Cinema buffs with a forthcoming trip planned to Paris will find a wealth of entertaining knowledge about French cinematic history in this relatively slim but well-researched volume. In Paris Movie Walks: Ten Guided Tours Through the City of Lights! Camera! Action, author and former BBC journalist Michael Schürmann brings a lively and often humorous tone to a dozen celluloid-themed walks in the capital, and his suggested itineraries are clear and easy to follow while offering plenty of interesting details. Frequently overlooked facts on Paris social and political history, architecture and noteworthy Parisian personalities are woven into the walks, making this book a valuable addition to your suitcase even if you’re only casually interested in movie history.
Why to pick it up:
- Clear, easy-to follow tours organized by neighborhood
- Book provides well-researched facts and anecdotes– on cinema and beyond
- Good balance between classic and contempoary, Hollywood blockbuster and “auteur” cinema
- Includes searchable index of featured movies by title and Metro map
- Lively, humorous narration
A couple of cons:
- Lack of actual stills from featured movies can make scenes difficult to visualize for the unfamiliar
- Published in 2009, the book is far from old or outdated, but won’t have references to the most recent films and movie locations in Paris.
My Full Take
As part of preparations for reviewing Paris Movie Walks, I accepted an invitation from author Michael Schürmann to take a stroll around his own highly photogenic neighborhood, Montmartre. At nearly every corner we cross, Schürmann seemed to have a new sliver of cinematic trivia up his sleeve. “See that cafe at the bottom of the stairwell? That’s where one of the last scenes from the remake of Sabrina was shot,” he noted.
Later, we passed by a local corner market with an unusually ornate sign– but I have trouble situating when the facade was likely constructed. I learn that it was in fact modified and made to look like something from a different era by director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who re-imagined Montmartre through his own idyllic (and many would say, unrealistic) cinematic filter in his 2001 global hit, Amelie.
This was just an ordinary market made to fit in perfectly with Jeunet’s anti-naturalist, ambiguously timeless version of Paris, the author commented.
The book, just shy of 300 pages but light and compact enough to carry around in a day bag or pack, is filled with similarly astute observations about the spots where movie directors chose to set up shop in Paris. Made up of 10 easy-to-follow walks around different Parisian areas and neighborhoods, Schürmann’s book breezily and clearly relays facts and anecdotes about films of diverse genres and periods.
Highlights include filming locations and key facts around the making of movies as diverse as Marcel Carné’s Hôtel du Nord, Billy Wilder’s Irma La Douce, Francois Truffaut’s French New Wave masterpiece Jules et Jim, and Hollywood blockbusters (and flops) such as the 1995 remake of classic film Sabrina, and French Kiss, starring Meg Ryan.
It’s accessible enough for readers who are not exactly film buffs, but the author is clearly well-versed in celluloid history and techniques, so readers with some expertise certainly won’t be bored. Chapters 9 and 10 are devoted to Parisian cinematic classics such as The Red Balloon and Zazie dans le Metro, among others particularly suited to fans of “auteur” French directors.
What I especially like about the book is how easy it is to follow the tours and have your imagination piqued not only by cinematic moments in the places you’re ambling through, but also by intriguing glimmers of social history, architecture, art, or the megalomaniac foibles of Parisian leaders. Schürmann manages to not only pack the book with celluloid facts, but also gives us a larger picture of the capital’s history that makes the book a useful guide in areas beyond the purely cinematic.
Schürmann also helpfully cross-references between contemporary and classic films: strolling along the Canal St. Martin, for example, we learn that the boat that sinks to the bottom of the canal in Last Tango in Paris is called “The Atlante”– a clear homage to the eponymous 1934 film by revered French director Jean Vigo. Cinephiles who get a kind of thrill from these sorts of references and clins d’oeils will appreciate the subtlety.
While it’s obviously best to use the book during a trip to the city, it could also make a fascinating and inspiring “armchair read”, especially if you’re planning to go but can’t make it there just yet.
On the downside, I did find the book to have one small flaw: a lack of actual stills corresponding to the scenes being described may make it difficult to visualize scenes if you haven’t seen the films in question. But their absence in the book is understandable, given how costly and complicated it can be to secure rights to use and reproduce these sorts of images.
Overall, this takes away only slightly from the charm and usability of the book, which remains an entertaining and informative read. I recommend it whether you’re a devotee of the seventh art or simply want to experience Paris through a different lens.
Paris Movie Walks: Ten Guided Tours Through the City of Lights! Camera! Action
- Publisher: The Intrepid Traveler (2009); paperback, 224 pages
- Available at Amazon.com, Abe Books, and other select online retailers
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review. Paris Unlocked discloses all potential conflicts of interest. Additionally, this review was originally published on About.com Paris Travel.