La Lune Ne Garde Aucune Rancune

“La lune?  Bien  sûr, la lune!  C’est mon pays, la lune.  ‘Celui est le part d’une autre; il n’est pas comme nous. Une nuit que la lune était pleine, il était tombé. Il  rêve de les choses impossibles,’ [dit-on].  Mais pourquoi impossibles puisque je les rêve, ces choses?”

“The moon? Of course, the moon! It is my homeland, the moon. ‘He is foreign; he is not like us. One night when the moon was full, he fell [to earth]. He dreams of impossible things,’ [they say]. But why are they impossible, these things, given that I dream them?

These are the words of poetic realism uttered by my muse for the fete of Halloween which just passed, Baptiste– as superbly acted by Jean-Louis Barrault– to the apple of his eye, Garance, in Marcel Carné’s 1945 cinematic chef d’oeuvre: Les Enfants du Paradis (English title: Children of Paradise). Baptiste is a mime, who suffers a coup de foudre when his gaze grazes Garance, a beautiful carnival cast-member, outside the theatre where he works on Paris’ Boulevard du Crime, the inauspicious sobriquet of the Boulevard du Temple. In the staged pantomimes at the Théâtre des Funambules (Theatre of Tightrope-Walkers), Baptiste often plays the commedia dell’arte stock character of Pierrot, the lachrymose clown whose unrequited love for Columbine is the thread of many a narrative in varying artistic modalities.

 pierrot-and-colombina_Pablo-Picasso

Pablo Picasso 1900, Pierrot and Columbine

And like the character he plays, Baptiste himself is a stock character of sorts in Carné’s grand drama that tells tales of transformation self both through the portal of the proscenium and in real life: Baptiste is the archetypical naive lover, smitten by Garance’s graces; the real-life Pierrot. Similarly, there are three other archetypes in amorous pursuit of this pernicious flower: Frédérick Lemaitre, the dragueur; Lacenaire, the impenitent criminal; and Le Compte de Montray, the wealthy aristocrat. All four men walk the tightrope of love’s paradoxical path, vying for Garance who is angelic only in appareance.

Unfortunately this trailer has no subtitles, but it is the best trailer out there it appears. Perhaps it is the universe goading you to learn French?

Inspired by Barrault’s transformation into the factual character of French actor of Baptiste Debrurau (July 31, 1796 – June 17, 1846), I set out this Halloween to conjure a Pierrot with a pun and a bit of paradox– my very own walk on the Wildean tightrope, as it were.  The Pierrot character, which was borne of late seventeenth century Italian commedia dell’arte and polished by the French into the form we now recognize, has undergone quite the sartorial shift in tandem with the metamorphosis of the character itself over the centuries . In the 1700s, Pierrot was often depicted with a dunce cap or hat, and drapey collaret festooned around his neck over his billowing oversized white shirt adorned with black buttons. Baptiste, whose real name was Jean-Gaspard Debrurau, the single most popular interpreter of the stock role, rid the clown of the cap and simplified the costume by doing away with the collaret to free his lithe neck for comedic effect. It is this Baptiste that Barrault immortalizes in his turn in  Carné’s film about love and the everyman.

IMG_6561 Barrault as Baptiste as Le Pierrot 

I could not simply be Pierrot for Halloween though, it would be against my nature to keep it so true to a source I could never do full justice. I resolved that I would be Pierrot Cardin, the Couture Clown, even if only 4.5 people would “get” my costume (3 of them being imaginary friends) as my friend warned:  an amalgamation of Pierrot and Pierre Cardin, the legendary french couturier and designer; a farther play on the strings of paradox on which Les Enfants so deeply harps.

Like Pierrot, Cardin is Italian-born French. And just as Pierrot stands for transformation in my mind– the transformation of an actor, guided by Melpomene’s mask, into a universally recognized mute character–Cardin transformed fashion from functional to futuristic is his hay day due to his avant-garde leanings. Yet, Pierrot also represents a constancy, as a character that have survived through the ages, that is diamatrically oppossed to Cardin’s innovation. Cardin, unlike many of his contemporaries in the 1950s and 60s, experimented with geometric designs, ignoring the female form and inventing such pieces as the bubble dress. In dress, one might argue that Baptiste’s Pierrot went for less while Cardin went for more. On this is for sure: like the Baptiste of the film, Cardin was a dreamer. In fact, Laurence Benaïm writes in the foreword of the book, Pierre Cardin: 60 Years of Innovation: “‘Utopia is too abstract a word for Pierre Cardin; he prefers ‘dream.’ Utopia remains a concept, but a dream—a dream can come true.”

Cardin 3Y oung Cardin with model

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Futuristic designs by Pierre Cardin

We are all dreamers, are we not?  Me, you and the Children of Paradise  referenced by title of the iconic film. Paradise as it is used here is not an allusion to some pie-in-the-sky utopia; some abstract nebula floating in the cloudy consciousness. Le Paradis was the name, in that epoch, given to the nose-bleed seats of the theatre where the common man could afford to sit (in English, the inhabitants of that section were called “the gods”). Ironic indeed that the name would suggest that these audience members were the ones who weilded the most power. They did do, in the theatre for Baptiste tells us how it is to them he plays and of them he seeks approval. Yet, on the stage of life, these were the people sans puissance. Of them, Baptiste revealed, “I know them. Their lives are small but their dreams are so vast.”

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I opted, unlike Baptise in the film, for elaborate makeup and a custom-made/ co-designed victorian ruff of lace and tulle. The idea is  to capture the truth and essence of the character: interpretation, never mimicry. 

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A coat by Cardin, 1959, with a neck closure not unlike a renaissance ruff 

Halloween provides the perfect occasion for one to dream out loud, to become, as it were, a stock character. Here I was, playing out my fantasy of some synthesis of Pierrot and Cardin, of simplicity (all-white) vs. decadence (lace and tulle– I brought back the ruff) which mirrors  both the tension between the rich and the poor that Jacques Prévert poetically captures in his brilliant screenplay for the film and the “oiseau-rebelle” paradox of love which Prévert underscores in this and his other well-known work, the poem, Pourt Toi Mon Amour.

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In full regalia: skullcap made from a thigh-high Club Monaco sock, neck ruff from Etsy’s Mademoiselle Mermaid, self-made tulle-pompoms for buttons over a shirt from Ebay, complete with face jewels sourced from Claire’s

Strangely, it is likely that Halloween is, however, the time many of us come closest  to being unmasked. We are, the preponderance of us, living each day masked, as Paul Laurance Dunbar wrote. Behind and beneath the caked-on white facepaint and drawn-on clown grin, do we deny the person that we truly are in order to fit in with a cavalcade of clowns like the epic scene of dervishly-dancing Pierrots in Carné’s cinematic poem? Are we, like Pierrot, crying silent tears as we pine for the Columbine that is our true self?

 IMG_6558Baptiste as Pierrot pines in vain for his love, Columbine, played in the pantomime by his true-life Columbine, Garance

I was recently lucky enough to attend the New York Times Columnist, Charles M. Blow’s, book tour stop in Atlanta for his memoir, A Fire Shut Up in My Bones. Blow, memorably opinied: “Vulnerability is the leading edge of truth and that vulnerability becomes the epitome of strength…it is almost a revolutionary act to be brave enough to be yourself”. How much happiness do we sacrifice when we shut our self up within ourself and ignore a  conflagration in our soul? Or as the character of Lemaitre would have it:

“A lion not even allowed to roar. What torture! When inside you there is an entire orchestra; a whole world”

I wonder how many of us are wearing the mask, caught in the cacophony of our own pantomime,  when in truth we are dreamers just like Baptiste. I wonder how many of us are wearing the mask when we are, in truth, children of the moon: unique, looney, spirited and spritely and (hopefully) a mixed bag of nuts.  My dear friend, artist Henrik Simonsen, recently, and more eloquently than I ever could, stated:

The older I get the more I appreciate originality. You start to see how many people have composed themselves out of package deals. They pitch themselves into a certain group and then set about to acquire all the accessories and characteristic of that group … the cloths, the music, the books … the opinions ….
I think its wonderful when you meet those people where all the parts seems to be a random mix and nothing really seems to go together. It suggests to me someone that has put themselves together out whatever they liked and was drawn to. Its quirky, its often surprising and its individual and I so appreciate those people.

As I peeled of my clown lashes that November first morning, and plucked off my crystal tears, and and wiped off Tom Ford’s  blood red Diabolique from my lips with all the sybriatic affectation I imagine Ms. Dorian Corey would have effaced her drag masks, I wondered how many more masks I will have to peel off on my journey towards myself.  One of the most embedded  veneers was shattered only a few months back when, while I was in Ghana I admitted to my mother that I who studied neuroscience and was to culminate my education in some scientific arena do not, as a matter of fact, want not to cure diseases or study science, but to celebrate the beauty of living through the clavier and majesty of language. Admitting this to my mother has not been as hard as the work of admitting it to myself. This mask of purpose has been glued on so tight since my formative years that it had seeped into my reflection of myself such that I never before had recognized it as foreign body. In fact, I am not sure where the mask stops and where I begin; where my own definition of success begins. It has taken many an outside eye to reflect this true self to me. And  the mask will only by chipped away through “sheer plod”. It is indeed scary to audibly say that you are not what you convinced yourself you are but hopefully, soon, I too, like Baptiste hope to announce with aplomb, that I am a child of the moon, a dreamer and a doer, after all:

“La lune ne garde aucune rancune” – TS Eliot

May the fire shut up in our bones blaze forth and be the light that lights our way.

Our very own Théâtre de Funambules this past Halloween:

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“We are all born mad. Some remain so.”- Samuel Beckett

About Natasha

Word- and dough-smith. Girl in search of "the illumination, that ecstatic flash, from which truth emerges".

2 comments

  1. I had to Google sooo many words….

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