Friday, July 27, 2012

The French Have a Word for It: Hollywood

These are not the best of times for American moviegoers. This summer’s offerings have ranged from fanboy blockbusters to embarrassing flops to real-life horror shows, like witnessing a deranged man firing in a crowded theatre. All of which makes me want to relive my recent visit to France and Ireland, where the old verities of Hollywood glamour apparently live on.

I just spent a week in Toulouse, a beautiful medieval city that has in recent years become France’s high-tech mecca. This is where Airbus is headquartered, and Toulouse is justly proud of its Cité de l’Espace, a sort of family theme park that focuses on the European role in space exploration. But as I prowled the old city, with its winding streets and Romanesque towers, what struck me was the local enthusiasm for Hollywood’s icons. In many shop windows, I spotted a whimsical poster of Alfred Hitchcock, a finger held to his lips. This was an advertisement for La Cinémathèque de Toulouse’s June film series, which was completely devoted to the Master of Suspense. The Cinémathèque was also taking advantage of balmy summer evenings by sponsoring an outdoor series, Cinéma en Plein Air. It featured such American flicks as The Magnificent Seven and Les Hommes préfrèrent les blondes, which most of us know better as Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

As I continued my wandering, I came across more Hollywoodiana. Like a trendy fashion boutique named “Groucho” that incorporates into its logo that familiar image: the eyebrows, the glasses, the mustache, the cigar. And a pop culture emporium that called itself “Bullitt,” and uses on its signage an unmistakable sketch of Pam Grier, in one of her Woman Warrior poses. Not to mention “Au Fouillis Américain,” a shop crammed full of cowboy boots, baseball caps, and other All-American gear. The drawing of Monument Valley splashed across its façade looks to have come straight from a John Ford epic.

My few hours in Paris yielded more of the same. Over lunch I spotted a young man wearing a Steve McQueen T-shirt, complete with motorcycle insignia. A très chic restaurant, Pierre au Palais Royal, had a photo of Marilyn Monroe emblazoned across its menu cover. A gallery near the Louvre was exhibiting wall art based on popular images of such stars as Humphrey Bogart, Audrey Hepburn, and James Dean. This is a country wholly besotted with Hollywood. No wonder the French produced The Artist.

At first glance, it seemed that Ireland is slightly less Hollywood-obsessed. One of the endearing facts of Irish life is its reverence for Irish authors. Dublin, which boasts the Dublin Writers Museum, has erected a jaunty statue to James Joyce, and named its new sleek bridge after Samuel Beckett. (Hard to tell what the author of Waiting for Godot would have thought of that.) In Galway, you can pose for a photo on a bench alongside a bronze Oscar Wilde.

Still, the Irish are not immune to Hollywood glitz. Coincidence, I’m sure, that in County Wicklow there’s a town named Hollywood. But it’s hardly a coincidence that on the green hillside of this tiny burg, big white letters spell out its name. Yes, a miniature Hollywood sign. And on a street corner in raucous Killarney, a codger with a one-man band amuses passers-by with his selection of celebrity all-stars. Erin (and Hollywood) go bragh!


  1. It has been a tough summer for movies - but most of them have been this summer - for me, anyway. I thoroughly enjoyed this glimpse into the Hollywood love of France and Ireland - fun post, Ms. Gray!