USA / 1996 / 93 min / English & French / Documentary
Director: Greta Schiller
Cast: Juliet Stevenson (narrator), Janet Flanner, Sylvia Beach
The Skinny: Paris When She Sizzled
Plato Score: B+

Plato Says:

They came, they wrote, they climbed into each others’ pants.

Paris Was a Woman is a romantic, wistful recounting of the women—most of them todger dodgers—who made up the art and literature scene of 1920s Paris. Based on the book by producer/collaborator Andrea Weiss, director Schiller offers an exhaustive perspective on the lives of these oft-overlooked women.

Women like Gertrude Stein and her Partner Alice B. Toklas. Stein, who would soon become famous for her enigmatic verse, languished in her early days despite male counterparts (ie – James Joyce) getting lucrative publishing deals.

But the doc also highlights many others: entrepreneurs Sylvia Beach and Adrienne Monnier and how their respective bookstores became beacons for the Parisian literati; Natalie Barney, the American heiress and out-lesbian whose salons were legendary; Djuna Barnes, writer of the cult classic novel Nightwood, along with her artist lover Thelma Wood; Janet Flanner, the New Yorker magazine’s Paris Correspondent whose column “Letters from Paris” would be a staple for decades; and not to mention Josephine Baker, Collette, Romaine Brooks, to name but a few.

These women all traveled in similar circles and highlighted the new freedom for modern women of the early 1920s. Director Schiller brings her keen eye for details that she brought to Before Stonewall and offers a much-needed glimpse into a unique, female-centered era.

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