' ' Cinema Romantico: Friday's Old Fashioned: Paris Blues

Friday, September 23, 2011

Friday's Old Fashioned: Paris Blues

As free form as the music which is so central to its story, "Paris Blues'" primary focus is on two American jazz musicians playing on the Left Bank who each fall for a couple lovely American tourists in town for just a couple weeks and who begin questioning, as they must, their dedication to their art and whether it really should outweight their dedication to love. But the film also makes detours for the obligatory smack addicted band member (mostly unnecessary), numerous flights of jazz playing fancy (including one with Louis Armstrong) and jazzy montage piled on top of jazzy montage, of which I would normally rant and rave except, I guess, you can pass them off here by claiming that in a symbolic sense they are the......solos.

Paul Newman is trombonist Ram Bowen and Sidney Poitier is saxophonist Eddie Cook. The former seems intent on not just playing other people's numbers every night, but on composing a few numbers himself. The latter seems content simply to be in Paris and away from the racial inferno of America. Into their lives meander Lillian (Joanne Woodward) and Connie (Diahann Carroll), white and black, of course, so they can easily be paired off with our leading men. They wine, they dine, they walk, they talk, they, respectively, play and listen to jazz. Is this love? Or merely a stolen season?

There is something truly wonderful in seeing Poitier, in a few scenes at least, get to cut loose......well, not cut loose, I guess, so much as just get to be easy-going, less solemn, less intent on having to both take the entire plight of his people on his back and, as the refrain goes, be a symbol of white guilt, something with which Poitier always seemed conflicted. There are several lines he gets in "Paris Blues" that come across as nearly autobiograhpical. "You're interested in a cause. I'm not interested in a cause." Or: "Here nobody says Eddie Cook, negro, musician. They say Eddie Cook, musician, period." That's heavy, of course, and important, but it too often turns the conversations between Eddie and Connie into nothing more than political discourse. She wants him to come back to America with her, to not run away from the problems they face there, to meet them head on,  and that essentially leaves Poitier dangling from that same damn precipice from which he was always dangling - does he Make A Statement or make a decision for himself?

The Ram/Lillian relationship, meanwhile, forgoes the political for the personal, probably because it's actually allowed to have that option, and presents a guy who keeps late hours and ties himself down to nothing and a girl who gets up early and doubles as a single mom with two kids at home.

The one thing I keep noticing about Woodward's work in the 50's/60's was how her roles would be set up as expected archetypes of the time and then both she and (usually) the script would fight back against it, subtlely. There in the early moments when her Lillian makes doe-eyes at Ram she seems prim, proper, the innocent American gal abroad ready to have her heart drowned in the Seine. Ah, not so fast. "I know these jazz musicians," says Connie. "If we go tonight he'll think we're eager." For a moment Lillian plays along like she's supposed to then stops, considers and replies: "You know something, I am eager." But this doesn't make her floozy, because she's not, because she doesn't cast off invisible shackles or some such thing and make a complete, swooping, broad change into someone else. No, she's still herself. She comes on strong, but that's simply because she is strong. Games? Lillian don't play no games. She both stands up to Ram and falls for him, which isn't an easy task to convey, mind you, and offers him an option, a different life, without necessarily forcing his hand. We know what she wants but she lets him make call.

Ram, meanwhile, has to face facts in a scene with a record producer. He can play music, definitely, but maybe he's not cut out to write it. But should he let that stop him? Should he maintain his seeming stubborn streak? Or should he give a new sort of life a go with Lililan? Eddie thinks he should keep writing music and seems mighty disappointed when Eddie goes the other way, as if Eddie is going against his principles. And that's what makes it a tad strange when Eddie decides to go against his principles and give a new sort of life a go with Connie.

In the end you have two men who each make a different decision but come across as if they each wish they had the courage to decide what the other guy did. I guess that's what you call them ol' Paris Blues.


Diana said...

It sounds interesting, I will definately check it out! Thanks for the review!

Anonymous said...

This looks sweet, I had a friend who just returned from Paris so I kind of have that city on my mind. The cast is great as well, Paul Newman's gotta be the most good looking actors ever.

Nick Prigge said...

You both should check this one out if you ever get a chance. Yes, Paul & Joanne made a handsome couple.

Clara Fercovic said...

Hi, Nick, a fellow movie blogger over here. Just wanted to let you know that there's a movie blog stealing content from other sites. I found a post on "Paris Blues" that belongs to you (http://cinema4five.blogspot.com/2011/09/friday-old-fashioned-paris-blues.html)

There are probably more. Since there's no contact info, the only way to report this situation is to submit the address (http://cinema4five.blogspot.com/) in Blogger Help:


Hope you can help me to take down this site, it has duplicated a lot of my entries too.

Via Margutta 51

Nick Prigge said...

Thanks for letting me know! I appreciate it. I sent the address of the web site along to blogger.