Ideologies separate us. Dreams and anguish bring us together. --Eugene Ionesco
I was browsing in the bookstore this afternoon in the midst of a post-swim reverie - Half Price Books, of course, because I am cheap; and found a copy of Eugene Ionesco's Rhinoceros. Now, recently, I had seen a reference to this very play in something I was reading. I can't remember if it was in Malcolm Cowley's Exile's Return(probablynot since Ionesco was but a pup in the 1920's and Rhinoceros did not come around until a few decades later...), some book by or about Jung, or Maureen McCormick's ...Here's the Story. Okay, I don't think it was in the latter. But wait, she did do some theatre in Los Angeles, didn't she? Hmm. Maybe that was an Ibsen play she did. Hmm? Never doubt the tenacity and sophistication of Marcia Brady. So I thumb through the play, and read a few sentences here and there. Nothing really stuck. I read the description on the back -- A rhinoceros mysteriously appears in a town one day. The next day there are 2, then 3, and as the days pass, the rhinoceri are outnumbering the townspeople, until the remaining humans figure out that the rhinoceri are actually the townspeople themselves. There is some uttered critical statement about the play being about capitalism and the machine culture, conformity, blah, blah, or some such thing, turning people from humans into hard-headed rhinoceri, mindlessly charging about intheir daily a ffairs. I found it intriguing, considered buying it. Thought really hard about it. But not now. Perhaps...
However, my mind could not help but flash back to my only previous glimpse of Ionesco in the form of a facsimile called Parvulesco, the rock star poet/playwright in Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless. Jean Seburg's girl reporter (I will never forget her dulcette tones singing, "New York Herald Tribune!", as she sold newspapers in a swaying skirt, or a pair of jeans, and page girl haircut along Les Champs Elysees.) character asks Parvulesco "Quel est votre plus grande ambition dans la vie?" or, as one would say en anglais, "What is your greatest ambition in life?" Parvulesco shoots back, "To become immortal, and then die."
Apparently this is some sort of monumental statement because Godard throws some heavy horns down on the soundtrack and a shocked (okay, maybe more pensive)look on Ms. Seburg's face just to drive home the fact of just how awesome that statement was. I found it funny. I'm sure Jean-Pierre Melville, who played Parvulesco, Godard, and everyone on the set, no matter how few there may have been for Godard's "put the cinematographer in a shopping trolley and go for it" style of filmmaking got a laugh at the statement, not to mention just how odd, or maybe European, it was to have a poet/playwright doing a press conference on the sun-drenched tarmac of the airport as soon as he steps off the plane. I don't know. Again, maybe this is how they treat poets and playwrights in Europe, or maybe that is how they were treated in 1960, or maybe the whole thing was a huge joke. Je ne sais pas. Je suis just un Americain stupide, your typical capitalist cog with all the grace and sophistication of a, uh, rhinoceros. Maybe it is just a case of cultural feebleness demonstrating that I have no clue just how huge Mr. Ionesco was and perhaps still is. Perhaps he was the rock star like he was depicted in the film and his bio would make Lord Byron seem puritanical. Maybe I just need to get myself a little education regarding Mssr. Ionesco, and some day soon, I hope, I will do just that. But of course I must concern myself with greater things such as the Super Bowl, the European Champions League, and the FA cup before that day arrives.
If nothing else, the thought of Mr. Ionesco-comme-Parvulesco bringing forth memories of Godard pushed me over to the film section of the store. Unfortunately, nothing I wanted was there. I need a new copy of Truffaut/Hitchcock because my current copy is a shambles. No such luck. The same story on Truffaut's The Films of My Life. Rien!
This takes me back to Hugo, the latest Scorsese film that I saw with the FNC last week. Going in, I thought it was a kid's movie. I'd heard or read nothing about it. No one told me that it was a fictionalized portrait of the great George Melies, one of cinema's earliest experimenters and auteurs, based on the book L'Invention de Hugo Cabret. It was quite the pleasant surprise to the see the old film school education rear its decrepit little head. There were all the images from Voyage Dans La Lune that I remember from RTF 314 (L'histoire du cinema), the rocket in the pie face moon, the battles with the exploding aliens, and all the other cut and and splice trickery that was unheard of when Melies did it around the turn of the 20th century when film as a language, and film in general, was in its infancy.
It was all coming back to me, just as Parvulesco/Mr. Ionesco was coming back to me from a French New Wave film, a film and movement that so fascinated me when I was but a pup in his early 20's. It all seemed so liberating. All you needed was a camera and some spunk, and some willing participants- et voila!, C'est un film! I was so blown away by the Joie de Vivre of the whole thing, the sunny streets of Paris, the vivacious Seburg in her flimsy summer dresses, Jean-Paul Belmondo in his comme-Americain gangster clothes, and non-stop smoking, blowing smoke right into the camera. Don't get me started on Truffaut's 400 Blows.
It was all so liberating, all so alive, that I wanted to do that. I wanted to do what Jean-Luc Godard was doing in some field, if not film. How about in regards to writing? Instead of the camera-stylo, why not a stylo-stylo? Stylo-camera? Why not just write from the hip like Godard did with film, like Kerouac did with the pen, Kerouac, a true master of vivacity with direct kinship to Godard and Truffaut. The Beats and the New Wave were blood brothers, they opened up the medium, and opened up eyes. If they did not change the world, they certainly had an affect on some people, like little ol' impressionable 24-yr-old me, the kid who took 5 and a half years to finish college before taking 5-6 years to finish school was cool. Now that I am embattled in my tiny little life, battling to keep the bills paid, and a roof over my head, the New Wave and the Beats shout out to me in the recesses de mon couer where the sound echoes like an empty chamber. I still hear you little guys. I know you guys are there, alive and well.
I am coming home.
Bon chance por le bon vivant.
Excuse my French, if you will.
BTW-- I wound up buying a copy of Crome Yellow by Aldous Huxley which appears to be a send up of the post-Victorian English literati. Can one ever go wrong with the author of Brave New World? We will see.