A story within a story set of films

Every once in a while, I remember I own DVDs. Between Sling and Netflix, I rarely actually watch the movies I own anymore. I am trying to work on that. So, Saturday nights if I have nothing else going on (most of the time) or a book I want to dive into (more likely to be my conflict), I try to re-watch some of my own movies and always ask myself, “do you still want to keep this?”

This weekend I re-visited one old movie that inspired the new movie. Paris When It Sizzles is not the best Audrey Hepburn movie but it’s so ridiculous, I pretty much forgive it for being not the best. It also has a randomly appearing Tony Curtis which makes it that much better in my mind. It’s the story of a playboy screenwriter who needs to deliver his next script in the next three days. His patron sends him a typist to type up the final draft of the script. However, she arrives to discover said screenwriter has not actually written the script yet at all. So, the two of them work together over three days to write a script. The movie is both the screenwriter and typist working on the script as well as the script itself being played out with them in the lead roles. It’s rather overacted, suffering from its time period, and doesn’t actually make much sense in the end but it’s so ridiculous and funny to me that I don’t mind. It’s also like a perfect time capsule of Paris in the 1950s on film; the cinematography is lovely. I can get over the dodginess of the main character and how he treats his typist enough to enjoy the film though it’s definitely tough at times.

So, we’ll move along to the modern version of the same story, Alex & Emma. A down on his luck writer Alex, who gambled away his advance and is suffering from a major case of writer’s block, must deliver his new manuscript to his publisher in three days to get the rest of his money and pay off the loan sharks on his case. However, his computer gets destroyed so his answer is to hire a stenographer, Emma, in order to dictate his novel. During dictating the novel, the writer and stenographer also act out the parts of the 1920s love story in predictably ridiculous fashion. In comparison with its inspiration, Alex & Emma fix a lot of the plot holes and actually come up with an interesting story for the novel. It also depicts healthier, more normal romantic relationships so I appreciated that a lot after watching the shudder-inducing swarminess of Paris When It Sizzles. Also, Kate Hudson is really delightful as Emma and all the other characters she gets to play in the book scenes (Ylva, Ilsa, Eldora and Anna) as Alex falls in love with her, both on and off the page. Luke Wilson as Alex is sort of lukewarm in general but that’s sort of his schtick so I didn’t mind it too much. This is a fun romantic comedy that is a little different than the usual formula.

Both are still keepers for the collection though Paris When It Sizzles is one that really shouldn’t be re-watched very often. I’ll stick with Hepburn’s better Paris comedy, Charade. Oh, there’s the next paired re-watch with Charade and the lackluster remake, The Truth About Charlie (though Mark Walberg is adorable per usual)! I own both of those too which surprised me LOL

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Paris adventures…sort of

I have often gushed about my love of England on this blog. It is the country I called home for a few months my junior year of undergrad and have been homesick for ever since. However, it was not the first European country I visited. That belongs to the country across the Channel, France.

From the Louvre looking down towards the Arc de Triomphe - December 2005

From the Louvre looking down towards the Arc de Triomphe – December 2005

The first place I even touched down across the Atlantic was Paris, Charles de Gaulle Airport to be precise. I’d even arrived in First Class because of airline mistakes leading up to the trip. I was overtired and wired but I was in France. Finally. Cliche or not, Paris was my favorite. Well, a close tie with Caen in Normandy. I loved the vibe of Paris, how we moved from one museum or monument at breakneck speed but it was still just a city with its own classy agenda that took no notice of us. You may run from one tourist attraction to the next but the city never seems to be in a hurry itself. That first trip was a whirlwind as we started in the north of the country and ended on the Mediterranean five days later. My second trip, a weekend while I was living in Bath, was even faster but I remember walking more that trip, actually taking the time to meander along the Seine (I think we may have been lost but I have fond memories of that walk no matter why we took it). I could actually jump on the Point Zero that trip and walk up the steps of the Palais Garnier to peek into the splendid lobby and wish I could take in a performance.  I appreciated Paris more on the second visit; it wasn’t simply the holder of all the things I’d heard so much about but a place to see as a place, and not just a conglomeration of museums.

So, you can imagine I was excited to read a history of Paris. Some I knew, thanks to Madame’s excellent blend of language, culture and history in high school, but I knew little of the ins and outs of how Paris became Paris. After reading Graham Robb’s Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris, I can tell you that I definitely do not. This book was not at all what I was expecting. It wasn’t bad by any means but it wasn’t quite what I was looking for either.

Me and Le Tour Eiffel (I was experimenting with red hair that semester...)

Me and Le Tour Eiffel – December 2005 (I was experimenting with red hair that semester…)

Robb tells the story of Paris though fictionalized moments in the lives of real people who lived in Paris over the course of its history. He dramatizes Napoleon’s first visit to the city and the story of the man who dreamt up the Catacombs to save Paris from sinkholes. He examines what was happening to Paris through the eyes of those who lived it. While very interesting, he was also assuming a level of understanding of Parisian history that I didn’t necessarily have. I lost an entire chapter because I didn’t known anything of a siege of Paris by Prussians or the resulting Commune (I still might have that wrong). I know more about it now but that’s because I googled it, not because Robb told me. He’s also an uneven fictional writer in my opinion. He’s much better when he stays more on the history side with some flowery language than when he goes full-on novelist. It was, I must admit, an ambitious and unique way to tell the history of the city but I don’t feel like I learned a ton about the city at the end. I should have started with something a bit simpler to get to know the City of Lights better. I’m sure I have a book like that on my list somewhere…

[Also, as an aside, I am an awful digital archivist in my private life. I don’t have any photographs of my 2003 trip to France digitized (they are mostly labeled and well preserved in acid-free boxes so I’m not a complete lost cause). I need to get a scanner for the apartment one of these days and tax refunds.]