Wednesday, November 26, 2014 · 7:37 a.m.

Finding inspiration: Woody Allen

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Hugh Jackman, Scarlett Johansson and Woody Allen in "Scoop." (Photo: MGNOnline)

Last night, Shelley and I found a pleasant evening of escape watching Woody Allen’s much-anticipated "Midnight in Paris." In fact, we’d already tried to go to the movie while it was in theaters both in Denver and in Chattanooga and through a series of near-misses still hadn’t seen it when it had long-since come out on DVD. It was worth the wait. For one, it was a little uncanny how much the character, Gil Pender, played by Owen Wilson, resembled me. Maybe there was some over-identification, too, but the facts that he was a novelist falling completely in love with Paris (where he’d never been before), who was a bit on the introverted side, who didn't want to stay out late to go dance with his fiance and her friends, and who then fell into a fantasy of living in the 1920s (after the bell tolls midnight, of course) were all aspects I could in one way or another relate to. Also, one of the main themes that the novel explores is overtly nostalgia (Gil Pender’s main protagonist owns a nostalgia shop); C&R did just publish Mickey Hess’ "The Nostalgia Echo."

Anyway, I would venture to say that overall this film is a highlight in the great Allen’s oeuvre. Although it doesn’t have the depth of other Allen classics, it certainly has enough humor and creative energy to satisfy this Allen fan. And the inspiration of this post is really more about Woody Allen as a writer, creator and performer than it is about "Midnight in Paris," anyway. I recently saw a documentary on how Allen rose to fame, the struggles he went through in Greenwich Village in the late 1960s in New York, his terrible fear of working in front of live audiences as a performer, his lucky break in getting into film (and the terms under which he insisted he work), and his casual and open-ended directorial style, which gives loads of creative freedom (even down to the very lines he’s written for them) to the actors themselves. Hard to believe this guy is in his late 70s and still producing about a film a year. I recall in the documentary he said that he really never looks back. Whether a film falls flat on its face or bears a degree of success, he is already moving forward on the next project and rarely takes time to look back. There’s a secret to artistic meaning in there somewhere, whether or not that particularly makes a promoter happy.

But what “struck” me last night as the bell tolled midnight, and suddenly there was Gil Pender surrounded by Ernest Hemingway, the Fitzgeralds, T.S. Eliot, Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali and many other “1920s Paris notables,” was the creative freedom Allen must feel. The very idea that we’d skip from a standard romantic comedy to a kind of fabulist romantic, Cinderella-esque parallel story takes a kind of creative freedom—whatever age you are. I admire his sense of play. It seems like Allen has a clear sense of balance as a serious artist, one that doesn’t feel the need to take himself too seriously.

I just finished an in-depth interview with Bob Dylan in the latest American Songwriter magazine and found similar inspiration from another 1960s-birthed American artistic icon for similar reasons. Stay tuned. In the meantime, keep on entering the wild world of the creative imagination, and don’t be afraid to play around (words to myself as much as anyone).

Chad writes on cultural topics including trends in publishing, creativity, writing, parenting and life as a hanging chad. You can reach him at chad@crpress.org or follow him on Twitter @chadprevost. The opinions expressed in this editorial belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.

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