The Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral, which was recently ravaged by fire, continues to be an iconic building everywhere, including in the cinema. here are some examples
As I sat down to write this column, my various devices went crazy and social media began streaming heartbreaking live footage of the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, culminating in the collapse of the spire and the roof. My original intention was to write about something else, but my immediate thoughts were to write something about the representation of the cathedral in film. I almost changed my mind, given that Twitterati was already on the case, but decided to persist on the grounds that in the few hours from the horrific incident to the publication of this column, the fickle public memory would have shifted to the next tragedy, meme or political ambush.
The obvious starting point would be the many versions of Victor Hugo’s famous 1831 novel Notre Dame of Paris (The Hunchback of Notre Dame in English) which details the tragic relationship between cathedral bellringer Quasimodo and gypsy Esmeralda. Excerpt from the 1905 French silent short film Emerald until the 1996 Disney animated film The Hunchback of Notre Dame and its straight-to-video sequel from 2002, the world has been fascinated by the subject and has, over the years, attracted a galaxy of talent. A 1923 version starred Patsy Ruth Miller as Esmeralda and Lon Chaney as Quasimodo, while a 1939 adaptation starred Maureen O’Hara and Charles Laughton and a 1956 version starred Gina Lollobrigida and Anthony Quinn.
When the BBC concluded their coverage of the fire with an excerpt from the novel Hugo read by actor Tom Hollander, composer Howard Goodall (Mr Bean, Johnny English) emphasized: “The title of the book is Notre Dame of Paris. The title you used is from a film adaptation. Anyone who has actually read Hugo’s book will know that the cathedral, not some poor persecuted bellringer with scoliosis, is the main character.
Elsewhere, the cathedral figures in An American in Paris (1951), Amelie (2001), Ratatouille (2007), Midnight in Paris (2011), The beauty and the Beast (2017) and way too many other films that can be listed here, as the cathedral is an integral part of the city’s skyline, just like the Eiffel Tower.
While Notre Dame was still burning, Twitter was already igniting with the seemingly prescient remark by Richard Linklater’s Julie Delpy before sunset (2004) where she says that Notre-Dame would have disappeared one day. In the film, this was preceded by a story told by Ethan Hawke’s character where he recalls a German soldier tasked with blowing up the cathedral during the Nazi retreat from Paris, who was unable to resolve to do the deed.
In any case, it is unlikely that Notre-Dame will disappear anytime soon. As we speak, hundreds of millions of euros are being pledged to rebuild the iconic structure. For an encouraging example, the French need only look across the Channel to St. Paul’s Cathedral in London which has been ravaged by fire, rebuilt several times, damaged during the Blitz, restored again and extensively renovated less than ten years ago. Notre Dame itself has survived various ravages over the years and the bells will soon be ringing again and again.