marie antoinette's finest moment

En fait, on sait bien que ce qui a mis à sec les finances de la France, c’est la guerre d’Indépendance américaine, et pas les chaussures de Marie-Antoinette. Mais avec les femmes au pouvoir, on en vient toujours aux paires de chaussures. – Chantal Thomas

A recent LCC post got us interested in the new Coppola movie about Marie Antoinette – an obvious lure for people who have invested a lot of time in studying French culture. At the same time, I don’t have high hopes for it – Lost in Translation merely made me sorry that Bill Murray was lost in Lost in Translation, and everything I have read about the Marie Antoinette movie seems to indicate – take the Paris Hilton set, put big gowns and wigs on them, and voila, the decadent Frogs! A rather pitiful comparison. The French aristocracy might have been many things, but they were not the untutored ignoramuses of our current governing class.

Probably we will have to wait until video – we are rather crawling on the economic floor this week, and repeating our mantra: never become a freelance writer! Better strangle your child in the cradle. If they show any inclination to write down their feelings, or compose poems, or such crapola – send them immediately to military school! So we aren’t about to spring for the tickets to S.C.’s fun filled frolic at the moment, when that is certainly equivalent to a burger and fries.

Good films about the French revolution are hard to make. (We have heard wonderful think about Peter Watson’s film of the French Commune – but it is not out on DVD, so these are just rumors to us). However, we do remember back, what, twenty years, the awful film by Wadja that tried to make out that the French Revolution was Stalinism with the trimmings, with some rancid scenes about Robespierre that completely made him out to be a puritanical little Beria. Wadja really is a cunt, and he revived an old reactionary trope that is adored by the right, which likes to contrast the American Revolution (which preserved slavery and was premised on the westward march of Indian killing) as good and enlightened, whereas the bad Frenchies were sending butchers out to drown the Vendee in blood and such. It always amazes me how much sheer blindness goes into these things, but I guess I exist in a constant state of amazement. I, on the other hand, support (isn’t that a lovely word, support? It is often brandished in comments and blogs, and it has such faux gravity, as if one were stepping to a podium before a cheering crowd. This, my friends, my brothers, my mokes and geezers, is what pomposity is all about!) the Atlantic revolutions – the U.S., France, Haiti. Good thing I do, too! Otherwise there’d be the devil to pay.

Poor Marie A. was not her mother’s daughter until the end – I wonder if they show that in the movie? I don’t have a soft spot for many royals – for instance, I think Lenin did the right thing in ordering the execution of the Romanovs, save for the kids – but I think Paine was completely right about sparing Louis and his wife – a step that plunged France into the wars that eventually led to Napoleon. Anyway, Antoinette has been a great object for feminist historians in the last twenty years. In her time, Marie Antoinette was the anti-heroine of many a pornographic tract. Lynn Hunt, in the Family Romance of the French Revolution, and Chantal Thomas, in the groundbreaking La Reine Scelerante, have done some immense work in the archives, bringing to light these pamphlets and caricatures. Thomas, in her interview with Humanite, cites Madame De Stael:

“After having written that essay on the queen in the pamphlets (La reine scelerante), and chiefly in picking up once again the witness of Madame de Staël, I was intrigued that someone who was so politically opposite to the queen would take up the pen so courageously to defend her in saying that all women are humiliated by the way Marie Antoinette is treated.” Referring of course to the trial. Marie Antoinette’s boy was taken away, and given to a shoemaker named Simon, who caught him, one day, masturbating, and coaxed the eight year old into saying that his mother and her sister taught him. Hebert, prosecuting Marie, said this about the charge:

“There is reason to believe that this criminal enjoyment was not at all dictated by pleasure, but rather by the political hope of enervating the physical health of this child, who theycontinued to believe would occupy a throne, and on whom they wished, by this maneuver, to assure themselves of the right of ruling afterward over his morals.”

Now, Hébert is not just anybody. Actually, he is an influence on this very blog – I throw in words like cunt, fuck, and shit partly because Hébert used obscenity in Pere Duchesne, his newspaper. It was after reading Pere Duchesne that I decided, fuck, I’m gonna do that. Hebert had the genius to marry the language of the street to the language of revolutionary politics. He helped create the modern demagogic style. To make him Marie Antoinette’s accuser would be like appointing Larry Flynt Foley’s accuser.

In any case, the Queen was not going to put up with this confusion between reality and the stroke story. Her reply … is unfortunately untranslateable. A popular biography has her saying, I appeal to all the mothers in this room. “I appeal” is, technically, correct, but doesn’t have the electric force of Marie Antoinette’s speech, which is like the speech of one of Racine’s heroines. Here’s an excerpt from the Goncourt Brothers biography:

‘A juror arose: Citoyen président, je vous invite de vouloir bien observer à l’accusée qu’elle n’a pas repondu sur le fait dont à parlé le citoyen Hébert, à l’égard de ce qui s’est passé entre elle et son fils.”

“Si je n’ai pas repondu, dit la Reine, c’est que la nature se refuse à repondre à une pareille question faite à une mere; et se tournant vers les mères qui remplissent les tribunes: J’en appelle à toutes celles qui peuvent se trouver ici.

I love this moment. I absolutely love this moment.

ps - proof that our own court society, compared to Louis XVI's, is as pasteboard to diamonds, is provided by Sally Quinn, the Washington Post's most enjoyable doyenne, today. Quinn has always treated D.C. as though it were her private high school - after all, we all learn about court society in prom, don't we? - and is probably still rather miffed that, after all the introducing around she did for Chalabi, the man still wasn't elevated to the rank of proconsul in Iraq. Some greasy other Arab was (and I use greasy advisedly - her column about Chalabi and other Iraqi leaders made a point of how relatively non-greasy Chalabi was. As well as obviously having table manners - none of that barbarous scooping up the rice with your bare hands for OUR Iraqi leader.) Her column about Rumsfeld as a scapegoat today is riotously funny - Quinn seems to have the kind of fine mind that separates actions (especially actions about peons and peasants - I mean, my God, these are figures made by God to move about a chessboard, and we are supposed to worry that they bleed a little? Well, boo hoo) from high D.C. symbolism. So Rumsfeld is a scapegoat - I guess in the same way that Manson is a scapegoat in the murder of Sharon Tate. Charlie wasn't actually there, right?

But High School has its privileges, unto the grave. So my fave doyenne graf was this one:

"I suspect that he has already told the president and Cheney that he will leave after the midterm elections, saying that the country needs new leadership to wind down the war. And he will resign to take a job in some sort of humanitarian venture, thereby creating the perception that he is a caring person who left of his own accord to devote the rest of his life to good works."

Operator, get me a charity! "The perception that he is a caring person" - to parse that phrase completely, from the way in which perception is detached from subject and launched as a free floating variable, docking with various ectoplasmic communities, to the choice of 'person' - not man, not caring butcher of Fallujah, but 'person' - well, it would be to plunge into the maelstrom. The ride down would be fun, but much, much too long for a simple post.


new york urchin said…
'take the Paris Hilton set, put big gowns and wigs on them, and voila, the decadent Frogs! A rather pitiful comparison. The French aristocracy might have been many things, but they were not the untutored ignoramuses of our current governing class.'

No, they're about the same, with external differences only. The movie is probably for the purpose of tutoring the current American reign. This kind of utterly frivolous movie is popular at the moment, along with 'The Queen' and even 'the Black Dahlia.' They reflect only the current culture and I'm not going to bother with them. 'The Sopranos' is a wonderful show because they use actors that are so much a part of the milieu--New Jersey, Brooklyn--that they just have to be competent thesps otherwise (which Edie Falco and James Gandolfini definitely are.) But with Giuliani and Spitzer closing down a lot of Mafia operations, they are now able to present them as having 'human sides' to them, and it's an amazing show. On the other hand, the whole business of making a movie about Marie Antoinette and QE2 during the Diana funeral is so obviously rococo. I guess they'll kill Tony Soprano in the final year to make sure outmoded crime still doesn't pay. Things like 'Pola X' 'Place Vendome' from 1999 and 'Changing Times' all with Deneuve, don't attract audiences, because they have something beyond wardrobe in mind. I did see 'Black Dahlia' the other day, and it is extremely poor--as if there were any more noir to make. By far the worst thing in it is Hilary Swank, who sounds as if dubbed by Faye Dunaway in 'Chinatown,' and also imitates Jennifer Connelly, Charlotte Rampling and Claire Trevor: DePalma doesn't bother making his actors get in character before filming them, but Ms. Swank is just an odious piece of virtual reality here, like the whole movie.

There isn't any such thing as LA noir any more (although 'Connecticut noir' was pulled off in 'Far from Heaven' somehow), and there isn't any reason to care about Ms. Antoinette's problems. She was an extremely unimportant person.
new york urchin said…
You may want to see 1999's 'Est-Ouest', also with the great Deneuve and with Sandrine Bonnaire and Oleg Menshikov. This has a truly palpable feel of the hideousness of living under Stalin with Bonnaire as a naive young French bride stupid enough to go with Menshikov to live there--only to find out that it was just as bad as anybody would have heard, and then had to figure out how to disbelieve.

Louix XVI and Antoinette needed to be executed and I'm glad they were. Bataille is good on this and there is, I think, an underpass at Place de la Concorde now where Louis got chopped.

As for the word 'cunt,' I do not think it is being used unless you use it for women. Men are now called prick, dick, bitch and cunt, and everybody is afraid to use cunt and bitch without the police coming. So there's an example: artifice in language that the 18th century could never have imagined. They knew how to identify what was between people's legs without worrying about being indecorous, and probably Britney Spears may het learn what these words mean. Women are cunts (or not) and men are pricks (or not.) I know it's sometimes necessary to adhere to the rules, and calling men 'cunt' is one of them; when cornered, I call both men and women 'bitch' and let them deal with it.
roger said…
Mr. NYP, I have to disagree about Marie A. I think history decides with or without us who the important people are - by which I mean, Marie Antoinette is simply known, like, say, Cleopatra, and unlike, say, George IV's poor wife, Caroline - a misused woman if ever there was one. She was tried by the House of Lords for adultery in 1821, and was found guilty - and was guilty - and who wouldn't have been, married to the fat, oozing, whoremongering mass of the Prince of Wales? But she is remembered by nobody - in fact, I'd bet my blog is the first to mention her. Not that Caroline was any prize. But the funny thing is, nobody thinks of the British court as a nest of debauchery, though George IV was an inveterate lecher, gambler, and drunk, surrounded himself with same, and was manipulated for those very qualities by the one admittedly brilliant gambler and drunk in those circles, Charles Fox.

And ... the reason I think the Royalty shouldn't have been guillotined is that it played out, and was obviously going to play out, in the dissolution of the Revolution. While, on the one hand, the Jacobins were simply trying to out their rivals, on the other hand, they put the nation and the revolution in a danger from which it never recovered. Interestingly, Napoleon, years later, seeking to marry Marie Antoinette's niece, used the same contract that was drawn up by Louis for Marie - a very depressing sign of the reproduction of the governing class, down to the docs.

So, are you going to see this Marie Antoinette film?

ps - depressing news about the black dahlia. I was looking forward to seeing that. I'm fascinated by the case.
new york urchin said…
No, I won't care to actually see it. Mme. de Pompadour was a lot more interesting, and the N. Mitford book is good.

'Black Dahlia' is enjoyable, though awful. The one good performance is Mia Kirschner, as the Black Dahlia, Betty Short, and she is only seen in these heartbreaking porno films. Weirdly, she protects the heart of the story. I would definitely recommend it, because it's an interesting mess. I just think it is 'LA noir' finally putrefying on the screen.

What I meant by this new genre of movies is that it's often about reprehensible characters, but now able to be celebrated more openly as the folk heroes we've always cherished. Yes, Marie Antoinette is of historical importance despite the fact that the 'antiquing process' does not make her less idiotic. But then there were those movies about minor actors with tragedies like 'auto-focus' and 'party monster' about Lee Alig. 'Stompanato' is coming up, ludicrously cast with Keanu Reeves and as Johnny Stomp and c. Zeta-Jones as Lana Turner. I can see the point in this sort of thing: Things are looser now. First, the happy ending was no longer required, now characters can be loved more thoroughly then just 'Bonnie and Clyde' when they are not good citizens. My main problem with this is that they are badly made.

I mentioned before that I don't have anything but VHS, but that's how I saw all those back episodes of 'the Sopranos,' and, although I don't know another example--'Sex and the City' and 'Desperate Housewives' seem to me worthless--this has proved to me what TV is capable of. Lorraine Bracco as Dr. Melfi is another brilliant casting choice, and I've even already made the Steak Pizzaiola from the 'Soprano Family Cookbook.' This is easy, and if you skip these shitty movies, a nice Steak Pizzaiola is better than y'all's burger 'n' fries...
roger said…
I'll definitely have to check out that Steak Pizzaiola!

I'm tv illiterate, since when I finally decided to get one, two years ago, it turned out that they'd turned off free tv. So much for looking forward to American Idol!

So I search around for dvds. And my current favorite is the Wire - which I just saw the first season of. I usually hate cop shows, but I am glad I persevered through the first hour, because -- at least in its first season - the Wire was the first real series I've seen about your average working class housing project folks. I loved it. I loved the guy playing the drug dealer, De Angelo, and I loved his disenchantment with the drug dealing world - he begins to wear the same look that any kid with some balls has when, for instance, he's done his first year selling cars or whatever. Is this what it is? is the look. And I loved the portrayal of the cops - pretty much how I think of cops. Unpredictably violent, most often lazy, and sometimes useful. And mostly I liked the way it reversed the usual idea that the poor are "dependent", so beloved of smug policy makers. In actuality, the poor can depend on nothing. To be poor means to live in a world where everything breaks, and nothing is ever completely repaired. That's my life, actually, so it was nice to have it smiling back at me on the tv. I made it to reality! The dependents are the suburbanites, the upper middle class, all those who need and take enormous amounts of energy from the system and have to have whole armies of servants, servers, and servicemen to help them through every hour of the day. It is such a joke calling the poor, or underclass, dependent that it can make a grown man cry.
But on the other hand, I expect the entrenched, inverse of reality description. White magic. Gotta apply that satanic historiography.
new york urchin said…

That's close to the Sopranos one, but definitely use fresh basil, which is the one spice that absolutely is not dried-friendly. You just need very small shell steaks, and then put it all over rice and it is one of the best things you can ever eat. Tony met Carmella over a Steak Pizzaiola...I'm as nuts over Edie Falco as you are over L'il Kim. She gets great lines like (to Tony) 'So I'm supposed to feel sahhh-ry for some whoooore who fucks you?'

'The Wire' does sound interesting, and I will probably get a DVD like a normal person in a few months. They have it at NYPL. At any rate, all VHS production stopped at the end of 2005.
Amie said…
the Peter Watkins film is quite something but it's really about the 1871 Commune rather than 1789, but you're right it's not available on DVD.
there's a film by Ariane Mnouchkine called 1789 that is well worth seeing and it's on DVD! she's actually a theatre person, but has filmed some of her productions. great stuff!

if i had the money to fund a film on the french revolution, i would have given it to Danièle Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub. alas, she passed away a few days ago. which makes me very sad. as does the fact that her incredible films with Straub are almost never shown. do check out their filmographie.
(ps. Buchner's Danton is pretty great...)
roger said…
Buchner's Danton is one of my favorite of all plays. Well, I knew Mnouchkine's theater work, but I didn't know that she did film. Ask and ye shall receive around here today. LI has finally hit well roundedness - film, tv, French theater, and recipes. That's a wrap, people!
Amie said…
UPDATE: the Peter Watkins Commune film is coming out on DVD on the 24th of this month!
if you cannot get it at your corner dvd store, it is listed on netflix.

btw, LI, i agree with you that lopping off the heads of Louis & Marie was quite a faux pas, and led to the subsequent debacle. relating it to our present time of peace and prosperity, i wonder if it is by chance that legalizing torture happens with scarcely a murmur in a free land where capital punishment is already the law?
roger said…
Amie - I can't resist. More like faux tete ... sorry sorry sorry.
Yes, I think that the setting of that regicide, and what it meant, should be a post one of these days.
Wow, the reviews I'm reading of the flick are brutal.
new york urchin said…
I don't think Miss Antoinette Bourbon would be very famous at all were it not for that there guillotine. I've seen those spinning wheel and other hobby houses at Versailles, and they were the pioneers in Theme Park Gloss. When France goes broke, we should put buy them and put them next to the London Bridge placed in Arizona...

It doesn't matter is Miss Bourbon didn't say the 'cake thing', because people thought she did, that's all that matters in a sense. People usually don't know that Mae West said 'Why don't you come up some time 'n' see me..' not 'Come up and see me sometime,' and Miss West was not only a more profound thinker but had better taste in men (boxers, etc.), so was surely a better lay...

It's true Ms. West could only get Salvador Dali to do her apartment, unlike Miss Bourbon, who had Vegee le Brun do her as a palled powdered thing--sort that everybody talks about having that 'baby skin', same kind of bullshit they do about the Windsors.

I'd have to sacrifice Cake Ingredients to finance a sallying-forth to this here travesty...and we here at New York Urchin know that Almond Torte, Ricotta Whilte Chocolate Cheesecake, Irish Porter Cake, Panettone Cake, and Utrecht Sweetheart Cake all have to be prepared on rigid schedules in these here upcoming holidays. Therefore, we have no more time to be ministering to Miss Coppola, and I bet that girl imitates Kristin Scott-Thomas anyway. Miss Thomas is an actress of uselessness ad Ridiculum, fairly effective when she imitates Julie Christie.
roger said…
Mistah Urchin, well, of course, if M.A. hadn't lost her head, she would be as unknown to the general public as any of the thousand names in Saint-Simon's memoire's of a much greater king's court.

However, unlike Louis XIV, under Louis XVI the action, the hip, was not centered on the court itself, which was, by all accounts, rather dull. It was in the aristocratic houses, or those of the immensely wealthy - like Necker. The court under L the 16th was, in a sense, the wreck of the 14th's centralization. John Law, the Regency, and the numerous odious wars under the 15th had destroyed the cultural centrality of the court. This, in effect, set up a disequilibrium that was sooner or later going to destroy the system. Because Louis the 14ths despotism was so successful, one forgets how eccentric it really was -- France has always been more frondiste than not.
new york urchin said…
Heah's one of the ways Miss Coppola thought she could promote exchange value in that rich-person's modest way. Somehow, shopping in Paris is what the whole movie is about. I know this to be true just the way Ms. Croce said about Bill T. Jones's 'Still/Here', over which she made a big deal by passing judgment on it without seeing it.

Mrs. Bourbon and Miss Coppola were both racists, as we all know, and all sorts of commentators have ignored this, in their desire to prevent a televised execution of Osama bin Laden, if that ever fits anybody's scenario...
new york urchin said…
You see, I think this movie could be called 'Daughter of the Devil Wears Prada', and all our hopes of capturing Hollywood truth will come true. (I wouldn't be caught dead at that one either.)
winna said…
Robert Darnton's Scandalous Books of Pre-Revolutionary France is an interesting one, but I've added the other books to my list.

This is a truly wonderful post.
winn said…
It's actually The Forbidden Best-Sellers of Pre-Revolutionary France. My brain is poor in the wee hours.

You have probably already read it.