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With Hollywood’s eyes still focused on the annual film festival at Cannes in the south of France, Paris is looking right back at California with a grand offering of its own. “Paris Seen By Hollywood” at the Forum des Images (www.forumdesimages.fr/) is featuring a collection of films, conferences, and activities until July 29 that focus on Hollywood’s love of depicting Paris, not as the city itself, but through the stereotypes that make it a city to dream of. The Eiffel Tower, Montmartre, cafes, beautiful women, cabarets, fashion, food, and romantic promenades along the Seine have been the mainstays of Hollywood films made in Paris since the emergence of major studios in the 1920’s.
The festival divides its offerings into three main categories; the sophisticated comedy, the musical, and espionage and action. Paris as a comedic love story encompasses films that have established the city as the most romantic in the world. The genre was opened in 1923 with the Charlie Chaplin-directed “A Woman of Paris: A Drama of Fate,” but it was directors Ernst Lubitsch and Billy Wilder who made the style both famous and lasting through their work in the 1930’s. Classic films such as “Love in the Afternoon,” “Angel,” “Charade,” “An American in Paris,” and more recently, Woody Allen’s successful “Midnight in Paris” are all available for viewing in a theatre setting once more.
The success of the singing and dancing of Broadway musicals in New York did not take long to cross the country and transform itself onto the big screen. The 1930’s brought us the light step of Fred Astaire and the grace of Ginger Rogers, while Gene Kelly dominated the 1940’s. Perhaps the most vibrant example of American actors bringing the cliche of Paris alive through music, however, is seen through the 1958 film “Gigi,” which based on the novel by French writer Colette, sets itself within the grandness of the Belle Époque. Festival goers can take in “Funny Face,” “Irma la douce,” and “The French Line” as well.
Running parallel to depicting Paris as the city of love, is Hollywood’s desire to feature the city as the capital of espionage and fast car chases. Alfred Hitchcock’s mastering of suspense was easily transported across the Atlantic with “Topaz,” while those who have seen “Ronin” by John Frankenheimer will never forget the car chases that took place throughout the thin, winding streets of the city before emerging on to the peripherique, sometimes against traffic, at more than 100 miles per hour. Since then, “The Da Vinci Code,” “The Bourne Identity,” and even “Rush Hour 3” have all followed suit.
Many of the films are presented by film historians and critics. At a recent showing of Roman Polanski’s “Frantic” starring Harrison Ford, Frederic Bas introduced the film by speaking about the key themes set within the movie, along with an analysis of Polanski’s motivation for making the film. Sitting in the plush velvet purple seats of the theatre, film-goers listened intently and respectively to Bas’ conclusion that the suspense of “Frantic” was made in homage to Hitchcock with Ford portraying the role of the Cary Grant figure. He also noted how Paris is depicted as a nightmare in the film, parlaying the real life experience that the director had not too long ago underwent himself with the murdering of his wife and unborn child. Made with a small budget, “Frantic” both reignited the careers of the director and Ford as a leading man.
The Forum des Images is located on the third underground level within the Forum Les Halles, so when visiting, give yourself some extra time to get to the theatre, as the underground maze easily confuses Parisians themselves. The Forum features five theaters, each varying in size, along with several foyers, exhibition halls, and a small upstairs bar. The films are shown in their original English versions with French subtitles, while the conferences are conduced in French. The full schedule of activities can be found on the Forum’s website. If you go, remember to dress lightly, as the theaters are not equipped with air conditioning, and that the lights do not go up (and neither do you) until the credits have finished rolling.
While the celebrities and industry insiders finish up their time in Cannes, those of us who enjoy taking in the dreamy images and themes that made us love Paris in the first place, can continue to indulge well after the festival down south has finished–and then walk onto the streets of the city itself.
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