With all the festivals dedicated to them every fall, autumn is the season for photos in Paris. This year brings a special treat with an irresistible theme. “Paris Seen by Hollywood” (“Paris vu par Hollywood”) opens September 18 at the Hôtel de Ville, Paris’ city hall. It promises to marry the best of both Paris and Hollywood, offering a surfeit of glamour, rarities and dreams.
While other shows often doff a hat in this direction (“Monuments of the 7th Art,” “Stars of the 7th Art by Studio Harcourt”), this one promises to pull out all the stops. It brings together costumes, stills, set maquettes, film extracts, posters and every kind of movie souvenir imaginable. It also focuses around fascinating themes. One is how Hollywood created a personal Paris, long before anyone ever thought of filming here. Also considered is how the Hollywood dream industry shapes views of Paris everywhere. Plus you can see what changed once American auteurs finally started shooting here.
The show had a preview in the form of its own movie festival. Under the same name (“Paris vu par Hollywood”), this ran all last spring and summer. Hollywood, one learned conclusively, has always loved Paris. But long before cinema showed the cancan or placed its lovers along the Seine, it created some astonishing visions of the city. In addition to purely Hollywood views of French royalty or bohemians, more than 50 films have dealt with the French Revolution. Marie-Antoinette’s death alone has continued to fascinate Hollywood since 1904.
How has the American dream factory handled French legends? The answer began with the fact that its pioneers felt no need to visit Paris. Theirs was a Paris imagined (which became a Paris rewritten). Yet here it is, proof of how America shaped plenty of Parisian stereotypes. These range from the sophistication of its fashion to the supposedly suave “French lover” such as Maurice Chevalier. Central to the myths were directors like King Vidor, John Griffith and the great Ernst Lubitsch, who made a dozen famous “Paris movies” in sunny California. Film buffs know Lubitsch for saying, “There is Paramount’s Paris and MGM’s Paris . . . and then, of course, there is the real one.”
This fascinating show is divided into sections. First it introduces you to the Paris of silent films, which often focused on epic moments (or romances) of French history. Then comes the start of Paris-as-sophistication, with its most seductive classics of romantic comedy. Third is what its curators are calling “the pinnacle of cancan,” which includes legends of Montmartre and lavish movie spectacles. The final section, which begins in 1960, is dedicated to films actually shot here.
Staff at the gallery, which reliably hosts some of the best art and photos in Paris, are excited about the whole idea. At the press launch, “Paris Seen by Hollywood” was described as the story of a love affair “that has endured through time and trials . . . forged out of clichés and stereotypes yet always forgiving.” Its motto, the Parisians present were told, is, “Discover those images that inspired America’s love of Paris, images known around the globe thanks to cinema.”
As with every expo in this gallery, entrance is free—but the shows are enormously popular. Make sure you go early and expect a bit of a wait. Also, if anyone you’re shopping for loves either cinema or photos in Paris don’t miss the 288-page catalog of both festival and expo. Put together by Antoine de Baecque, it’s a gorgeous bargain, even at 45 euros. Do your Christmas shopping early!
Editor’s note: Take your own DIY tour of Paris! Check out the many personalized GG2P walking tours that so many of our readers love. They’re available as pdfs or as apps for your iPhone or Android phone.