I admit that I am somewhat of a nostalgia junkie, although, unlike some that long for the past, I pine not for a simpler time, but for a more passionate one. A caveat is required for my claim, however. I am not saying that the present day finds nothing to be passionate about, quite the opposite is true for many people around the world. Governments are being overthrown, economies challenged, social order turned on its head, all achieved by people ignited with passion. All the power to them, but I feel removed, at a distance. Ironic seeing as social media places the worlds strife and conflict right on my iPad, but still, there is no connection to the current state of affairs and the fire in my heart.
Recently seeing Woody Allen's most recent film Midnight in Paris stirred up so many wonderful memories and emotions in me. In it, Owen Wilson plays a man so consumed with 1920s Paris, so taken with that era of nostalgia, of Hemingway and Fitzgerald, Dali and Modigliani, that he travels back in time every night at midnight, and lives out his fantasies of interacting with his "golden age" heroes. For me, the city is right, but my "Golden age" is about four decades later.
Flash back to Paris 1959, where my passion truly lies. The nouvelle vague seeds of French cinema have been planted by previous eras, specifically Italian neorealism (de Sica and early Fellini), and Hollywood films (Hitchcock and film noir in particular) and bloomed into rare and unnameable roses of cinema. French cinema pre-nouvelle vague is nothing to take for granted, producing incredibly talented filmmakers and some of the most honoured movies of any generation. But for my money, the films produced between 1959 and 1968 represent the most fertile period of filmmaking in history.
What I wouldn't give to have been at the premiere of Jean Luc Godard's 1960 film Breathless. This is the film that arguably started it all, with it's experimental editing, on-the-fly shooting style, and melange of genres. Breathless was a slap in the face to all the stilted, studio-shot, creatively bankrupt films that came before it, in any genre. When viewed alongside Resnais' Hiroshima mon Amour and Truffaut's Les Quatre Cent Coups one can see steps being taken in a new, bold direction embodying politics, love, rebellion, and sex in a whole new way.
But it is not merely the abundance of great films, directors, and actors that make me longingly gaze into the past. It is what these films meant to and the passion they ignited in the people of France at the time that make this a golden age for me, and here's where my nostalgia kicks in at full force. People cared about cinema, they argued ceaselessly over the filmmaker's message. They were passionate and engaged. They thought that movies could change the world, shape the war, or make a girl fall in love with you. And they could. Nowadays, you get blockbusters and indie films, a few great, some good, most not. But even the great ones never feel dangerous, like they could incite riots or change peoples' long held beliefs. I long for a time when people young and old protested the forced resignation of Henri Langlois, the co-founder of the Cinémathèque Française theatre, causing an international uproar so deafening that the Cannes Film Festival was put on hold that year. Needless to say, Langlois stayed put. Had I been alive in 1968, I would have chained myself to the gates of the Cinémathèque alongside countless other protesting cinephiles with pleasure.
Some say nostalgia is a dangerous pastime relegated to those who haven't the constitution to deal with the present. I cannot embrace this logic, insofar as the past is inextricably linked to the present, or, as the old adage goes, those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. Of course (and this point is made beautifully in Midnight in Paris) someone's past is another's present. I often wonder if people living in '68 Paris knew how influential their era truly was. I would imagine not, which begs the question of how will 2011 be remembered and immortalized a generation or two down the line?
Now if you'll excuse me, I've got a flux capacitor to repair.