Sunday, August 07, 2005

#24: On PARIS WAS A WOMAN 5/12/05 Next Sunday The Redhouse in Armory Square is opening the 1995 documentary, PARIS WAS A WOMAN, as its next film offering on Sunday & Tuesday evenings. Greta Schiller directed & edited, & Andrea Weiss adapted the screenplay from her book of the same title. Both have stellar credentials as documentary filmmakers before & since this collaboration, as partners in Jezebel Productions since 1984, when they made the classic BEFORE STONEWALL as well as their acclaimed trilogy of films about women jazz musicians. PARIS is short - just 73 minutes long - so hopefully The Redhouse will also run a selection of the excellent special features on the DVD edition. PARIS WAS A WOMAN has screened at 150 film festivals throughout the world. It had theatrical release here in the US, New Zealand & several European nations. PARIS WAS A WOMAN portrays the community of women artists who flocked to the so-called Left Bank district in Paris in the early decades of the 20th century. Mostly we think of this crowd in terms of the “Roaring 20’s,” but many of the women were there earlier & stayed much longer, even past World War II. The films is divided into sections about individuals – Gertrude Stein & Alice B. Toklas, journalist Janet Flanner, poet Nathalie Barney & painter Romaine Brooks, novelist Djuna Barnes, bookstore owners Sylvia Beach & Adrienne Monnier. Photographer Giselle Fruend & scholars Shari Benstock & Catherine Stimpson offer comments. There’s a wealth of still photos, home movies, audio clips & music. A map periodically shows where people lived – within blocks of each another. The narrative line is a tad meandering but I didn’t mind, because there’s such a vivid & thoughtful appreciation of that world. One of the possible pitfalls with the film lies in the audience. A decade ago when the film was still new, one reviewer suggested a better title would be HOW LESBIANS CHANGED WESTERN CIVILIZATION, because it deals matter-of-factly with the personal relationships of many of these figures. This is a pretty celebrated film in the gay community. Watching it, I was struck instead with how this is simply a part of things, not the topic of the movie. I’m hoping a very wide audience will want to see it. PARIS can tell Central New York a great deal at what I think is a critical moment in our cultural life, about how a creative class rises & what kind of synergy & innovation can occur, surviving even periods of severe disruption like war. I particularly liked how the film follows the long career of Janet Flanner. Her weekly column in THE NEW YORKER MAGAZINE under the pen name Genet, really pioneered arts journalism & she also explained the competing movements of fascism & communism to Americans. The examination of how Beach & Monnier’s bookstores supported the artistic community may be more useful that rehashing Gertrude & Alice’s Saturday night salons one again. If you’re not movied out, go see this one, & thank The Redhouse folks for their perfect timing. (505)