City of light and licentiousness
While visiting “Paris Vu par Hollywood,” the new exhibition at Paris’s Hôtel de Ville, I realized that the dreamily romantic vision Americans have of Paris probably owes as much, if not more, to the eight hundred made-in-America films about the city than to the literary output of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Stein, etc., which usually gets the credit for the American love affair with all things Parisian.
From the viewpoint of the show’s curator, most American films offer cliché-ridden images of Paris, depicted in the early days as a decadent city that offered the puritanical Americans an outlet for banned-in-the-USA naughtiness or as a platform on which Americans could project their historical fantasies about the city. In the past decade, thrillers and action films have offered a way to punish the country that wouldn’t join in the Iraq War by cinematically destroying the Eiffel Tower and other monuments onscreen. More recently, we have the full-blown nostalgia of Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris and Martin Scorcese’s Hugo.
Most visitors, however, will just be amused by this romp through the history of American films set in Paris, featuring clips, photos, drawings, costumes and more, beginning with footage from the first film ever made in Paris, by none other than Thomas Edison. Until the end of the 1950s, most American films of Paris were made on Hollywood sets, ranging from the obviously (and charmingly) fake sets of Vincent Minnelli’s An American in Paris to the more realistic ones of Ernst Lubitsch, who set 12 movies in Paris but never filmed on location there.
If the exhibition whets your appetite, the art-house cinema Le Champo is showing such delights as Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife (Lubitsch), Charade (Stanley Donen), Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Howard Hawks) and many more, beginning on Oct. 3.
True film buffs will also want to have the catalogue, which is even richer in images than the exhibition and contains essays by a number of film critics and interviews with Scorcese and other directors.