Fact-checking Woody Allen’s ‘Midnight in Paris’

Fact-checking Woody Allen’s ‘Midnight in Paris’

Image for postMidnight in Paris. Image courtesy of Lionsgate.

Woody Allen?s jaunt across the pond for 2011?s Midnight in Paris is a charming ode to cultural nostalgia that managed to charm millennial audiences enough to earn the prolific director his fourth Academy Award while becoming his most financially successful film to date.

A whimsical meditation on longing for the always-out-of-reach good ol? days, the film follows a disenchanted Hollywood screenwriter, Gil (played by Allen?s perhaps most amiable stand-in, Owen Wilson), as he embarks upon a dream-like journey through an impeccably shot 1920s Paris. Gil encounters a who?s who of Jazz Age icons, including F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, and Cole Porter. While those idealized interactions with some of the most loved members of the Lost Generation are pure fantasy, many of Allen?s artistic and literary allusions are squarely rooted in reality ? if delivered with a wink and a nod.

Gertrude Stein?s Salon C?est Bon

Image for postMidnight In Paris. Image courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

Stein, embodied here by the inimitable Kathy Bates, may be best remembered as the novelist whose influential Paris salon dominated the ex-pat literary scene, but she was also a quite prominent art collector. Together with her brother Leo, Stein managed to amass a rather epic collection that included notable works from Cezanne, Renoir, Gauguin, and Midnight in Paris cameo-makers, Matisse and Picasso.

In the film, Hemingway (played by Corey Stoll) brings Gil ? and his in-need-of-review, unfinished novel ? to Stein?s salon because her opinion is, of course, the only one Hemingway can trust. There Gil meets Picasso and his fictional mistress, Ariana. (We?ll get back to them later).

Matisse arrives, attempting to sell a group of ?new? paintings to Stein for a few hundred francs apiece. Gil wisely offers to purchase several ? a smart investment considering the impressionist?s paintings have recently sold at auction for upwards of $30 million.

Also worth noting: Picasso and Matisse acknowledge each other on screen with a few snarled asides, a presumed nod to the well-known rivalry that some critics say fed both of their work. In the background, a reproduction (presumably) of Picasso?s actual Portrait of Gertrude Stein can be seen hanging on the wall.

The Picasso Mistress That Wasn?t (And the Painting that Was)

Image for postMidnight In Paris. Image courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

While at Stein?s salon, Gil finds a companion in nostalgia, Picasso?s mistress Adriana, irresistibly depicted by Marion Cotillard. While Adriana herself was an invention, the many mistresses of Picasso are not.

It has been said that Picasso changed his love-interest as often as he changed his painting style. In all honesty, that might be an understatement. Picasso had two wives, six long-term mistresses, and who-knows-how-many lovers. He fathered four children by three women, and married his second wife, Jacqueline, with whom he stayed until his death at the age of 79.

When Gil first arrives at Stein?s salon, he stumbles upon Stein and Picasso heatedly debating the attributes of a painting Picasso supposedly made of Adriana. In actuality there is, of course, no Picasso painting of Adriana since there is no Adriana, but the image Stein and Picasso argue about is real: La Baigneuse (The Bather), an authentic Picasso from 1928, currently located in Paris at the Muse Picasso.

Hemingway vs. The Fitzgeralds

Image for postMidnight In Paris. Image courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

Midnight in Paris more than hints at the often less-than-beautiful friendship between Hemingway and the Fitzgeralds, portrayed here by a blissfully pre-Hiddleswift Tom Hiddleston and post-Milk Alison Pill. At one point, Hemingway straight up tells Gil that he thinks Zelda sees her husband as a competitor. Hemingway himself discussed his passionate dislike of Zelda in detail in his posthumously published memoir, A Moveable Feast, in which he basically says (among other things) that Zelda?s flighty nature is to blame for ruining her husband?s productivity ? the worst thing she could possibly do (future affairs with French aviators aside).

While walking with Adriana along the southern bank of the Seine, Gil finds Zelda preparing to throw herself into the river. He stops her by explaining how much Scott loves her. And while we don?t know if Zelda ever contemplated this particular self-destructive act, we do know that she once overdosed on sleeping pills and had a lifelong struggle with mental illness that culminated, sadly, with her confinement in a series of mental hospitals.

Location, Location, Location

Image for postMidnight In Paris. Image courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

Allen?s location scouts did their homework. Gil meets Hemingway at the Cremerie-Restaurant Polidor, an actual restaurant located in the Sixth Arrondissement, which first opened its doors back in 1845 under the shortened moniker, The Polidor. When Gil and Adriana are swept even further back in time to Paris circa the 1890s, they mingle with Toulouse-Lautrec, Gauguin and Degas at Maxim de Paris, a bistro located just off of the Champs-lyses that served the crme de la crme of Paris in 1893. And when a bored Zelda implores Gil and her husband to abandon a party where Cole Porter is performing to ?do Bricktop?s,? she is referring to the nightclub Chez Bricktop, the Parisian home base of vaudeville dancer Ada ?Bricktop? Smith. She is not, however, referring to the spot on Rue Malebranche where they filmed; the real Bricktop?s is long gone from its original location at 66 Rue Pigalle.

Stein?s salon was also not filmed at Gertrude Stein?s actual Parisian home on Rue de Fleurus but rather across town ? or across the Jardin du Luxembourg, specifically ? on the Rue Malebranche.

And yes: That is Carla Bruni touring the gardens of the Rodin museum. The former first lady of France made her acting debut arguing about Rodin?s mistresses with Michael Sheen.

Watch Midnight in Paris on Tribeca Shortlist.

Originally published at www.tribecashortlist.com on August 25, 2016.


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