(2010 TV Movie)

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budmassey6 January 2011
There are two ways to examine history. One is to delve deeply into minute details artificially isolated from context. Another is to examine many topics at once as they create, delicately, intricately, beautifully, a context that gives them all meaning. This documentary, fortunately, gloriously, is the latter.

Did you know that Picasso did set design for the Ballets Russes, or that his closest friends were poets, not painters? Did you know that James Joyce's Ulysses might never have been published if not for an avant-garde bookstore owner named Sylvia Beach? Have you ever considered how the acerbic comments of Gertrude Stein shaped the sensibilities of a generation of canonical writers like Ernest Hemingway and Ezra Pound, most of them American expatriates, or that Aaron Copeland had to go to Paris to develop the vocabulary that would eventually define his uniquely American sound.or how an insanely gifted cadre of artists, poets, musicians, dancers, and impresarios redefined art, all forms of art, as we now know it? These are only a few of the threads woven beautifully, frankly, intelligently together by this startlingly enlightening work.

It is almost impossible to give full consideration to the diversity of this documentary on a single viewing. Each viewing provides new insights, synchronicities and points of departure for further research. Anyone wishing to develop a full appreciation and understanding of the art, by which, again, is meant all forms of art, of the twentieth century should consider this required reading.

As one commentator of the film observed, we absorb places into our lives, into our identities. We dream about places. They become part of our unconscious. Paris was, in the period addressed by this documentary the place an artist, any kind of artist, had to be to drink in the intoxicating intellectual, creative and spiritual libation that was served in no other place on Earth. Years later, in the latter part of the twentieth century, New York would become a similar place for nurturing the art of the world, but here, in Paris, in lively and intimate vignettes, is the basis of everything art was to become and, to some extent, remains to this day.

I preordered the DVD of this documentary the moment I saw it. It arrived on a day when I was sick in bed, and I cannot say whether it was various medications or this movie that made me feel better that day. All I can say is this. Get it. Apply as needed. You will feel better.
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Paris of Yesterday!
Syl22 December 2010
Paris was the capital of the art world where the modernism was born, bred, and thrived. This documentary explores the expatriates from America like Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Sylvia Beach, Janet "Genet" Flanner, Djuna Barnes, and others who called Paris home during 1905 and 1930. Paris was simply the artist's destination whether you were a painter, writer, dancer, or musician. Paris was the place to be. Paris was affordable for it's artists' community. They spent their days at the French discussing and arguing about art and politics passionately. There was no other place to be for an artist except in Paris where convention was tossed aside. Paris in the Luminous Years according to this documentary studies the society of Paris in those years. It must have been a glorious time to be in Paris and for women, they were equals to their male counterparts. They defied conventional standards of marriage and children in favor of seeking independence. I do have one complaint and that is the absence of Natalie Clifford Barney also known as the Amazon. She had salons to rival Gertrude Stein as well. The documentary is narrated by Conchetta Tomei. It features archival footage of Paris past and present.
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Modernism à la mode
tieman647 March 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Directed by Perry Adator, "Paris: The Luminous Years" hopes to convey the hustle and bustle of the early twentieth century Parisian art world. From roughly 1905 to 1930, the film says, Paris was a hotbed of innovation, new artistic movements and breakthroughs in philosophy. A Mecca which drew in leading artists from all over Europe, Russia and the United States, Paris was also, Adator says, on the cutting edge of fashion, culture, music, modernist movements, dance and political thought.

The film is, by necessity, very broad, skipping quickly from one artist or character to the next. We learn of how Paris seduced Picasso, Chagall, Apollinarire, Gertrude Stein, Diaghiley and Hemingway, we meet various avant-gardists and inventors, and are treated to interviews with the likes of Chagall, Jean Cocteau and Janet Flanner.

Elsewhere little anecdotes are told; tales about Picasso, Renoir, Taoulouse-Lautrec, van Gogh, and various other characters who seem to be perpetually mingling in public spaces, hanging out at cafés or bumbling about town. "They lived in hotel rooms, maybe tiny apartments, unheated and cold," biographer Noël Riley Fitch states. "For a cup of coffee they could sit in a café and they had heat, a toilet, all the necessities for writing or for sketching."

We then meet several African Americans who travelled to Paris, most of whom eventually become leading poets and musicians. Later we learn some jazz history, meet Josephine Baker, delve into the Dada and "ready made" movements, talk to various American expats, and art dealer Daniel-Henri Kahnweiler, who championed Picasso and the Cubists. But perhaps the most interesting subplot deals with Sylvia Beach, an American woman who moved to Paris and opened "Shakespeare and Company", the small bookstore which sold only English books and which quickly became legendary in certain circles (she'd support a number of struggling authors, most notably James Joyce).

Aesthetically the film is conventional - lots of talking heads, shots of photographs, paintings, prints, lots of voice-over narration, archive footage carefully interspersed with recreations etc - but Adator's style nevertheless does well to convey a certain exhilaration; the buzz of innovation and the crackle of possibility.

9/10 - Worth one viewing.
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Like a graduate course in modernism....
MartinHafer25 April 2012
Paris gained fame as the location of the impressionists such Cezanne, Van Gogh and Renoir. These really are not the subjects of this film. Then, towards the beginning of the 20th century, folks flooded to Paris from all over the world. Such folks as Chagall, Miró, Picasso, Gertrude Stein, Josephine Baker, Matisse, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Langston Hughes, Calder, Prokofiev, Modigliani, Dali, E.E. Cummings, Debussy, Cocteau, Hemingway, James Joyce and many others famous in the arts lived there during this era--SOME of these are the subjects of this documentary. However, if you see it to learn of the Impressionists, Josephine Baker, Fitzgerald and some of the others above, you'll probably be disappointed. That's because the film really centers on the modernists (such as Cubists, Surrealists and Dadaists). So, if you love modern art in particular, you'll love this film. SO, if this sort of thing doesn't excite you, then you'll probably find this all a bit tedious. It's clearly NOT for the average person, as most folks would find the works of the Dadaists confusing or without merit. Now I am NOT saying that some of this art was good and some was bad--but it certainly won't appeal to everyone.

So, as a documentary about the modernists, how is it? Well, it was pretty thorough--but not exactly my thing (Dadaism makes my brain hurt). Worth seeing if you are into art history but otherwise probably not a film most people would enjoy.
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