Gene Kelly in "An American in Paris" - Screen capture, 1951.

The Fiction of Paris in LA

“There is Paramount Paris and Metro Paris and of course the real Paris. Paramount’s is the most Parisian of all.” —Ernst Lubitsch

Wherever it might have begun, Ben Franklin’s courtship or American GIs liberating it from Nazi Germany, America’s blowsy love affair with France took form here in Los Angeles at the movies. Despite a handful of stock footage straight from a tourists snap-shots, Hollywood made the French look like a bunch of intellectuals and artists intermittently arguing philosophy and having sex like rabbits. Of course, they eat better too. As much as I love this smog smothered jewel of a city, I regret to say Los Angeles will never get pigeonholed quite so awesomely.

Ernst Lubitsch spoke of course too soon. Though he shot over twenty films about Paris in the ’30s without ever stepping foot outside of California, he hadn’t yet experienced Paris in Las Vegas. I don’t know what the Paramount Studios version of Paris  looks like these days (I’m sure pieced out and disappeared, studios don’t quite setbuild like they used to). People like to say how fictional Los Angeles is, thrown together so quickly our of all the leftover fantasies that tumbled out of the world and landed here. France is the most touristed country in the world (according to no less venerable authority than the CIA Factbook) and is of course no less a fiction than Los Angeles to the dreamers who travel there.

My favorite movie Paris is in An American in Paris, which of course was shot entirely in Los Angeles. Americans re-invent Paris, French re-invent Los Angeles. With each new set of eyes, westward dreamers or Left Bank lovers, each city renews its reality with each new tourist and film, both woven thickly out of fiction.

This April you can see for yourself where they’re hiding Paris at Paramount Studios during the inaugural Paris Photo: Los Angeles.