The Myths Of Romantic Cities

London, Reading & Writing

I’ve never liked the whiny world of Woody Allen, especially when he’s in analytical mode (which is most of the time). Even the ‘early, funny ones’ aren’t that funny, although I’d keep ‘Hannah And Her Sisters’, ‘The Purple Rose Of Cairo’ and ‘Everyone Says I Love You’ – but the new film, ‘Midnight In Paris’ is awful.

How did it get any good reviews? Were expectations really so very low? In it, Woody surrogate Owen Wilson (yeah, he wishes) timeslips to Paris when it was visited by American writers, so he meets the Fitzgeralds, Hemingway, Gertrude Stein etc. and everyone talks about themselves. Or, as Interzone’s Nick Lowe had it, ‘The whole thing promises a fantasy of Paris which finds endless inexplicable personal and erotic fascination in ineffably tiresome, self-absorbed shallow people who profess a spiritual connection with the city without actually feeling bothered to learn the language.’

In Paris we buy into a dream that links Montmartre to the Eiffel Tower via the Rue St Honore. But the thought of Allen deliriously lactating into a state of pseudo-intellectual ecstasy while Stein drones on in a bar fills me with horror.

Cities trade on their perceived romance by highlighting the past. London is usually filmed in such a way that makes it look like there are no modern buildings, and you get to Tower Bridge via Mayfair and Burlington Arcade. New York glitters at night and often exists in a tiny area between Rockefeller Center and Columbus Circle. How come, then, nobody films in Vienna, one of the world’s most beautiful cities? Presumably, because it feels emotionally moribund.

These days CGI gives us a Neverland of cities how we’d like to imagine them, free of anything ugly or modern, a sort of Downton’s Abbey of winding backstreets and chirpy grocers. The yearning for urban mythology gets stronger during times of hardship, so we can expect more mythomania.

Meanwhile, ‘London On Film’ by Colin Sorensen and ‘World Film Locations: London’ by Tony Reeves are both good guidebooks as to how the city has been perceived on film over the last century.

Meanwhile, it’s nice to see London being lit better lately. The Phoenix Theatre in Charing X Rd has always been invisible, consisting of a sort of Corinthian folly that rounds off a backstreet corner, but now it’s lit in pink and cream at night, and has suddenly appeared as an attractive building in it own right. Avoiding Regent Street’s Christmas lights, which are just big adverts, you find better lights in the backstreets surrounding Covent Garden, like these, just off Long Acre.

8 comments on “The Myths Of Romantic Cities”

  1. Mal Dando says:

    Terence Davies made a wonderful film about Liverpool called ‘Of Time And The City’. Crimes And Misdemeanours is a Woody Allen Film worth watching

  2. Sparro says:

    “The yearning for urban mythology gets stronger during times of hardship”…
    …possibly why ‘Passport To Pimlico’ was sucessful. to fantasise about a dreary, post-war bombed-out part of London as not being in London at all; and not even being in the 20th century, in a sense.
    However, subsequent films set on the 1960s urban blight of council housing estates don’t bother trying to sweeten the pill; the gritty realism is exploited to the full.

  3. FabienneT says:

    Paris is actually a dreadful, conservative city. My sister lived there for years and had to “flee” in the end (she joined me in London where there’s never been any problem).

    I went to visit her a few times in Paris and hated it. It’s a big provincial town which thinks it is a capital. It’s dull and grey, everything is shut on Sundays, public transports are abysmal if you want to go out(you drive or walk, no buses at night).

    But the worst thing is it is full of leery and aggressive blokes who can’t leave women alone. You feel really uncomfortable walking around and run the risk of being called a whore for no reason. My sister and her boyfriend got insulted and attacked several times because they were walking around after 11 o’clock at night in her neighbourhood (Belleville).
    If your sense of dress is a bit more daring than average, you get stared at or insulted. Oh, yes, Paris is very very romantic indeed. I’ve never understood the attraction.

  4. Dan says:

    It may be an exception, but Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise is a great movie set in, and largely starring, Vienna. The sequel is Paris based, but (mostly) eschews the obvious spots, and is just as good.

  5. Gretta says:

    Does ‘In Bruges’ count? Never having been there, I have no idea if anything was CGI-ed(or even shot somewhere else entirely), never mind whether it would qualify as a ‘romantic city’.

  6. Helen Martin says:

    The image one has mentally (the image *I* have)of Bruges is medieval with squares and cobblestoned lanes. After two wars I wonder if there is much of that and I doubt if there is very much handmade lace available “not even for ready money”.

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