Archive for the ‘reviews’ Category
Paris vu par Hollywood
l’Hôtel de Ville de Paris
5 rue Lobau
until December 15, 2012
Paris: Is there a city more fetishized by Americans? The city of love, the city of lights, the capital of art, Paris has long captivated even those who’ve never seen it with their own eyes. To whom does France owe this notoriety? Its diplomatic tradition, its art, its literature…and in large part to American cinema.
Indeed France’s rich culture makes its capital a likely target for Hollywood producers, and since the advent of le 7eme art, hundreds of filmmakers have tried to capture the city’s unique allure. A new exposition, Paris vu par Hollywood, at l’Hôtel de Ville de Paris examines the city these filmmakers have portrayed throughout the years: a version of Paris, that has perhaps more to do with the American psyche than with the urban landscape itself.
The exhibition opens with a quote from mayor Bertrand Delanoë, pondering this American fascination. Regardless of its origins, he concludes, it has thankfully resulted in countless occasions for the whole world to “revel” in the city’s beauty.
I don’t disagree with the mayor; Paris is a striking city. Yet the exposition’s premise feels at times a bit patronizing: Paris, a city rich in history, tradition, art, and passion has a special ability to inspire the United States–a country that has none of those things.
But then again, hasn’t Hollywood been patronizing the French since the dawn of cinema? The exhibit ushers us through different eras and thematic depictions of the capital, from silent historical dramas in the early 1900s all the way to contemporary action films (including, to my amusement, South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s Team America World Police). Amongst the intriguing memorabilia, photographs, and video clips, we see the same themes emerging time and again: an obsession with the guillotine, a fixation on prostitutes, and a deification of the artist. Paris is simultaneously glorified and demonized; as much a cesspool of hedonism as a circuit of existential liberation; a place just as exotic, barbaric and primitive as it is enlightened, modern and fashionable.
So perhaps it’s only natural that a young, Puritanical country be so enthralled with an ancient, decadent city. Yet just how much of Paris’s reputation was based in reality—and how much was a myth perpetuated by Hollywood studios? As the exhibition cites one 1930s French journalist as saying,
“There’s the ‘Paris Paramount’ and the Paris en France…and the Paris Paramount is certainly the more Parisian!”
Indeed the exhibit emphasizes the absurd amount of effort invested in the constructing this “faux Paris”. Aerial shots of “Culver City”, the part of MGM studios used to film An American in Paris (1952) attest to the scope of the illusion. It was interesting, too, to witness how the city’s image developed after World War II, when more and more filmmakers began to come to Paris to shoot on-site. Tones shifted, idealism waned, but a certain Bohemian dream remained personified by the City of Lights.
The exhibition is rich in enticing artifacts: amongst my favorites were a bill from Mary Pickford’s lunch at the Ritz (she had an omelette), Gene Kelley’s boots from The Three Musketeers (they were enormous!), and several Givenchy costumes worn by Audrey Hepburn (they were somewhat less enormous). Notable as well were striking set and costume designs for an array of films, including Jean Renoir’s Moulin Rouge, and Sophia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette.
For those less well-versed in cinema, I would have appreciated a more historical approach. While thought-provoking, the exhibition could have incorporated more context into its arguments, specifically regarding technological, political, and philosophical developments over the course of the 20th century. Nevertheless, I appreciated the collection’s clarity and organization, especially given its large scope. Paris has a separate museum for the cinematic history after all! Ultimately the exhibit is a success, delightful in its ability to both celebrate and critique the nostalgia that clouds our perception of city.
At the end of the exhibit, tourists and Parisians alike lingered at the back of the hall to watch a clip of Gene Kelley and Leslie Caron dancing on the banks of the Seine. The images are so familiar, yet so foreign; entirely fabricated, yet somehow more concrete than the city they represent. I suppose that for any given place, cinema—and art in general for that matter—is the closest one can ever get to seeing “the real thing”. But observing this universal transfixion in front of the projector made me wonder whether the real thing really matters at all.
by Meghan O’Reilly, GLIMPSE journal reviews correspondent, Paris
Paris vu par Hollywood is free at l’Hôtel de Ville de Paris (5 rue Lobau) until December 15, 2012. Open from 10am-7pm, Monday-Saturday. Audio guides available in multiple languages for 5 euros.
The Cartography of Cultural Tension: Boston Public Library exhibit, “Torn in Two,” casts new look at the Civil War
It’s surprising to think that cultural tension can be mapped: that economic differences and opposing visions for the future can be detected on a flat piece of paper. Yet that is precisely what the Boston Public Library’s exhibition Torn in Two: The 150th Anniversary of the Civil War demonstrates. Showcasing maps from the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center, the exhibit ion examines the relationship between conflict and geography during the American Civil War.
The first of the exhibition’s three sections, “Rising Tensions,” interprets the geographic and demographic differences that contributed to the first shots at Fort Sumner in 1861. Maps depicting the U.S. in the 1850s reveal the incongruous settlement patterns that belie the cultural incompatibility between the North and South. The dense conglomeration of cities, roads, and railways in the North is jarringly different from the spacious South, whose agricultural economy depended more upon the Mississippi River than on trains. Indeed, the pre-war maps of the South have a feudal quality, as plots of land are labeled and color-coded according to family ownership rather than administrative township. The section also showcases an interesting map charting the concentration of slave populations by township in the South. Apparently, Abraham Lincoln also found it fascinating, and used it to link emancipation policies with military operations.
With maps of the Western territories from the 1850s, the exhibition makes us consider what was at stake for Americans in the years before the Civil War. The country was undoubtedly expanding after the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, and the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 allowed settlers to decide on slavery’s legality by popular vote. Whose lifestyle would prevail in the new territories? Which region’s economic and moral values would dominate as the United States fulfilled its manifest destiny? One map of “the territories whose fate has yet to be decided,” illustrates the geographic and political scale of these questions. The North in blue, the South in red, the West in neutral white, one wonders what color will ultimately dye the vast, virgin West.
The second section, “Nation in Conflict” addresses how cartography functioned during the war, both in terms of military tactics and popular engagement. Notably, most maps displayed in this section were published in the North. While the Boston exhibit is perhaps biased towards Bostonian maps (Boston and New York were also major publishing hubs), it’s true that in the 1860s, maps of Dixie were in high demand. The North, on the offensive, was at a tactical disadvantage. Neither politicians nor the general public knew much about Southern geography, and were thus hungry for more information. The exhibition asserts that the Civil War (not Vietnam!) was the first “Living Room War”, for even in an era predating living rooms, the media allowed the public to stay abreast of the action. Indeed, newspapers published over 2,000 maps and diagrams throughout the course of the war, more than they’d ever published before. The increased interest and political urgency led to great improvements in cartography during the Civil War.
The final section of the exhibition examines how memory is recorded in maps. Focusing on the decisive battle of Gettysburg, we are asked how our “common visual experience” arose from incongruous recollections of the conflict. We learn how technological advances, the advent of photography, and the federal government’s increasing power influenced cartography, and finally, we consider how slave narratives have helped modern historians map the Underground Railroad.
With its wealth of documents and textual guides, the Torn in Two exhibition is valuable for cartography and history enthusiasts alike. In fact, it’s valuable for anyone who has ever considered what unifies the United States, or who has ever questioned the permanence and authority of the seemingly static map. Can a map unite or divide a nation? Can it record the hopes and fears of a people? Can it mandate our collective memory? If you want to jog your brain down the roads these questions lead to, through the tangles of war, race, and nationalism, the exhibition continues at the Boston Public Library through 2011. But beware: these roads, and these answers, are as yet uncharted territory. -by Meghan O’Reilly
Torn in Two: The 150th Anniversary of the Civil War
The Boston Public Library
Changing Exhibits Room
May – December 2011
Monday – Thursday: 9am-9pm; Friday & Saturday: 9am-5pm;
700 Boylston St.
Boston, MA 02116