Monday, 15 October 2012

Alice B. Toklas, Woody Allen, and Heaven

I’ve begun reading The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas for a new book club I’ve joined, and have been reminded that she appeared in Woody Allen’s recent movie about midnighting in Paris.  Or was it just Gertrude Stein that we saw, along with Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and the whole lot.

I remember thinking at the time how much Scott Fitzgerald looked like Scott Fitzgerald.  Or was it that when the Woody character meets him, it seemed obvious that was Fitzgerald.

But why?  I’m not really old enough to have met the author of The Great Gatsby; even if I was, we really didn’t move in the same circles.  Yet how real he and Zelda seemed: the best moment of the film, I thought.

Other parts were tiresome, notably when the young Hemingway started spouting lines from his own novels.  I think another character did something similar.  I mean, really.  I’ve written novels; I don’t spout lines from them.  The art that produces fiction is quite different from the art that produces conversation.  The person that I am when I write a novel (or a blog post) is quite different from the person who goes to parties (well, there is no such person) or who has conversations in real life.

But I suppose this device allowed Woody Allen to create a little frisson in moviegoers: oh, that’s a famous line, we could think.  But does Woody Allen go around spouting lines from his movies?  Or movies yet to come?  I’d bet not, but then I don’t move in his circles either and have never met him.

I mostly winced when the famous lines came, but I did have that frisson of recognition when “Scott Fitzgerald” first appeared on screen.  For a moment perhaps I was swept up in the fantasy of meeting famous people I grew up reading.  Woody Allen must have enjoyed making this film, I’m thinking; perhaps it is his vision of Heaven, a place where you could hang out with famous literati and artists.

I remember when I read Dante’s Inferno thinking that the first level of Hell would actually be quite pleasant.  That’s where Dante put Plato and Aristotle, Homer and Cicero, all the virtuous pagans.  And they’re in a pleasant green field.  What could be better?  Certainly not Dante’s Heaven, with its boring angels and hallelujahs.

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