Gertrude Stein in “Paris the Luminous Years” on PBS
What do Gertrude Stein, Picasso, Janet Flanner, Nathalie Barney, Hemingway, Stravinsky, Chagall, Sylvia Beach, Joyce, Pound, Diaghilev, Nijinsky, Sarah Bernhardt, Diego Rivera, Djuna Barnes, Isidora Duncan have in common?
They all gathered in Paris between the first and third decade of the 20th century, the place where “everybody who was anybody” had to be. France, according to Stein, was “that other country that you need to be free in the other country not the country where you really belong…”
Conveniently, to mark the moment, a documentary on PBS (KQED, Dec.27, at 10 pm) brings all of this into focus: “Paris the Luminous Years” by Perry Miller Adato (who got the Directors Guild of America Award in 2003 for her “Georgia O’Keeffe — A Life in Art”) and brilliantly explains why and how, in Stein’s words, “Paris was the place that suited those of us that were to create the twentieth century art and literature, naturally enough. …” Adato explains in thrilling images, memories, interviews the attraction Paris held for foreign artists and intellectuals in every field. She shows the origins of the great creative moment in Western civilization and art that made Paris a lasting myth to the rest of the modern world. “It is because of this element of civilization that Paris has always been the home of all foreign artists,” Stein wrote in Paris France, “they are friendly, the French, they surround you with a civilized atmosphere and they leave you inside of you completely to yourself.” And she goes on: “Foreigners belong in France because they have always been here and did what they had to do there and remained foreigners there. Foreigners should be foreigners and it is nice that foreigners are foreigners and that they inevitably are in Paris in in France.” This explains in Stein’s own words why “Paris was where the twentieth century was.” Perry Miller Adato beautifully fills in the blanks, bringing home Janet Flanner’s notion “Paris Was Yesterday” — just yesterday.