Gotham Diary:
Wednesday, 1 June 2011

This will be brief — I’m not good for much today. The fusebox was upgraded this morning, in an absolutely painless operation that took about forty minutes at the most. I managed to follow instructions about turning things off and then turning them back on again, and you’d never know that the power was out for a spell. If you checked my blood for traces of stressed-out levels of cortisol, however, you might gather that I was anxious about something. For five minutes this morning, making the bed, I wished I were dead, and no longer subject to contingencies. Meanwhile, a cold front is moving in, which is only making things sultrier; apparently, we’re in for an evening of storms — and drier weather tomorrow. Hallelujah! 

If I’d put in an honest day’s work, I’d have tried a more substantial paragraph or two about Midnight in Paris, because I want to propose that we consider Woody Allen more as a magician specializing in delight than a comedian specializing in laughs. Yesterday, I wrote about the idea for a movie that Gil Pender shares with Luis Buñuel — a one-line concept that we smarty-pants in the audience know will blossom into Le Charme discret de la bourgeoisie. The joke is so elegantly presented (and this is what Woody Allen’s magic is all about) that we don’t stop to think how unnecessary it is for Gil to buttonhole the filmmaker with his idea. Gil knows, after all, that the film has been made; he has undoubtedly seen it many times (he’s a scriptwriter). He might as well save his breath. But the whole business is over long before this conundrum can tempt us into a headachy tangle of metaphysical speculations about causation. We’re not watching Gil; we’re not thinking his thoughts. We’re watching Buñuel shrug as he tries, without immediate success, to make sense of Gil’s idea. The cinematic actuality — Allen’s sleight of hand — is that it might never have occurred to Buñuel to make Le Charme discret, if he hadn’t been given the idea by a strange American visiting from the future. This is no more plausible, when looked at, than the whole confection of Midnight in Paris: the sequence of Gil Pender’s evenings in 1920s Paris. The minute you start thinking about what’s going on in this movie, the spell is as broken as Cinderella’s slipper. But Woody Allen makes sure that you don’t. I’ve said that he’s a magician, but his magic wand is the comedian’s most indispensable tool: an impeccable sense of timing. And even when you can see the timing (and you can; Allen hides nothing), it still works. 

I gave up hunting through my CD library for Sidney Bechet’s “Si Tu Vois Ma   Mère,” the film’s signature tune that plays the same role as Rhapsody in Blue in Manhattan, and just bought a copy of the song from iTunes. And I’m glad I did. If
I squint, it brings Marion Cotillard into my living room. By the way, I know that Cinderella’s slipper doesn’t break. Neither does Woody Allen’s spell.