Tuesday, June 7, 2011

the golden age




Saw Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris at a late-night showing in a tiny theater on the Upper West Side, waited in line with New Yorkers clutching plastic bags of movie snacks. This felt very Woody Allen to me and I totally appreciated it. Also found myself complaining to John and my sister that I didn't want to go to the film if it meant I was going to miss the previews - this was of course so Annie Hall that I had to google it but that scene occurred somewhere in the 90s. It turned out that showing was sold out anyway and so we had to catch the one a half hour later, where we still had to stand in line for seats. This was not my first film nerd moment that day - the first was when we were handed a flier nearby for that film where Michelle Williams plays Marilyn Monroe, and my sister was telling me they were shooting the film in London when they were shooting the one she co-produced, and it was about Marilyn having an affair with the third DA of a film she shot in London , and I said, well, that has to be The Prince and the Showgirl, and then proceeded to spout off trivia like Vivien Leigh's hysterical pregnancy produced to deter Olivier from Marilyn Monroe, or perhaps as a result of jealousy that the role she originated on stage was replaced by this blonde breathy upstart, of course though this is all gossip and demonology - it's probably totally false. On the flight to NYC I found myself gobbling up Laurie Week's Zipper Mouth - which I have been rapturously anticipating since reading an excerpt in Vice years ago, that snippet a series of high-school letters to Sylvia Plath, but the character in the novel is also obsessed with Vivien Leigh and that felt like kinship. The book is totally Burroughs-femme, bonkers, amazeballs - it comes out the same day as Green Girl - everyone who reads this blog should read it. Absolutely. Everyone. There is not one of you who won't buy it and fall madly in love with it and be like - fuck, yeah, yes, all of that. I might be reviewing it and then I will properly contextualize it - but it's like gonzo-Beats-queer-feminine-druggy-ecstasy. It is one of the best novels about a fucked-up girl written from her perspective I have ever read, if not the best. Period. It is the kind of book I keep on saying should be written and read.

I HATED the film. HATED it. However, it is sometimes quite enjoyable to hate something. I kept on making a repetitive head-shaking motion throughout it and John kept on looking at me and laughing. The Woody Allen-alterego Owen Wilson plays is a hack-screenwriter who wants to write a Great American Novel, which in Allen's perception (as well as the mainstream canonical perception) is exclusively male and connects of course to Fitzgerald and Hemingway. The character enters some sort of campy dreamscape at midnight while wandering around Paris where he finds himself suddenly in the Lost Generation's 20s, and Gertrude Stein played by Kathy Bates who plays Gertrude Stein like she's a gregarious yet butchy Minnesota housewife  reads his tepid realistic novel about a nostalgia shop, and he hangs out with Hemingway and Zelda and Scott, and a femme-enfant played by Marion Cotillard who is Picasso's mistress. Allen treats these figures of modernism like a Disneyworld exhibit,  like It's A Small World Afterall or some nonsense, they're played for campy jokes and one-liners, which is fine, in the case of Dali, who babbles about rhinoceros for a few minutes on screen, but in the case of Stein and the Fitzgeralds, who have repeated scenes, comes off as really grossly laughable and not saying anything particuarly interesting about that period or the human condition or why we cling to these myths. Zelda is played rather brothily by the actress Allison Pill, and Allen of course just replays all the easy myths - she is depicted as not even charming but just off her meds, at one point in the film Owen Wilson and Marion Cotillard find her dippy self about to jump into the Seine, no real reason is given, except that she's a crazy chick, and she babbles something about how Scott doesn't love her anymore, and Wilson steps in and firmly hands her shoulders and is all like - No, Scott only has eyes for you, I know that - and the joke is supposed to be that Wilson as a contemporary reader understands the Fitzgerald mythology, even though even Scott's biographer would admit that Scott totally played around and fucked actresses, etc., and the idea that Zelda's scenes she threw was only due to some girlish jealousy is really quite bogus, a word she would have used. The scene with them and Hemingway is so ridiculous, and I feel like Woody Allen read Hemingway's A Movable Feast on the toilet or something and went with that. Zelda is all like (to Hemingway) Did you read my story? Like a dumb girl, and Hemingway didn't, of course, and Scott weakly protests to him that she has talent, as if Scott was Zelda's agent or something, and she storms off, and Hemingway tells Scott that Zelda is standing in the way of his talent, and then later on Owen Wilson is remembering the evening, and remembering that Hemingway is right - that Zelda stood in the way of Scott's genius, but of course he was so in love with her the Wilson romantic understood. The idea that these women stood in the way of their husband's masterpieces, as opposed to midwifing them and helping steward them along, serving not only as inspiration but copyeditors, etc., is so much part of our contemporary romantic consciousness and Allen's film is just a microwaved version of these stories that brew inside the men who have the confidence to want to be the Next Big Thing, while girls just want to go throw themselves into a great body of water and wash away. And Djuna Barnes appears as a punchline - Owen Wilson is Charlstoning with some women, it is pointed out to him that it was her, and he says, "No wonder why she wants to lead," and Alice B. Toklas answers the door but isn't even given a line.

Of course I probably have a heated reaction because I'm stalling in my second rewrite of a whole goddamn book on the subject, but there you go.

It is weird though - the epiphany Owen Wilson's character gets at the end of the film - that the 20s Paris was his desired Golden Age but that as an artist he needs to find his own time and city, etc. - is one that I reached while strolling around New York solo this week. I think I've been carrying around in my head so long a romanticizing of not only 20s Paris and the modernist period but also the 70s/80s downtown New York period, the literary underground, that  Weeks is a part of, and like Patti Smith and David Wojnarowicz and like Kathy Acker and Eileen Myles, and these figures are now being canonized and you know teaching or reading at universities and if they're dead having anthologies and biographies come out, but I'm realizing that the New York of then is not the New York of now, and perhaps it's not the best city to be a working writer in. These cities and time periods we hold in our head, that we want to return to.

Next, we think we're going to pick a city we want to live and move there. One that's walkable, livable, breathable. We're thinking maybe East Coast.