Last week, I watched the most astonishing documentary about Paris in the 1920s: "Paris, années folles".
Les années folles" (The crazy years) is a French expression used to describe the 1920-1929 era in Paris.
Anyone interested in the 1920s should see it; the footage is literally jaw-dropping. This documentary is about history, culture, art, literature and social changes.
Paris was once the exciting place to be - mostly thanks to rich and not so rich foreign artists, intellectuals and entertainers who flocked to the French capital in the 20s in order to live their wildest dreams.
Ignited by a desire to put the unimaginable horrors of WWI behind, this incredible explosion of creativity, glamour and social change reached an intensity never equalled.
It didn't last long and never returned to the banks of the Seine.
This two-hour long documentary is a unique glimpse at life in Paris at the time (only for certain groups, though; as shown at some point in the documentary, the reality of French life on the outskirts of Paris and beyond was still steeped in peasant misery, in a world which struggled to evolve socially and economically and launch itself into the 20th century.
The film's director, Fabien Bezat, has taken the decision to show the film in colour to appeal to today's audiences who can barely cope with black and white - the documentary was shown at prime-time in France. He and his team have been through a gigantic amount of archive from the time and then worked on colourisation (done in India and in the US), then added the soundtrack and the score.
So what will you see in this film?
The bar terraces in Montparnasse which acted as HQ to the artists and their muses; the jazz clubs in Montmartre; Coco Chanel, Art Deco, the bob, Gertrude Stein and the «Lost Generation», the famous clubs «la Rotonde» and «la Coupole», Man Ray and his muse and lover Kiki de Montparnasse, «dirty french novels» and the beginning of porn, the Surrealists an Dadas… Josephine Baker, Scott Fitzgerald, Miller, Hemingway, Dali and more...
The Avant-Garde, women's emancipation, sexual freedom, but also the way a very conservative France tried to resist change - this led to the birth of fast-rising far-right and Fascist movements, The Olympics of 1924, poignant footage of disfigured ex-soldiers, the sumptuous orgies and finally, the boats who took the rich Americans back to the US after the 1929 crash.
There is no DVD of this film and it is a shame. The French commentary is succinct and would be easy to translate and add subtitles to - I can predict it would sell very well indeed.
Nevertheless, you can still enjoy it without being able to understand French; it is well organised in clearly separated sections, is fast -paced and crammed with rare footage.
Personally, I have always been much more fascinated by London - my spiritual home - and have never been much interested in Paris, a city I have come to know and dislike very much.
Contrary to what a lot of people think, Paris has never been a romantic city or an exciting metropolis. It feels like a big French provincial town at the best of times; it is grey and tired, people are grey and tired; it hasn't got any edge, is incredibly dirty, choked by an erratic traffic and a constant stream of demonstrations - I was there briefly yesterday and it has gone worse!
And at times, it feels like a third world city.
Paris is now nothing more than a former courtisan, old, diseased and tired, who cannot even bother to put her make-up or her showy gowns on anymore. When you glimpse at what it has been and what it could have been, as in this documentary, you wonder what on earth has gone wrong.
Then you shrug, French-like, and go to enjoy London, a city with many foibles but which feels like the capital of the world for all the right reasons...
I have actually found the documentary online, I think it's the whole thing ... Enjoy!
Watch "Paris, années folles" HERE!
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