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From Barnes & NobleErnest Hemingway was born on July 21st one hundred and twelve years ago, in 1899. If those numbers seem to suggest he’s a relic, think again. This year alone, he's the subject of my novel, The Paris Wife, an HBO biopic in production, Hemingway and Gelhorn, about his stormy third marriage (Clive Owen will play Hemingway opposite Nicole Kidman; James Gandolfini produces), and Midnight in Paris, a feature film by Woody Allen, which opened the Cannes Film Festival in April and is currently charming audiences nationwide. In it, Gil Pender is a Hollywood screenwriter visiting Paris who is somehow magically transported to the 1920’s version of the City of Lights—the Golden Age that has always fascinated him. He ends up hobnobbing with Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Cole Porter, Pablo Picasso, Salvidor Dali, Man Ray, T.S. Eliot—and Hemingway, of course, who offers to show Gil’s novel-in-progress to Gertrude Stein, and advises him on the nature of truth, bravery and lovemaking.
Woody Allen's Hemingway is handsome and gruff, macho and bombastic. He talks like he writes, or talks as if he's writing as he's speaking. The effect is hilarious, which is precisely the point. Allen’s film is a comedy, and the simplest version of Hemingway is definitely the funniest. At one point he barks, "Who wants to fight?" to everyone and no one in particular. But even as I laughed, I found myself thinking, this isn't my Hemingway. After years spent researching his life and work, I do feel a proprietary interest in Hemingway, and have ultimately come to believe that the real man was infinitely complex, with "more sides to him than any geometry book could ever chart," as his first wife Hadley once said.
The most delicious element of Allen's film is that it’s a time machine. We're there in the Jazz-Age, that singular time in history when writers and painters and composers rubbed against each other in the cafes, creating sparks that ricocheted through their work, and then through history. Gil Pender's time travel begins when he steps into a buttery Peugeot that transports him to a Parisian nightclub where Cole Porter is singing "Let's Fall in Love." Mine started in a micro-suede chair in my local Starbucks as I read Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast. I fell into that world and didn't want to leave it. Who would?
I don’t think our collective love affair with 1920's Paris will ever be truly over—and this is partially due to Hemingway's gorgeous and indelible remembrances of that time. He's forever fixed there for us—just as he would have it, I'm sure.