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Woody Allen: Searching for the Name

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This Germ of an Idea Calls for an Antibiotic

Roger Arpajou/Sony Pictures Classics
Rachel McAdams and Owen Wilson in a scene from “Midnight in Paris.” More Photos »

THE preview at MoMA calculated to ignite euphoric Oscar buzz over the studio’s new $60 million comedy ended and the lights came up, revealing an audience of 400, stiff, with eyes shut, bringing to mind what it must have been like when outsiders first stumbled upon Jonestown. As the local opinion makers revived and shuffled through the exits, I bumped into Philo Cubbage, a schmendrick I knew from the periphery of show business who surfaced intermittently over the years with some fresh scheme for achieving bankruptcy. After the customary exchange of insincere remarks about how neither of us had aged, we agreed to masticate a pair of sirloins and repaired to Upchuck’s, where we could dine and disembowel the film we’d seen at leisure.


Slide Show
Allen Abroad


Exclusive Clip: 'Midnight in Paris'

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Yoan Valat/European Pressphoto Agency

The director Woody Allen on the set of "Midnight in Paris." More Photos »

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Miguel Medina/Agence France-Presse -- Getty Images

Woody Allen, far right, talks with Owen Wilson and Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, during the filming of “Midnight in Paris.” More Photos »

“What are you up to?” I inquired.
“I just finished a production of ‘Long’s Day’s Journey Into Night’ on ice,” he explained, spearing a chunk of marbleized meat. “And you?”
“I’m going to shoot a movie in Paris,” I said.
“Not bad,” he mused. “Avec qui? Marquee-wise.”
“Well, so far I’ve talked with Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard, even Carla Bruni.”
“Sarkozy’s main squeeze,” he enthused. “That’s using the dreidel. She could probably help you with parking permits. What’s the premise?”
“The truth is, I’m still trying to structure the piece,” I told him.
“Of course you are. What Paris says to me is love story, awash with painters, shots of the Seine, Champagne. Thank God I have a can’t-miss notion to sell you. I call it ‘Midnight in Paris.’ ”
“Romantic title,” I had to admit. “Is there a script?”
“Actually, there’s nothing on paper yet, but I can spitball the main points,” he said, slipping on his tap shoes.
“Maybe some other time,” I said, mindful of Cubbage’s unbroken string of theatrical Hiroshimas.
“Owen Wilson plays Bud Hartoonian,” he began undaunted, “a gifted songwriter whose sensuous melodies and sophisticated lyrics have spoken volumes to a generation of America’s cognoscenti but whose own love life has been a series of emotional holocausts. When we first meet him, he’s wandering home at night from the Folies Bergère. He had originally planned to go to the Louvre to see some nudes by Reubens but decided the ones at the Folies Bergère would probably be more fun.
“Passing a trash can he notices a discarded photograph in an old frame. It’s a picture of Rachel McAdams’s face, and he falls in love with it, vowing to find the woman and marry her, or at the very least throw her photo away and sell the frame. At that moment we hear the sound of Big Ben chiming midnight.”
“Big Ben is in London,” I interrupted.
“On a quiet night sound carries across the channel,” Cubbage continued unfazed. “Suddenly a woman runs up to him with a small package.
“ ‘You must help me,’ she says. ‘They’re after me.’
“ ‘Who?’ Hartoonian asks, adrenalin aquiver.
“ ‘Never mind,’ she pleads. ‘Take this package and guard it with your life. If anything happens to me you must bring it to a Monsieur Laval on Rue Bonaparte.’
“ ‘But what’s in it?’ asks our protagonist, and here the camera dollies into the woman’s face for an extreme close up.
“ ‘Van Gogh’s ear,’ she tells him.
“ ‘What?’ he says incredulously. Incidentally, this dame with the exotic lolly could easily be Marion Cotillard. Just then a car pulls up and a shot rings out, killing her.”
“It’s a skimpy role for a star of Marion’s stature,” I pointed out, beginning to dimly discern the dimension of Cubbage’s psychosis.
“Believe me, to work with you, Cotillard will do anything. You’re an icon in France — like snails.”
Cubbage had warmed to his theme now, and nothing would stop him. “O.K.,” he said. “Owen Wilson grabs the ear and starts running. He hails a cab and goes to Rue Bonaparte.”
“But who is Laval? And why does he want van Gogh’s ear?” I said.
“Because he’s got the other one,” Cubbage explained.
“But van Gogh only cut off one ear,” I argued.
“Who sez? Nobody ever knew what happened to the other ear. The first one to come off got all the attention. Who’s to say van Gogh, who was nutsy-fagan anyhow, didn’t eighty-six his other aural appendage.”
“But why?” I fifed, my voice now ascending to the piccolo octave.
“Why? Who knows? Maybe yet another broad jilted him. Maybe he was careless shaving. Maybe he was just a stickler for symmetry.”
“And Laval?” I asked. “You still haven’t explained him.”
“Laval has been in search of van Gogh’s ear for years. He’s followed it from Istanbul to China to Rio. Once he thought he found it, but it turned out to be the ear of a man named Sheldon Finkle in Great Neck. Incidentally, Rachel McAdams is Laval’s daughter. It gives Hartoonian a reason to meet her when he shows up with the missing ear.”
“And why does Laval need both ears?” I asked, slowly rising.
“Because ears are only valuable as a set. Who the hell needs a single ear?”
I couldn’t come up with an answer as I reached for my wallet.
“Of course there are still some loose ends,” Cubbage admitted. “Like who shot Marion Cotillard. I haven’t figured out why anyone would want to kill a nice lady like her — or exactly who she is in the story.”
“It’s no use, Philo,” I said. “It just won’t play.”
“But why?” he asked, crestfallen.
“The idea has originality,” I said, searching for a way to sweeten the rejection. “But there’s no part in it for Carla Bruni, and we have an agreement.”
“Of course there’s a part for her,” he snapped back, his eyes burning now with divine madness like Mahdi’s. “She meets Alfred Dreyfus while he’s imprisoned. She has the cell next to him. They’re both a pair of wrongly convicted jailbirds. They fall in love and this gives Bud Hartoonian an idea for a song: ‘I’m a Real Devil on Devil’s Island With You.’ ”
At this point I dropped a Benjamin on the table to cover the mortgage for all the tasty cholesterol and fled up Broadway. While Cubbage’s plotline was a little loose, I did send him a bottle of Dom Pérignon for the lovely title.

The actual “Midnight in Paris” will be the opening-night film at the Cannes Film Festival on Wednesday and will open in the United States on May 20 :smilewinkgrin:
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