds of The Purple Rose of Cairo, it has radically different message from that film. This is definitely one of his most idealized and least cynical films.
I’ve seen almost all of Woody’s films from the last 20 years (I think You Will Meet a Tall, Dark Stranger is the only omission), and I have to say that this is certainly one of his more livelier efforts. It seems as though the idea of Paris really inspired him to try something new, which is awesome. I’m always rooting for Woody to make another great film. Midnight is easily his best since Match Point, and beyond that, I’d have to see it again before making a much bolder statement. This is indeed a delightful film because you can tell how much the idea and history of Paris delights Woody. He’s not looking at it through this objective lens but through a skewed one of imagination and idealization. The fantasy elements in the past are as much fanastical as the “normal” ones in the present. Owen Wilson and the cute blond walk away into the rain and there is no fear that their romance will deteriorate. Not in this Paris because this isn’t the real Paris. This is the romance capital of the World Paris. The city of dreams where love never dies Paris. It’s a fantasy Paris, but it’s the Paris that’s been represented to us for ages. If the film is overly romantic its because Woody is paying homage to this romantic idea of Paris. He doesn’t live there so he doesn’t know what it’s really like. But he’s seen a lot of movies so he knows how it’s fantasized.
John, if you’re not a romantic and you hate Paris then I can see why you don’t like this movie haha. Thank you so much for being the naysayer on this one though. If you hadn’t I wouldn’t have gotten to ramble on like this or be challenged about the film. You’re awesome, seriously. Thanks for all your responses to John too, Jason. You gave me a lot to chew on, as well. You’re awesome too.