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Glossy postcards and virtual collectibles: Consuming cinematic Paris

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This article examines the touristic consumption of Paris in cinema, through a concept of the cinematic postcard as a commodification of history and place, arguing that film participates in and also illuminates touristic relations to the city. The article proposes two iterations of the cinematic postcard: a ‘glossy’ postcard that incorporates past and present into a cohesively framed urban space, and ‘virtual collectibles’ that encourage the serial accumulation of familiar signs of place. While connected through a nostalgic relation to the urban past, these iterations reflect different anxieties about the city and are emphasized in different aesthetic strategies, which the article pursues through close analysis of two films: Vincent Minnelli’s An American in Paris (1951) and Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris (2011). In the troubled Paris of the early post-war years, the tourist gaze of cinema provided a cohesive image constructed from a selective, cultural past, anticipating a postmodern aesthetic of nostalgia as identified by Fredric Jameson. In the age of what Boris Groys calls ‘total tourism’ and its proliferation of the collection and online display of images of place, the emphasis has shifted from transmission to the virtual collection of desirable, analogue images of Paris.
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Keywords: Internet; Paris; cinema; nostalgia; postcards; tourism

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Cambridge

Publication date: 01 September 2017

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  • Cities have been increasingly at the forefront of debate in both humanities and social-science disciplines, but there has been relatively little dialogue across these disciplinary boundaries. Journals in social-science fields that use urban-studies methods to look at life in cities rarely explore the cultural aspects of urban life in any depth or delve into close readings of the representation of cities in individual cultural products. As a platform for interdisciplinary scholarship from any and all linguistic, cultural and geographical traditions, the Journal of Urban Cultural Studies prioritizes the urban phenomenon in order to better understand the culture(s) of cities.
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