Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

08 June 2015

Paris Blues

I was super into Paris Blues. I've been thinking about the Method recently a little more than usual because I am reading Jane Fonda's autobiography My Life So Far (actually, since I'm audiobooking it, she's reading it to me). Fonda was a student of the method and she mentioned offhand some of Lee Strasberg's other students – Ben Gazarra and Newman and Joanne Woodward – and I thought oh yeah Woodward and Newman.

Paris Blues is a jazz movie from 1961. In many ways it is very slight. Woodward romances Newman, who is taciturn and difficult, but also fun-loving and smiley by turns. And Sidney Poitier walks around Paris with the luminous Diahann Carroll. The couples fall in love. The boys are jazz musicians and trying to make a go of their careers. Newman is trying to be a composer. Louis Armstrong appears a couple of times, most notably for an extended musical sequence that is absolutely delightful. But, as I say, the whole thing is pretty slight. The couples are in love, they fight, they're not in love anymore, they reunite. Carroll and Poitier fight about what we used to call "the race question" – Poitier likes living in Paris because Parisians are not even close to as racist as Americans are, his own country. Carroll argues that roots are important, and that the only way the nation is going to improve is if people stay and make waves and fight about it; running off to Paris isn't the answer.

Paris Blues fits in perfectly, then, with Martin Ritt's commitment to racial equality and issues of racism in his films, and the movie also ends with a beautiful, hard finish. I was really into it. I forget how much I love Martin Ritt's work.