Tuesday, August 28, 2007


Man, I love this town!

I'm here for two days, shooting more stuff I can't talk about yet. And while the days preceeding have been filled with all the complications and headaches that bedevil any production that's going on location; a couple of hours of this city erases all that and reminds you of how special it is just to be allowed to experience one of the best places on earth.

I'm convinced that every great city in the world, whatever their individual charms and personalities, secretly wants to be Paris. Maybe that's just a result of coming from Toronto, a city which has failed so miserably at its "World Class City" aspirations by constantly falling back on its Presbyterian roots, Family Compact way of doing business and patented exclusionary paternalism.

This year's tourist logo for Toronto was "Come for the Fun -- Be the First!"

The secret to Paris is simple. It's open and everybody's welcome to the party. I'm sure it has all the problems of any large city. But you get the feeling that Parisians don't let them interfere with their primary pursuit -- enjoying life.

There was a full moon here tonight and slightly jet-lagged, my DOP and I went out to embrace an almost perfect Summer evening. Within minutes, we'd blended into the throngs along the Champs Elysse, walking from L'Arc de Triomphe to the river.

You don't walk around most North American cities at night. Even Toronto, which once boasted such a lifestyle choice, has pretty much lost its charm in that department.

The crowd was diverse in all demographic categories. Families with toddlers mingling with Teens on the prowl, tourists, shoppers and people watchers jamming the cafes.

I've developed a theory that the seating arrangements in street cafes are identical to that of strip joints. The first row is for the devout voyeurs, the second holds those who want to appear slightly more sophisticated and the back is for the ones who just came for the atmosphere and the drinks.

I'd heard a lot about the Islamification of France before I arrived and while there were a few Burkas passing, I also noticed a number of young Arab women competing quite ably with the always striking contingent of French femininity. That's another one of Paris' charms -- the opportunity to shuck the expected and just be who you are.

All around us, people shopped or patronized vendors selling mountains of fresh fruit, candy and chocolates. There was a crush of people going to the Cinema, dressed for the occasion and appearing eager to buy tickets.

Each of the 4-5 screen multiplexes featured one North American Summer blockbuster, the balance of the screens taken up by French, Italian or British films I'd never heard of. And several cinemas were only showing French features.

Like the lost street culture of Toronto, they reminded me of the lost opportunity that once was Canadian film and an insight I'd had in New York 20 years ago -- that my own country did not yet possess the corporate courage or government will to build its own culture. I mean, why bother when you could make an easy living at less risk simply by coat-tailing American entrepreneurs.

Walking now amid a vibrant culture Canadians fought two wars to save, I wondered how we had the guts for that, but not the fortitude for this.

Bringing that further home is the method I'm using to post what you're reading. I'm flopped on the bed in my hotel room, wireless keyboard linked to the 40" plasma screen on the wall. I could be watching TV on it, gaming or viewing a recently released film. But the internet is also delivered on TV here -- something we'd have in Canada if the CRTC wasn't so busy pimping out the Canadian public for the benefit of our telecoms and broadcasters.

But back to the night...

Our goal for the evening was to film a Paris neighborhood for a dying friend, in the hope that seeing the streets and sights of her childhood might encourage her flame to flicker a little longer.

It was a part of the city I'd never been. But working from Google Maps and remembered anecdotes, we pieced together the locales that helped make her who she is and filmed them. Amid the world history that is memorialized everywhere here, it was a poignant reminder of the more important human stories that play out in any city every day.

I'll let you know if the plan works...

After shooting, we had a great meal in an open air cafe with a plasma screen hanging from the street awning. No different from any of Paris' red draped sidewalk cafes, it turned out to be a sports bar, playing Soccer and Rugby accompanied by cranky waiters, wine that's never seen a cork and the "Plat du Jour" standing in for Chicken wings.

An hour later, we were hanging our camcorder out a taxi window after convincing the driver to careen (as if that's hard) through the Alma Tunnel so we could experience Princess Di's last ride.

Yes, there's nothing like Paris to bring out the understated sophistication and elegance for which I'm widely known.

No comments: