Corey Stoll as Ernest Hemingway, macho expatriate American novelist
Film: Midnight in Paris
Release Date: May 20, 2011
Director: Woody Allen
Costume Designer: Sonia Grande
Today is my 27th birthday, a day that I proudly share with brilliant artists like Ernest Hemingway, Robin Williams, Hart Crane, and even a few non-suicidal ones like Don Knotts, Cat Stevens, and Kay Starr.
Hemingway is arguably the most world-famous of my shared birthday buddies, and – at the time that he turned 27 – he was a war-haunted expatriate living the Parisian high life with a promising new novel just months shy of its publication. In fact, Hemingway had begun scribing The Sun Also Rises exactly a year earlier on his 26th birthday, July 21, 1925.
The Sun Also Rises is my favorite of Hemingway’s works and one of my favorites in general, partly due to his colloquial, in-the-moment depiction of American and British expatriates in Europe. Unrequited romance, Parisian café life, and the excitement of the Pamplona bullfights round out Papa’s roman à clef to what has been since deemed “the lost generation,” despite Hemingway’s own optimistic insistence that these characters are merely “battered” but not lost. As a wiser man than I might say, Jake Barnes abides.
Reading The Sun Also Rises always inspires a nostalgic sense for me to join Hemingway and his contemporaries like Gertrude Stein, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, and Ezra Pound hopping from one bistro to the next while discussing each other’s unwritten great American novels. It’s a shared sense of many, and Woody Allen ably tapped into both that romantic concept and the flaws of nostalgia in Midnight in Paris, which starred Owen Wilson as Woody’s surrogate Gil Pender, a disillusioned but optimistic screenwriter who wants nothing more than to be transported back to Paris during the postwar decade… a dream that comes alive as Gil is flown headfirst into the scenes captured in A Moveable Feast, Hemingway’s definitive chronicle of the era.
Appropriately enough, it is a tolling bell that signifies Gil’s time travel back into the age of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Stein rubbing elbows with fellow artists Dalí and Picasso… all the perfect people to evaluate Gil’s own artistic endeavors.
Gil: Would you read it?
Hemingway: Your novel?
Gil: Yeah, it’s about 400 pages long, and I’m just looking for an opinion.
Hemingway: My opinion is I hate it.
Gil: Well you haven’t even read it yet.
Hemingway: If it’s bad, I’ll hate it because I hate bad writing, and if it’s good, I’ll be envious and hate it all the more. You don’t want the opinion of another writer.
Despite this wink at the inherent jealousy between the lost generation’s writers, Hemingway still offers a line of advice to Gil: “No subject is terrible if the story is true, if the prose is clean and honest, and if it affirms courage and grace under pressure.” Gil, in turn, quips to Hemingway that he believes all modern American literature can be traced back to Huck Finn, a declaration that has often been attributed to Hemingway.
What’d He Wear?
Few of the literary set that Gil Pender meets are necessarily adherent to the expected fashions of the era, partly due to the movie’s seemingly fluid timeline and also due to the self-described individualism that found its extremes in absurdists like Dalí. These were the hipsters of yesteryear, but Malcolm Cowley observed in Exile’s Return: A Literary Odyssey of the 1920s that “‘They’ tried to be individual, but there is a moment when individualism becomes a uniform in spite of itself.”
Midnight in Paris chronicles the popular image of Hemingway as a swaggering writer who could be expected to leap into succinct diatribes about manliness and his experiences in the war without a moment’s notice. This Papa rejects the pressed dinner jackets and stylish tailored suits of romantic contemporaries like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Cole Porter, instead embracing a more “alpha male” image in a rugged brown jacket and trousers with no tie.
Hemingway’s brown suede single-breasted sports jacket evokes popular hunting attire of the era, almost certainly a nod to the writer’s reputation as a sportsman. All of the jacket’s many buttons, including the three on the front, are brown woven leather. The front is darted and the back is split with a single vent.
The jacket has notch lapels with a throat latch that closes under the right lapel with a single button through a pointed tab. The sleeves also end with a pointed tab on each cuff that closes with a single button. There are three external patch pockets, all box-pleated with a squared flap closing on a single button: one pocket is over the left chest, and the other two slightly larger pockets are on the jacket hips.
It is a jacket that one at the time would more expect to see out on a hunt rather than in an urban café. In fact, the outfit recalls the popular brown Barbour sport jacket that Daniel Craig wore as James Bond in Skyfall‘s climactic battle scenes in Scotland. While photographs prove that the real Hemingway was certainly not above donning a tie (or even a beret!) for his life with the rest of his “moveable feast”, Stoll’s Hemingway is a reflection of the macho image that the author portrayed to both his readers and his contemporaries.
With each appearance, Hemingway wears a difference light-colored shirt with a large point collar, no pocket, and French cuffs. When he first meets Gil at Polidor (which was known to be one of Hemingway’s haunts), he wears a plain white shirt with the first few buttons undone on the front placket. His round cuff links are gold with a raised black finish.
On Gil’s next visit to the ’20s where he meets the alluring Adriana, Hemingway accompanies him to visit Gertrude Stein. This time, he wears a pale blue shirt with a maroon and white overcheck and plain front. Again, he wears no tie.
Finally, Gil runs into Hemingway and the bullfighter Juan Belmonte at a Charleston dance. Papa’s white shirt is styled similar to his first with a front placket and double cuffs, but this one has thin, subtle gray striping.
Hemingway sticks to earth tones with the rest of his outfits, typically wearing a pair of dark brown high-rise trousers with double forward pleats and a full cut down to the cuffed bottoms. His slim leather belt is slightly lighter brown with a gunmetal single-claw buckle.
During the stop at Gertrude Stein’s apartment, Hemingway wears an olive shade of brown trousers, similarly styled but worn without a belt, revealing the squared extended tab on the waistband. Like the other trousers, these are finished at the bottom with turn-ups.
Since Hemingway spends the bulk of his time drunkenly pontificating from behind a café table, his shoes don’t get much exposure. At Stein’s, he appears to be wearing a pair of tan leather apron-toe bluchers.
A plain gold wedding band is seen on the third finger of Hemingway’s left hand, symbolic either of his marriage to Hadley (which lasted until January 1927) or to Pauline (which began in May 1927).
Go Big or Go Home
Midnight in Paris glamorizes the expatriate lifestyle of the 1920s, an era that inspired Hemingway’s first novel The Sun Also Rises as well as A Moveable Feast, recounted decades later from his notebooks recovered from the basement of the Hôtel Ritz Paris.
In fact, the grand Hôtel Ritz, which reopened last month in the 1st arrondissement after a major three-year renovation, could be considered a first stop on a tour of Hemingway’s Paris. Ground was broken in 1705, appropriately during the reign of Louis XIV, although the palatial hotel itself didn’t open until nearly 200 years later with a “glittering reception” on June 1, 1898. The hotel became an instant legend with a reputation for luxury as everyone from artists and entertainers to politicians and royalty – Edward VII and a lover were once reportedly stuck in one of its bathtubs – over the decades. Hemingway featured the hotel in The Sun Also Rises and lived there for many years, with his tenure now honored by the hotel’s Bar Hemingway where head bartender Colin Field’s concoctions have taken legendary proportions of their own. Indeed, the hotel is one of the few places that would honor a guest who reacted to his wife’s request for a divorce by firing a pistol into a toilet where he had thrown her photo. Perhaps it was Hemingway’s endorsement of “the only reason not to stay at the Ritz [in Paris] is if you can’t afford it” that the hotel appreciates.
Before he could afford the Ritz himself, Hemingway and his first wife Hadley spent their first night in Paris at the Hôtel Jacob – now the Hotel d’Angleterre – in the 6th arrondissement.
Ernest Hemingway’s nightlife behavior had become legendary in his own time. According to Malcolm Cowley in Exile’s Return:
I remember being taken to an unfamiliar saloon – it was in the winter of 1925-26 – and finding that the back room was full of young writers and their wives just home from Paris. They were all telling stories about Hemingway, whose first book had just appeared, and they were talking in what I afterward came to recognize as the Hemingway dialect – tough, matter-of-fact, and confidential. In the middle of the evening one of them rose, took off his jacket, and used it to show how he would dominate a bull.
Midnight in Paris depicts Gil accompanying Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald to Crémerie-Restaurant Polidor on the Left Bank in the 6th arrondissement, where he first meets Hemingway brooding over a glass of burgundy. Polidor, originally founded in 1845, retains the spirit of turn-of-the-century Paris with its style of cooking, its decor, and even its bathrooms. Diners sit at long shared tables with communal saltcellars and pots of mustard. Once popular with Hemingway’s contemporaries and spiritual successors like Jack Kerouac, it remains a favored haunt of local college students. According to Fitzgerald in Midnight in Paris, it also offers a “diamond” whiskey sour, if you’re so inclined.
Channeling the spirit of his idol, Gil (in the present day) visits Shakespeare & Company in the 5th arrondissement, the English-language bookstore opened in 1951 by George Whitman after Sylvia Beach’s original shop in the 6th – a favorite of 1920s ex-pats like Hemingway, Stein, Fitzgerald, and James Joyce – had closed during the German occupation of Paris in 1940. Whitman’s new shop reflected the spirit of the original as a common meeting place for Bohemian writers, and Sylvia Beach publicly offered him the use of the Shakespeare & Company name while dining with him in 1958. Dwight Garner’s New York Times article in 2010 recalls an incident toward the end of World War II when a uniformed Hemingway, who had admired Beach, “would return to ‘liberate’ the bookstore, but it never reopened.”
As Time Out outlined in a great piece, most of Hemingway’s favorite haunts were on the Left Bank and many still remain almost a century later. His apartments at 39 rue Descartes and 74 rue Cardinal Lemoine are commemorated with plaques, and foodies can still enjoy the offerings of enthusiastic grocers at the Marché Mouffetard, described in A Moveable Feast as a “wonderful, narrow crowded market street”.
It’s very understandable why Gil Pender is so nostalgic about the era and the lifestyle of its expatriates: plenty of coffee, cigarettes, and cocktails with hot jazz and the greatest artistic minds of the generation filling out the background.
Sidney Bechet’s “Si tu vois ma mère” serves as the de facto theme of Midnight in Paris, playing over the beginning and end credits with vignettes of Paris at its most romantic by day and night.
When I want to evoke this romanticized Parisian experience either to accompany some coffee or writing attempts, my go-to is always Django Reinhardt, the Gypsy jazz guitarist who developed his unique solo style after two fingers on his left hand were paralyzed in a fire. Born in 1910, Django was a bit too young to provide the soundtrack for the lost generation of the 1920s, but Woody has used plenty of his music in his films for decades to the point of writing Sweet and Lowdown as an homage.
The movie also includes my favorite “modern” re-interpretation of a ’20s-style arrangement of James P. Johnson’s “Charleston”, performed here by Enoch Light and his Charleston City All-Stars for one of several albums in the late 1950s that celebrated the music of the Roaring Twenties. (I previously celebrated this track when I posted about Jimmy Stewart’s Charleston dance in It’s a Wonderful Life.)
Gil dances the Charleston with Djuna Barnes, the celebrated modernist author who would eventually pen the groundbreaking novel Nightwood.
What to Imbibe
Reading Ernest Hemingway’s novels and memoirs will make your taste buds tingle for anything from a cold beer or neat whiskey to absinthe or – Hemingway’s favorite – a Daiquiri. Midnight in Paris depicts Papa drinking plenty of wine given his surroundings, including Château this-or-that claret and Moët & Chandon champagne.
The Sun Also Rises famously features protagonist Jake Barnes downing a Jack Rose cocktail at the Hôtel de Crillon bar while waiting for Lady Brett Ashley:
At five o’clock I was in the Hotel Crillon, waiting for Brett. She was not there, so I sat down and wrote some letters. They were not very good letters, but I hoped their being on Crillon stationery would help them. Brett did not turn up, so about quarter to six I went down to the bar and had a Jack Rose with George the barman.
While its name may recall James Cameron more than Ernest Hemingway to modern drinkers, the Jack Rose was once so prolific that David Embury included it alongside mainstays like the Daiquiri, Manhattan, Martini, Old Fashioned, and Sidecar in his seminal The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks in 1948. The Jack Rose was likely developed in New Jersey, possibly by restaurateur Joseph P. Rose although the earliest mention of the cocktail appears to be a 1905 article in the National Police Gazette that credits Jersey bartender Frank J. May with its creation.
The Jack Rose consists of three ingredients; applejack brandy is the primary ingredient, and Laird’s has enjoyed increased sales of its applejack due to the resurgence of interest in the Jack Rose and classic cocktails of its ilk. In an ice-filled shaker, two parts of applejack are mixed with one part lemon juice and half a part grenadine syrup. After the fruity red concoction is strained into a chilled martini glass, it is typically garnished with a cherry and a lemon slice and served up. Lime juice and a lime slice may also be substituted for lemon.
How to Get the Look
Midnight in Paris depicts a young Ernest Hemingway in his prime, newly published and dressing in the style of a macho adventurer comfortable at a Parisian café, a Spanish bullfight, or an African hunt.
- Dark brown suede single-breasted 3-button sport jacket with notch lapels (with pointed-tab buttoning throat latch), box-pleated left chest pocket with button-down flaps, box-pleated hip pockets with button-down flaps, single-button tab cuffs, and single vent
- Light-colored subtly-patterned dress shirt with large point collar, front placket, and double/French cuffs
- Gold round cuff links with black finish
- Brown high-rise double forward-pleated trousers with belt loops, full cut, and turn-ups/cuffs
- Light brown leather belt with gunmetal single-claw buckle
- Tan leather apron-toe bluchers
- Brown socks
- Gold wedding band
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Buy the movie (or borrow it from a friend if you’re not a Woody Allen supporter), but you should certainly read Hemingway.
His most famous works are arguably A Farewell to Arms or For Whom the Bell Tolls, and many high-schoolers were unfortunately turned off by having to read The Old Man and the Sea, but my personal favorite is The Sun Also Rises, as I’m sure you could tell by this point.
I also greatly enjoy A Moveable Feast, which likely inspired much of Midnight in Paris and practically serves as a posthumous “Making of” featurette of The Sun Also Rises as it recounts the 1920s expatriate scene and the colorful characters that lived it.
If you’re a writer, declare yourself the best writer. But you’re not – as long as I’m around – unless you want to put the gloves on and settle it.