Monday, August 3, 2009

Book Review: "Paris Movie Walks" by Michael Schurmann (2009)

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Complete Title:
Paris Movie Walks: Ten Guided Tours Through the City of Lights! Camera! Action!

One of the strongest reservations I have against filmmakers becoming overly reliant on the use of a green screen is that-- especially in a time of unparalleled job loss and economic uncertainty-- one of the best advantages of the cinematic escape is by instantly transporting us to exotic locales that may not exactly be in our budget.

When your world view gets smaller and everything begins to look suspiciously alike, you'll lose that sense of adventurous wonder that goes with the sense of joy you feel when a film can transport you to Meryl Streep's farm in Out of Africa... or wherever the story being told just happens to be set.

And to this end, fortunately I've discovered that so many filmmakers and enthusiasts seem to share my weakness for films set in France-- especially French made titles whether they're from the New Wave of Godard (including Breathless pictured on the book cover above) or Truffaut or the more contemporary fare of filmmakers such as Amelie director Jeunet.

Overall, France, or rather Paris to be precise, has always served as one of the strongest filmmaking muses in terms of location shoots with hundreds of movies set-- if not fully then at least partially-- in the famous City of Lights that has seduced artists from every medium for centuries.

In the newly published book from The Intrepid Traveler, the journalist, film enthusiast and Parisian aficionado who's resided in the country since 1993-- Michael Schurmann blends his passion for his adopted homeland by sharing ten wonderfully unique, fact-filled, film fan tested self-paced tours throughout the city that's now become best known for lights, camera, action, and A-list movie stars.

To its credit and in order not to weigh you down with too many guides, Schurmann's Paris Movie Walks is filled with maps and is additionally guided with his concise, accurate and straightforward style-- possibly indicative of his background as both a sportscaster and translator. Additionally it's one that's sprinkled with sidebars (yet most often placed at the bottom of pages) and "asides" comprised of cultural information, tips, and worthwhile historical facts.

And as the incredibly long title promises, a "guided tour" is exactly what the book delivers as throughout the 280 page work, it feels for readers as though Schurmann is walking with you a la textual GPS. To this end he tells you to turn left or right in each individual walk that you can pick and choose from which coincide with endless and awesome pop-culture cinematic citations of "if you look to your left" you'll see where Anne Hathaway tosses her cell phone in the famous Concorde Fountain in The Devil Wears Prada or how to position yourself to stand in the exact place that Robert De Niro did in anticipation for the crane shot that captured the beginning of the film Ronin etc.

While it's safe to say that not all of the films made in Paris have been classics including Steve Martin's newest interpretations of The Pink Panther or the third installment of Rush Hour, Shurmann delves way into the past for his references managing to satisfy ardent lovers of classic French film in addition to citing American efforts like Sabrina, French Kiss, and others.

At the same time, he succeeds in pleasing the students of the New Wave and beyond by leading visitors to the same places seared into celluloid in such works as An American in Paris, Gigi, Funny Face, The DaVinci Code, The 400 Blows, The Bourne Identity, Amelie, Three Colors: White, A Man and a Woman, Last Tango in Paris, Le Divorce, Jules and Jim, Charade, and Frantic and on and on.

As often the locations included in the movies were chosen in order to present the most picturesque views of the city-- to show off its landmarks or perhaps to offer visitors new glimpses at undiscovered treasure-- the walks included have a logical advantage as well since they often place you in and around the iconic stops you'd intended to make all along in your itinerary.

However, Schurmann's selections are far from predictable and he makes every attempt not to lead visitors to the city down the same routes they may have previously exhausted. In fact, he comprised the tours when he realized that friends seemed far more interested in tidbits about French Kiss style movie locales than traditionally historical artistic and overly publicized landmarks. And
as the press release explains, the walks consist of "four through the heart of the city, four around the periphery of central Paris, and two through the working-class neighborhoods that served as settings for French film classics of the 1930s and 1940s."

Although unfortunately the book doesn't come with frequent flier miles, French lessons, or a first class plane ticket-- for film buffs-- it's a wonderfully unique travel guide that will easily fit into your carry-on bag. And more importantly, for those of us who don't exactly foresee a trip to the City of Lights in our 2009 budget at this moment-- writing as someone who just reviewed it, having never set foot in the country but has seen most of the films mentioned-- it was a great armchair travel puzzle you could play in your head putting Gene Kelly next to Jackie Chan and Matt Damon to piece together the geography in your mind.

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