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Jay Weston

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Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen and Me!

Posted: 05/28/11 04:02 PM ET

I went to a school in Brooklyn called Midwood High, across from Brooklyn College. My best friend then was the late Hilly Elkins. When we were seniors, there was a funny, bespectacled freshman named Allen Stewart Konigsberg writing jokes for the school's newspaper, The Argus. Hilly and I used to read his funny stuff aloud and predicted he might have a future in show business. The young man had gone to the same public school as me, P.S. 99, and lived just one block from me on Avenue K in Brooklyn.

Some years later, I was Production V.P. of a film company called Palomar financed by Leonard Goldenson's ABC Network. By then the comedy writer's name went from Heywood Allen to Woody Allen and he had graduated from doing standup routines in the Duplex club in the Village to becoming a very successful TV writer. I often went to Michael's supper club to hear him play clarinet with his jazz group. In 1966 he wrote a Broadway show called Don't Drink The Water.

One day my partner in the film company, Ed Scherick, came in after seeing the show and told me he had gone backstage and committed to making a film of Woody's show. I protested that I had seen it opening night and didn't think it would work as a movie. (It was about an American Embassy behind the Iron Curtain; later it was filmed and didn't do well.) My associate then said to me, "Okay, fix it."

I visited Woody and we decided to instead film a screenplay he had written called "Take The Money and Run, a bank-robbing comedy. He wrote, directed and starred in it; I recall that the film cost about $600,000 to shoot and received excellent reviews, and showed a tidy profit for us ... and an amazing film career was born.

All of this came back to me on Saturday night when I attended a screening at the Academy of Woody's 44th film, Midnight In Paris. It was truly wonderful, a romantic and exhilarating fantasy of Paris as seen through Woody's idiosyncratic eyes.

I won't go into detail about the plot of the film, but briefly it depicts a young couple engaged to be married, who are visiting Paris along with her wealthy, conservative parents ... who don't approve of their daughter's engagement to a raffish, Hollywood screenwriter. (Are there any other kind?)

Owen Wilson plays the engaging guy and Rachel McAdams plays his waspish fiancée. I am indebted to columnist George Christy for the information that, during pre-production, Woody and his wife, Soon-Yi Previn, were having breakfast with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and First Lady Carla Bruni at the Elysee Palace when Woody suggested that Carla appear in a cameo role. He wrote her a role as a Rodin Museum guide and she was charming in the part.

There is a 'Time Machine' aspect to the film, and we see our hero transported back to the '20s, where he meets many august characters such as Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Kathy Bates is excellent as Gertrude Stein, who critiques our lead's novel-in-work. No man (or woman for that matter) can resist falling in love with Marion Cotillard as an ingénue-mistress of several famous men. Woody's Director of Photography Darius Khondji does a magnificent job of photographing the City of Light, and I wanted to head for the airport and board a plane for Paris when I left the theatre.

We all once asked Woody why he had never moved to Los Angeles, and his legendary response was, "I couldn't live in a city where the only cultural advantage is making a right turn on a red light." It is our loss, of course.

 

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