Tuesday, May 3, 2011

[For Writer's Island, ABC Wednesday and Sunday Scribblings]
The famous song is "April in Paris," but when I think of the City of Light I think of the month of May a few decades ago, when I was making a film in France.
It was hard, arduous, tough work, traveling first-class (paid for by the films' budgets), eating almost every day at Michelin 3-star restaurants, staying in the best Paris hotels; I don't know how I lived through it. :-)
The documentary had to do with the American expatriates; it was a famous time back in the 1920s when an entire season -- (a number of seasons, actually) -- was given over to Yankee writers making the trip to Paris. Since the franc was weak and the dollar was strong, it was the ideal spot for any American artist.
One of the places I wanted in the film was Gertrude Stein’s apartment at 27, rue de Fleurus.
Her home had been a place of pilgrimage for so many young writers. You could make the case – oh, you’d get arguments – but you could make the case that this is where modern American literature began, because Gertrude Stein attracted the greatest writers of that time: Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thornton Wilder, Sherwood Anderson, Ezra Pound, among others.
They had told me that I probably couldn’t get in to the apartment; it wasn’t open to the public. But I was able to get a few strings pulled at the French Government Tourist Office and I was ultimately allowed entrance into the famous home of Gertrude Stein.

As I walked about the place I remembered seeing pictures of it as it had once been when, much earlier, the walls were covered with avant-garde paintings as Stein discussed art with guys most people then had never heard of, young chaps named Picasso, Braque and Matisse.
It was said of Gertrude in the early years: “She knew where art was going.”
What attracted the American writers? Well, she was a sort of literary guru. As a writer, she was often difficult to understand – she certainly wasn’t much as an author of best-sellers – but her gift was for analysis and criticism; to many her judgment in literature was infallible.
When he met Stein, young Ernest Hemingway realized he had found a guide, even a tutor, and he took what she had to say very seriously. He thought so much of her he asked her to be the godmother of his child.
In “The American Tradition in Literature,” the editors state: “Hemingway created a revolution in language.” I believe the revolution was at least partially created by someone else. Long before she met Ernest H., Gertrude Stein wrote: “I began to get enormously interested in hearing how everybody said the same thing over and over again.” To the young Hemingway, she pointed out this phenomenon, emphasizing as well the importance of writing in a new way, simply and directly, and of developing a forceful prose style with few adverbs or adjectives.
Ernest listened and learned; what he learned became the famous Hemingway style that influenced the narrative and dialogue of a couple of generations of novelists.
When Ernest, age 22, came to that apartment at 27, rue de Fleurus, he would sit by the fire as Gertrude spoke to him about writing. He paid her a great compliment: “Writing used to be easy before I met you.”

Years later, when he became Papa Hemingway and very successful, when he became a
legend in his own lifetime, he would downplay Stein’s influence on his writing. But decades earlier he had felt differently: “Ezra (Pound) was right half the time,” he wrote, “and when he was wrong you were never in any doubt of it. Gertrude was always right.”
When you shot a film in those days, a small crowd would always gather. Among the people watching while I worked in the courtyard of Stein’s apartment building was an elderly lady who seemed to be very interested in all that was going on. I spoke to her and was surprised to learn that she had been Gertrude Stein’s concierge, going all the way back to the old days. This was quite a shock.
I was actually speaking with someone who had known them all as young people – Picasso, Braque, Matisse, as well as the American expats Hemingway, F Scott Fitzgerald and the rest. She assured me that they had not only been friends of Miss Stein, but her friends too. I believed her.
The documentary that resulted from all this, “One Man’s Paris,” was distributed by Universal-International throughout the country after opening at the Palace on Broadway in Manhattan. Making it was an unforgettable experience for me.

29 comments:

Mary said...

I am unspeakably jealous of you. What a....(words fail) fabulous experience! I'm so glad I stopped in to read. Thanks. -Mary

Jane and Chris said...

What an experience, I would love to hear the concierge's tales!
Jane x

Roger Owen Green said...

Yes, your movie life seemed arduous. Sorry for your travails.

Fascinating how memory (or willfullness) will change perception, e.g. Hemingway on Stein.
ROG, ABC Wednesday team

Meryl said...

What an incredible experience, being there, filming, meeting this woman, and sharing these insights. Can I find your film anywhere?

Hildred and Charles said...

I would love to see this documentary, - so sorry you had to endure such deprivation while making it!!!!!

Wanda said...

An experience of a lifetime...Lucky you. Loved those pictures and the history behind them.

kris... said...

Very very cool....

Berowne said...

H&C; "I would love to see this documentary."
Well, if it exists at all, after all this time, it would be in the vault of the film company. But it wouldn't be easy to see; shot in wide-screen, the only way to look at it would be rent a movie theatre.
And it ain't that great. :-)

Kay L. Davies said...

What a wonderful experience for you!
— K

Kay, Alberta, Canada
An Unfittie's Guide to Adventurous Travel

Isabel Doyle said...

A fascinating story and window into the past - especially the concierge.
Lucky you!

Su-sieee! Mac said...

You've got me interested in reading something by Stein. Many years ago I tried reading her work, but could not understand it at all. Maybe I've matured enough to get her. Thanks for the peek into that moment of your past and theirs.

Pat said...

What a magical time that was.
In the sixties I was frustrated trying to find her atelier and asking passers-by where she lived and none of them had heard of her.
Later visiting her grave I wished I had taken a rose to leave there.
'A rose is a rose, is a rose.'
To Su-sieed Mac I would suggest 'The Diary of Alice. B. Toklas.'

Berowne said...

Pat: To Su-sieed Mac I would suggest 'The Diary of Alice. B. Toklas.'
Ah, but remember, what made the title so clever was this: it was actually "The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas" -- by Gertrude Stein.

Oakland Daily Photo said...

What fantastic experiences you had. Gertrude may have been a big influence on Hemingway, but it didn't take him long to bite the hand that fed him. His cruel depiction of her and Alice in A Moveable Feast left me with a distinct distaste for him as a person. BTW, Gertrude was from Oakland! Where there was and still is a There there.

Tumblewords: said...

A magical time, wasn't it? But when the magic died...

sharplittlepencil said...

BEROWNE! Am reading Stein's "Everybody's Autobiography" as we speak. It's a haphazard, brilliant piece of writing. She really did have her finger on the pulse of all, including Picasso. SO glad you got into her house. Must have been historic moment for you. Thanks for the Magical Mystery Tour, my friend. Amy
http://sharplittlepencil.wordpress.com/2011/05/04/precipice/

Steve Isaak said...

Enjoyable tale-telling work, as always.

Berowne said...

Oakland D P: "BTW, Gertrude was from Oakland! Where there was and still is a There there."
Glad to hear from Gertrude's home town.

Berowne said...

Very glad to have visits and comments from such talented writers as Tumblewords, Amy and Steve I.

Annie said...

It was a remarkable time Berowne; a time that will probably never be duplicated quite so uniquely. What a pleasure for you to have such a close but moved sort of experience to share in it.

vivinfrance said...

I was going to ask if it was possible to see the film, but sae your disappointing news for Kris. You memories make an exciting read - greatness at second remove. Thank you for sharing the experience

flaubert said...

I am Jealous, I want to go to Paris, so badly. A wonderful write Berowne. I love all the people mention here.

Pamela

Andy Sewina said...

Wonderful memories, I love going to Paris, it's such a magical place at times, thanks for sharing this.

Marja said...

An intriguing story set in the most artistic place Paris is. How I love that city. We drove there several times.

Berowne said...

Flaubert: "I am Jealous, I want to go to Paris, so badly."
Anyone named Flaubert should certainly visit Paris. :-)

Anna :o] said...

What a woderful, interesting story and so the life you lead.

Anna :o]

Margaret said...

As always, very interesting.

sharplittlepencil said...

Berowne, thank you for that lovely compliment. Always thought the line, "There's no there there," was D. Parker and happy to learn that, not only was it Gertrude Stein, but that I have yet to come upon the line in "Everybody's Autobiography," which I am still reading. Amy
I think you in particular will enjoy this one:'
http://sharplittlepencil.wordpress.com/2011/05/05/lindy-hoppers-3ww/

lucychili said...

fascinating

 
Blog designed by Blogger Boutique using Christy Skagg's "A Little Bit of That" kit.