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Spectacular Paris: Representations of Nostalgia and Desire

  • Author(s): Lawrie Van de Ven, Kate
  • et al.

September 1, 1999, saw the opening of Paris Las Vegas, the most ambitiously themed of Las Vegas’s resorts to that date. In 2001, Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Le Fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain were released to huge popular success. These two films share with the Vegas resort the mobilization of the brand or commodity “Paris,” and function via a shared alchemy of appeals to potential consumers (tourists and viewers in all cases). All feature prominent use of totemic Parisian imagery to situate their narratives, and invite us to travel to a “Paris” born of collective memory.

This paper examines how Paris is commodified by the films and resort, as well as what these three examples can reveal about the image of Paris as an imaginary construct. It is necessary to examine the three phenomena as equal manifestations of a spike in an enduring fascination with particular concepts of Paris in the popular imagination and in the uses of commodity culture – a vogue heightened around the end of the twentieth century and the beginning of the next. Analysis of the of the Parisian phenomenon circa 1999-2001 – as manifest by the resort and the two feature films – benefits from consideration of its relationships to Guy Debord’s theories of the spectacle, and to theorizations of nostalgia and the touristic drive. This analysis reveals how the brand of Paris may have been mobilized in an especially pronounced way at this particular cultural moment to serve as a container or palliative for anxieties around the impending turn of the century, the new millennium and the global changes this particular passage of time seemed to underline.

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