Alice Taglioni in Paris-Manhattan


A movie for every day of the year – a good one



24 May


Peter Minuit buys Manhattan, 1626

On this day in 1626, the German-born Peter Minuit bought the island of Manhattan off native Americans for 60 guilders (somewhere around $1,000 at 2013 prices). He had been sent to the New World the previous year by the Dutch West India Company to research possible new products to trade, and had taken over as governor general of the New Netherland colony. The tribe he bought the island off had little concept of anyone having a right to ownership of water or air and, being nomadic, their notion of the territorial right to land was also hazy. There is no record of the native Americans giving up Manhattan for a selection of trinkets, as myth has it, though in the sale of nearby Staten island clothes, agricultural tools, household appliances and musical instruments were all part of the transaction. In 1631 Minuit was suspended as governor general, most probably for lining his own pockets at the expense of the Company. Minuit went on to become governor of the New Sweden colony.




Paris-Manhattan (2012, dir: Sophie Lellouche)

In Woody Allen’s film Play It Again, Sam (he wrote though didn’t direct), Allen’s lovelorn and suddenly single character receives life lessons from Humphrey Bogart. In Sophie Lellouche’s romantic comedy Paris-Manhattan, her lovelorn and tragically single heroine Alice (Alice Taglioni) receives life lessons from Woody Allen, or his voice at any rate, lifted from some of his most familiar films, when she gazes at his poster on her bedroom wall. Alice is gorgeous, funny, clever and solvent, so the fact that she can’t find a man is one of those “only in the movies” situations, which Paris-Manhattan is deliberately all about. And the fact that there is a suitable guy, right under nose – the alarm installer who’s in her dad’s pharmacy more often than seems strictly necessary – is another one. Later on there’s a scene set at the family’s Friday night Sabbath dinner – the family is Jewish, of course – when Bruel’s Victor (how the alarm installer ends up at a family dinner is yet another one) makes an off-the-cuff remark about existence and nothingness, which gets Alice’s Allen antenna twitching, and from there it seems that love is a foregone conclusion. But not before Lellouche dumps a whole load of farcical obstruction in their way, to delay their progress. The obstructive business isn’t so much Woody Allen as Richard Curtis, though even non-believers in Mr Love Actually should admit that Curtis has the edge on Allen when it comes to rom-com, so let’s let that slide.

On the face of it, this is the sort of well dressed, well mannered, nice-looking bourgeois comedy which the French do so effortlessly, though they often travel as well as a tricky Bordeaux. This one works, largely because the two stars, Taglioni and Patrick Bruel, are entirely at home playing characters you really root for. Enjoyment also comes from a beguiling soundtrack – Ella sings Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered on a few occasions – and the fact that Lellouche has these two dancing the “will they won’t they?” to rhythms lifted from Woody Allen films. There’s more than a touch of Manhattan Murder Mystery in here, especially in the scenes in which Alice and Victor and Alice’s parents all start digging into the private life of Alice’s sister and break into her apartment. And is it a spoiler to say that Woody Allen turns up, too, in a cameo so short that it looks like somebody might literally have buttonholed him in a hallway and asked if he wouldn’t mind, you know, just speaking the lines on the card. Maybe he was in France, in the middle of Midnight in Paris, the dates are about right. However they got him in there, for the half a minute or so, he has barely got his Woody Allen shtick warmed up before the scene is over and he’s gone. It’s a nice detail in a film that is full of them, a film that, analysed coolly, is total fromage. File under guilty pleasure.



Why Watch?


  • A light, bright romantic comedy
  • The winning performances of Alice Taglioni and Patrick Bruel
  • Woody Allen’s tiny cameo
  • The swinging jazzy soundtrack


© Steve Morrissey 2014



Paris-Manhattan – at Amazon





Midnight in Paris

Marion Cotillard and Owen Wilson in Midnight in Paris


A movie for every day of the year – a good one



25 October



Birth of Picasso, 1881

On this day in 1881, the Spanish artist Pablo Ruiz y Picasso was born. Prodigiously talented, Picasso was painting at a high level as a child, and continued experimenting with different media and styles – the rose period, the blue period, the African period, cubism, surrealism, and neo-expressionism and so on – right up until his death in 1973. Media included paint, sculpture, collage, cardboard, string, pencil, pen, photograph, torch (on film), chalk, oil, whatever was going. He’d draw on napkins to pay bills, draw on walls, any time, place or where. A key figure of hate for anyone who didn’t want to acknowledge that the functions of fine art, painting (call it what you will) had been redefined by the arrival of photography, cinema and mass literacy, Picasso was said by his detractors to produce work comparable to a migraine. Typical of the traditionalist view was the attitude of the British artist AJ Munnings who, in a speech to the Royal Academy, denounced Picasso (and Matisse) as “foolish daubers”. Though, regardless of whether you wonder why the cubist pictures have noses where eyes should be and so on, it is hard to disregard Picasso’s basic facility with a line – his simple drawings are still astonishing, and beautiful, concepts which many painters of the 20th century found to be incompatible.



Midnight in Paris (2011, dir: Woody Allen)

Woody Allen has a habit of coming back with a blockbuster just when he’s being written off as finished. He’s been doing it at least since Hannah and Her Sisters, in 1986. Midnight in Paris was his huge 2011 hit, a film which opens, vaguely along the lines of Manhattan, with a series of loving shots of Paris in all its picture-postcard glory, while Sidney Bechet’s clarinet swoons over the soundtrack. We then cut to the sort of fantasy you can imagine someone of Allen’s vintage having – to be transported back to the Paris of Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein, F Scott Fitzgerald and Pablo Picasso. But being a man of a cynical, comedic bent, Allen puts a twist on it, having his stand-in (Owen Wilson in this case) – a current-day screenwriter in Paris magically transported back to the 1920s each night – finding out that the lives of these heroes weren’t quite as they are in the books. Allen pulls the Marshall McLuhan joke a few times, in other words. Which, if you remember, is the scene in Annie Hall where Allen is arguing with a schmuck in a cinema queue about something Marshall McLuhan said and drags the real McLuhan in to back him up. In Midnight in Paris, Wilson gains first hand knowledge from his nights out with Cole Porter, Hemingway etc which he then uses as a weapon in today’s Paris against the artistic know-all and rival played (brilliantly) by Michael Sheen. Midnight in Paris is one of Allen’s “funny films” in other words. And it has something to say about rose-tinted nostalgia, as Wilson and Marion Cotillard (as a woman he meets in the 1920s) go back even further in time to fin de siècle Paris, where Toulouse-Lautrec, Rodin and Degas are all bitching about the current generation’s lack of imagination. Plus ça change and so on.



Why Watch?


  • Very funny
  • Beautiful, charming and romantic
  • The acting talent – Alison Pill alongside Tom Hiddleston, Adrien Brody, Kathy Bates, Léa Seydoux
  • The name-dropping – TS Eliot, Dali, Man Ray, Matisse, Buñuel, Alice B Toklas


© Steve Morrissey 2013



Midnight in Paris – at Amazon






Woody Allen and Diane Keaton in silhouette in Manhattan


A movie for every day of the year – a good one



26 September



George Gershwin born, 1898

On this day in 1898, the writer of Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off, Someone to Watch over Me, Rhapsody in Blue and Porgy and Bess was born in Brooklyn, New York. A school dropout, Gershwin, born Jacob Gershowitz, was playing piano in clubs at the age of 15, published his first song when he was 16 and was writing shows by his early 20s. His breadth was amazing – Tin Pan Alley songs, entire Broadway and Hollywood musicals and his “folk opera” Porgy & Bess all poured from him, with Gershwin all the time studying to broaden his range (though notably Nadia Boulanger, Ravel and Stravinsky all refused to teach him, believing they had nothing to offer him). Gershwin’s music is marked out by the influence of jazz – melodically, harmonically and rythmically – but also by the desire to fuse “high” and “low” culture. Gershwin died during surgery to remove a brain tumour at the age of 38, having just written the score to the Astaire/Rogers film Shall We Dance. His music lives on, though whether Steven Spielberg will ever get round to making his proposed biopic remains to be seen (Zachary Quinto is down to play Gershwin). Until then we’ll have to make do with 1945’s Rhapsody in Blue, starring Robert Alda (father of Alan) as the man himself.



Manhattan (1979, dir: Woody Allen)

Though he got going in the mid 1960s, it was only around 1970 that Woody Allen got up to speed. Since then he has produced a film a year, give or take. It’s a huge body of work. And in polls for his best film, Manhattan is usually up  there with Annie Hall or Hannah and Her Sisters. Like Midnight in Paris, another hymn to a place, it’s a vastly affectionate work, bursting with love, tempered by cynicism, about the denizens of Allen’s home town. Kicking off with the slinky, opening clarinet glissando of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, Allen then presents us with a series of picture-postcard views of Manhattan. This is Manhattan as icon, as artistic hub, as inspiration. And, in true Allen style, having set us up, he sucker-punches us with a pay-off – the joke being that his characters are just small people with silly obsessions, human weaknesses, Allen himself playing the twice-divorced man foolishly dating a teenager (Mariel Hemingway) and then getting himself even more hopelessly entangled with the mistress (Diane Keaton) of his best friend (Michael Murphy). Shot in black and white by Gordon Willis, it’s a beautiful film, a romantic film, and a funny one, with Allen reserving his best lines for gags against himself, with sex and personal insecurity the usual subjects – “Let’s fool around,” the 17-year-old Tracy tells him. “Let’s do it some strange way that you’ve always wanted to, but nobody would do with you.” Well it made me smile.



Why Watch?


  • Meryl Streep plays Allen’s ex-wife
  • The amazing cinematography of Gordon Willis
  • Allen’s best film?
  • The best film about New York


© Steve Morrissey 2013



Manhattan – at Amazon






manhattan image 2



Woody Allen’s 1979 magnum opus starts famously with a long montage which appears to suggest that New York is to the modern world what Paris was in the early half of the 20th century – the home of romance, intellectualism, art, sex and impossible glamour. To the sinuous jazz of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, Allen treats us to a sequence of lush black and white images such as Robert Doisneau or Henri Cartier-Bresson might have taken. And then, in the filmic equivalent of dragging the needle off the record, he appears to say ‘Hang on – the French may be mature, worldly and philosophical. But New Yorkers?’ The next 90 minutes play out like a long comic pay-off to this short set-up, as we’re introduced to a succession of grasping, whiney, selfish Big Apple residents (played by Diane Keaton, Meryl Streep and Michael Murphy), each of whom believes he/she is the epitome of integrity, kindness and intelligence. Only Allen’s 17-year-old screen girlfriend (Mariel Hemingway) escapes unscathed, too young to have been tainted by the ‘me me me’ culture. Surprisingly, Allen wan’t lynched by his fellow New Yorkers for this unflattering portrait. Perhaps they were laughing too much to realise how barbed it was.

© Steve Morrissey 2006


Manhattan – at Amazon