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the Dancing Plague of 1518, the Tanganyika Laughter Epidemic, and plagues of Koro…
In July of 1518, a woman referred to as Frau Troffea stepped into a narrow street in Strasbourg, France and began a fervent dancing vigil that lasted between four and six days. By the end of the week, 34 others had joined her and, within a month, the crowd of dancing, hopping and leaping individuals had swelled to 400.
Authorities prescribed “more dancing” to cure the tormented movers but, by summer’s end, dozens in the Alsatian city had died of heart attacks, strokes and sheer exhaustion due to nonstop dancing.
For centuries this bizarre event, known variously as the dancing plague or epidemic of 1518, has stumped scientists attempting to find a cause for the mindless, intense and ultimately deadly dance. Historian John Waller, author of the forthcoming book, “A Time to Dance, A Time to Die: The Extraordinary Story of the Dancing Plague of 1518,” studied the illness at length and has solved the mystery.
“That the event took place is undisputed,” said Waller, a Michigan State University professor who has also authored a paper on the topic, which has been accepted for publication in the journal Endeavour.
Waller explained that historical records documenting the dancing deaths, such as physician notes, cathedral sermons, local and regional chronicles, and even notes issued by the Strasbourg city council during the height of the boogying rage, all “are unambiguous on the fact that (victims) danced.”
“These people were not just trembling, shaking or convulsing; although they were entranced, their arms and legs were moving as if they were purposefully dancing,” he said.
Eugene Backman, author of the 1952 book “Religious Dances in the Christian Church and in Popular Medicine,” sought a biological or chemical origin for the dancing mania. Backman and other experts at the time believed the most likely explanation was ergot, a mold that grows on the stalks of damp rye. When consumed unknowingly in bread, the mold can trigger violent convulsion and delusions but not, Waller says, “coordinated movements that last for days.”
While at Australia’s James Cook University, sociologist Robert Bartholomew proposed a theory that the dancers were performing an ecstatic ritual of a heretical sect, but Waller counters, “there is no evidence that the dancers wanted to dance.”
“On the contrary,” he added, “they expressed fear and desperation,” according to the written accounts.
Unusual Events Preceded the Epidemic
A series of famines, resulting from bitter cold winters, scorching summers, sudden crop frosts and terrifying hailstorms, preceded the maniacal dancing, Waller said. Waves of deaths followed from malnutrition. People who survived were often forced to slaughter all of their farm animals, secure loans and finally, take to the streets begging. Smallpox, syphilis, leprosy and even a new disease known as “the English sweat” swept through the area.
“Anxiety and false fears gripped the region,” Waller said.
One of these fears, originating from a Christian church legend, was that if anyone provoked the wrath of Saint Vitus, a Sicilian martyred in 303 A.D., he would send down plagues of compulsive dancing.
Waller therefore believes a phenomenon known as “mass psychogenic illness,” a form of mass hysteria usually preceded by intolerable levels of psychological distress, caused the dancing epidemic.
Ivan Crozier, a lecturer in the Science Studies Unit at the University of Edinburgh, told Discovery News that he “agrees completely” with Waller’s conclusion.
“His cultural explanation, combined with a contextualized view of the conditions in which people lived at the time on the Rhine and Mosel, is very convincing and is superior to the arguments about ergot, which is a compound like LSD,” Crozier said. “Ergot gave people visions, not energy to dance,” he added.
Crozier is a world authority on yet another mass hysteria epidemic: koro.
Since at least 300 B.C., plagues of koro — an irrational male fear that one’s genitals have been stolen or are fatally shrinking into the body — have swept through various parts of the world, particularly throughout Africa and Asia. Most recently, a 1967 outbreak, documented in the Singapore Medical Journal, caused over 1,000 men to use pegs and clamps in hopes of protecting themselves from the gripping fear.
“In both cases we see cultural issues impacting on collective behavior,” Crozier said, explaining that preexisting superstitions, fears and beliefs surrounding both koro and the dancing epidemic led to group beliefs turning into “collective action.”
Waller explained that victims often go into an involuntary trance state, fueled by psychological stress and the expectation of succumbing to an altered state. “Thus, in groups subject to severe social and economic hardship, trance can be highly contagious,” he said.
More Deadly Dancing, And Laughing
At least seven other outbreaks of the dancing epidemic occurred in medieval Europe, mostly in the areas surrounding Strasbourg. In more recent history, a major outbreak occurred in Madagascar in the 1840’s, according to medical reports that described “people dancing wildly, in a state of trance, convinced that they were possessed by spirits.”
Perhaps the most unusual documented case of mass psychogenic illness was the Tanganyika Laughter Epidemic of 1962. A paper published the following year in the Central African Journal of Medicine described what happened.
Triggered by a joke among students at a Tanzania boarding school, young girls began to laugh uncontrollably. At first there were spurts of laughter, which extended to hours and then days.
The victims, virtually all female, suffered pain, fainting, respiratory problems, rashes and crying attacks, all related to the hysterical laughter. Proving the old adage that laughter can be contagious, the epidemic spread to the parents of the students as well as to other schools and surrounding villages. Eighteen months passed before the laughter epidemic ended.
Curing the Mind
According to medical epidemiologist Timothy Jones, an assistant clinical professor of preventative medicine at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, who also reported an incident of hysteria in Belgium following soft-drink consumption, “Outbreaks of psychogenic illness are likely to be more common than is currently appreciated, and many go unrecognized.”
Jones recommends that physicians treating such problems “attempt to separate persons with illness associated with the outbreak,” conduct tests to rule out other causes, monitor and provide oxygen for hyperventilation, attempt to minimize the individual’s anxiety, notify public health authorities and seek to assure patients that, while their symptoms “are real…rumors and reports of suspected causes are not equivalent to confirmed results.”
Aside from their medical interest, Waller believes such epidemics, particularly those from past centuries, are “of immense historical value.”
He said the dancing plague “tells us much about the extraordinary supernaturalism of late medieval people, but it also reveals the extremes to which fear and irrationality can lead us.” He added, “Few events in my view so clearly show the extraordinary potentials of the human mind.”
monumental set design on the water…
from BREGENZ FESTIVAL
One year after the end of the Second World War, the first Bregenz Festival was held: the week-long Bregenz Festwoche. The inaugural performance was staged upon two barges moored on Lake Constance – one carrying the stage structures for Mozart’s early work Bastien et Bastienne, the other the orchestra. In a town that did not even possess a theatre, the idea of mounting a festival seemed eccentric; but the initially makeshift solution of choosing the loveliest part of the town – the lake – as the stage proved to be a hugely successful one. Visitors from Austria, Germany, Switzerland and France made the Festival an international event in its very first year. The Festival orchestra from the outset was the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, which has made a major contribution to the evolution and success of the Festival.
In 1950 the Bregenz Festival acquired its first home: an off-shore stage erected on wooden piles, on which mainly operettas and ballets were performed. The open-air auditorium had a capacity of 6,500 seats; in the event of rain, a sports’ hall seating 1,000 people could be used instead. The previous year, 1949, had seen the foundation of the Patrons of the Bregenz Festival, a Bregenz residents organization which subsequently became the organizer of the annual Festival. Stage designer Walter von Hoesslin, with director Adolf Rott, took the first steps towards a distinct Bregenz production style, in that he dispensed with the conventional proscenium stage when designing the Seebühne. For him the lake was not just scenery, but a central element of the productions.
In July 2007 a team from EON Productions, the production company responsible for the James Bond movies, visited one of the last rehearsals for Tosca. Producer Barbara Broccoli and director Marc Forster were impressed – by the unique location on the shore of Lake Constance, the imposing stage set with its hi-tech capabilities, and by the modern architecture of the Festspielhaus. In the first week of May a film crew came to shoot scenes for the new Bond movie Quantum of Solace and stayed for ten days. In the film Bond discovers his adversary for the first time during a performance of Tosca during a seven-and-a-half-minute, high-action sequence shot in the Festspielhaus and on the Seebühne. Director Marc Forster has incorporated the opera intriguingly into the action of the film: the chase through the Festspielhaus is at the end like an apocalyptic silent film – interspersed with dramatic scenes from the Bregenz Tosca.
19 monumental sculptures created for the ’68 XIX Olympics in Mexico City…
One of the cultural artistic realizations of the Mexico City Olympic Games of 1968 was the planning and execution of nineteen abstract, monumental, concrete sculptures on the Southern part of the “Anillo Periferico”, the superhighway leading around the capital of the country. It was an example of team work on a large project of an artistic nature made possible especially by two distinguished personalities, architect Pedro Ramirez Vazquez, who was the President of the organizing committee of Mexico’s Olymic Games, and Mathias Goeritz, a German sculptor who was the creator and director of the project.
At that time architect Pedro Ramirez Vazquez had already received both national and international acclaim for having designed the acclaimed National Museum of Anthropology, the Aztec Stadium, and other outstanding buildings as well as hun- dreds of public schools built by local labor and materials. He later became a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and, together with his Swiss col- league, Jean Pierre Cahen, designed both the administrative building of the IOC and the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Mathias Goeritz was a noted sculptor, born in the free city port of Danzig, who had to flee from the Nazis because he was partly of Jewish origin. He settled in Mexico after the Second World War. In 1957 Goeritz had designed a group of concrete towers called the “Torres de Satelite” in the suburb “Ciudad Satelite” near Mexico City. These tower-sculptures were conceived with a direct relationship to a super-highway. Today they are situated in a densely populated area of the huge megalopolis.
In 1966 Mathias Goeritz proposed to Pedro Ramirez Vazquez that the organizing committee of the Games of the XIX Olympiad convene an international meeting of sculptors in Mexico as one of the cultural events of the Olympic Games. Numerous meetings devoted exclusively to aesthetic questions had already been held in the past in different parts of the world, but the idea was that this one should give the artists a specific task or theme. The meeting was supposed to gather together sculptors from every continent, from all ethnic groups and from all the main political trends of the world at that time. It thus had an idealistic and humanistic nature that transcended aesthetics and was in conformity with the fundamental principles of the Olympic
The Route of Friendship Movement was to be an international event with the unifying theme of brotherhood of all the peoples of the world. The particular problem the sculptors were to solve limited their artistic liberty by the following restrictions: the sculptures had to be made of concrete, be monumental, and abstract. Furthermore, the sculptors were supposed to have in mind solutions related to being located adjacent to a superhighway. The President of the organizing committee gave his full support.
The nineteen monumental sculptures were executed along the “Anillo Periferice” on both sides of the Olympic Village. At that time this expressway which was in the process of construction passed through zones outside the city as well as urbanized areas. It also went through parks and sparsely inhabited zones which later became part of the city.
the participating artists: Angela Gurría – Mexico, Willi Gutmann – Switzerland, Milos Chlupác – Czechoslovakia, Koshi Takahashi – Japan, Pierre Székely – France/Hungary, Gonzalo Fonseca – Uruguay, Constantino Nivola – Italy/United States, Jacques Moeschal – Belgium, Todd Williams – United States, Grzegorz Kowalski – Poland, Jose Maria Subirachs – Spain, Clement Meadmore – Australia, Herbert Bayer – United States/Austria, Joop J. Beljon – The Netherlands, Itzhak Danziger – Israel, Olivier Séguin – France, Mohamed Melehi – Morocco, Helen Escobedo – Mexico, Jorge Dubón – Mexico…
excerpts from a 1985 Playboy Magazine article…
I don’t know whether or not I’ll be able to explain “the thing” to you, though I believe that I understand it perfectly after spending some time with Kinski. It is not so much any specific thing he said, any one word he uttered; it is the accumulation of many words, images, metaphors, examples that he used, but also gestures, facial expressions, tone, the settings in which we talked and, above all, the moods he can generate when all those arc combined. During one of our conversations, I tried to pin Klaus Kinski down for a name, and he reminded me of the fairy tales in which people die when they find out a forbidden name.
KINSKI: “There can be no word to express this thing, this secret. Because this secret, which is not actually a secret, it is very simple, but it includes, includes, endless, endless, almost everything, you know. The thinking about it and being conscious of all this means at the same moment changing everything, like in nature, changing and changing and changing, endless, always, never-ending movement, you see…”
Kinski speaks elliptically. He calls it “telegraph style.” Sometimes his meaning is clear only by inference. But in talking with him, I soon understood how skillful he is, by instinct, at leading one to leap from an image to an idea. I realize now that Kinski could have talked to me in this seemingly inexact manner about the quantum theory and I would have learned a great deal of physics. In fact, in a way, that is exactly what he talked to me about: the emission and absorption of energy in nature. This was my first important lesson about what it is the actor does. In trying to convey its essence to me, Kinski sometimes also called it “the force,” or the power, or nakedness, or receptivity, or “the incarnation of all that is alive.” Sometimes he used the phrase “participation in the universe.” Indeed, Kinski admits that certain of the states he sometimes enters resemble meditation and embody some of the tenets of yoga.
“But, I don’t need anybody to tell me how to be alive…”
I’d become accustomed to his yelling. Tricks of the print medium cannot – capital letters cannot – convey the intensity of Kinski’s voice when it rises, as it often does. And in the several long telephone conversations we’d had before I went to see him in Northern California, I’d been frightened by it.
“Why should I do any interviews? It is all shit. Why me? Because I am what they call an actor? It is me or someone else, a murderer or a conductor, or anybody, anybody, anything, that can be consumed. They consume everything – art, executions, hamburgers, Jesus Christ. It is all supermarket talk. It is consumer SHIT to fill up their pages.”
You can witness Klaus Kinski having a mood Swing within a minute, within a sentence, as his mind conveys him from an infuriating image to a soothing one to a humorous one. If you watch his face while he speaks, you will see it become a mask of ire, his glance menacing as he spits out words of contempt and outrage. Then, suddenly, there’ll be a smile so gentle that something will constrict in your chest. It is impossible not to respond. He’s so close to the surface, I had thought during one of our first long telephone conversation. But after I’d spent some time with him, I sometimes felt there was no surface at all. I think of him now as exposed consciousness, as fragile as a human organ taken from the protective case of the body. I think that’s why, between films, he lives alone, in a cabin in the middle of his 40 acres of forest in Northern California.
“Freedom! Freedom! That’s what every shitty ruler promises you before he takes over!”
He won’t drive a car other people have driven. He won’t read a copy of a book anyone else has read and that, in fact, one of the reasons he hates old houses and hotel rooms is that he can sense the lingering presence of their former occupants.
“Fun? There is no fun.”
Eating a chili dog: “These beans are disgusting, they are hard. Look at this sign, HOMEMADE. What does this mean, ‘home’? Does it mean that the beans are even more disgusting than others? I don’t understand their signs. I don’t WANT to understand their signs. This HOMEMADE, it’s supposed to tell you these disgusting beans are good. These fucking signs! Signs everywhere that lie.”
Kinski often goes for weeks without speaking to another human being. He reads no newspaper. He watches no television. “I climbed up to the roof and smashed down the antenna.” He keeps few possessions. When he has finished reading a book, he uses it to start a fire in the hearth that is his sole source of heat. He cuts his own hair. He grows his own vegetables so that he will not have to drive into town. The animals in the forest do not threaten him as do people and their societies, nor do the storms, the wind, the trees. In the cabin, surrounded by vegetation through which there is no path save that made by the passage of his own body, and in his forest, he is safe. Except from “the thing.”
“I am like a wild animal who is behind bars. I need air! I need space!”
Kinski was about five years old when he first felt this thing. He says he can recall looking at a dog or a tree or a whore on the streets of Berlin and hurling his own consciousness into the creatures or even the inanimate objects, not pretending to be but becoming the dog or the tree or the whore. “Incarnating” is what he came to call it later, not playing a role. Being, not acting. He detests the word entertainer. He also hates the word actor and mocks the European critics who have called him the greatest actor of the 20th Century. Not surprisingly, he loathes all critics and refers to them as “the masturbators.”
On Herzog: “He is a less big asshole than the others.”
On doing another take: “ASSHOLES! Do you ask a car crash for another take? Do you ask a volcano for another take? Do you ask the storm for another take?”
On method acting: “Completely worthless shit.”
“I am like a wild animal born in captivity, in a zoo. But where a beast would have claws, I was born with talent.”
On films: “I make movies for money, exclusively for money. So I sell myself for the highest price. Exactly like a prostitute. There is no difference.”
“Why do I continue making movies? Making movies is better than cleaning toilets.”
On awards: “(rejecting them) if they’re not changeable into cash money. It is the Nobel Prize I want, It’s worth $400,000.”
On the girl behind the McDonald’s counter who says “next”: “I will NEVER be next!”
On traffic signs: “There is a sign that says, RIGHT LANE MUST EXIT. Right lane MUST exit! MUST! And I say to myself, MUST? Fuck YOU!”
Of course, I had no control over these conversations, which Kinski conducted entirely according to his fancy. He followed none of he rules of the interview situation – not one, not even the most basic. “I don’t want to talk too much about myself.” He refused to sit in a quiet room with a tape recorder; all of our conversations took place in cars, at the beach, in noisy restaurants. But, to be precise, he didn’t refuse anything: I never had a chance to ask him. He would simply announce our schedule for the day. And I soon realized that it was almost always hopeless to ask him any direct questions; if he didn’t interrupt them, he argued with their wording or with their relevance, or would simply digress to another topic.
“You have to protect yourself, your body, your being. You cannot treat it badly; you have to keep it, not only to keep it but to make it sensitive, as sensitive as possible. Since I was born I have been like this, till today. Nothing changed. Even more, even worse. Once, about 25 years ago, I was in an apartment or somebody gave me a room to live in, I don’t know what, and next door, they put on the radio, so I struck the wall with my fist, but they did not put the radio down, so I took a tool and banged and banged until I made a hole through the wall. It was like a comedy movie. I didn’t laugh then. And then I left, of course, the apartment, because they didn’t let me live there anymore. When I come back here from the airport… most of the time, when I travel, I leave my car at the airport, even some weeks it costs me some hundreds of dollars; I don’t care. But once, I took a taxi. I hate those, what do you call them, limousines. They stink and their drivers have been driving dead people to the cemeteries. I hate those. OK, I took a taxi, and now this guy had a radio on. First of all, he had this thing EE-AAAH-UGGHH-ACHHHHHHGGG – these machines, how can somebody all day long hear this? He must be already deaf. I don’t know what. And then I say — Do you need this? I say — this machine? And he looked at me, like maybe I am crazy or whatever. I say, I just come from Tokyo, Hong Kong, long flight, I am exhausted. I said, look, just half an hour. Do I have to listen to that crap? Can you turn the radio off?. And he was even willing. He turned around, and he said — but it’s the news. I say, I don’t need this. I say, I don’t want to, I have never listened to it, never in my life,OK? I am almost on the border. I need to stop. I have to get out of your car. And he switched it off, but saying, as though really surprised and almost sorry for me. How can you know what’s going on?’ There, you see: THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT I DON’T WANT TO KNOW!”
“No, no. I never said money is freedom! I said money buys freedom. BUYS! What does that mean, money is freedom? This is ridiculous: money is freedom. It means nothing. What do you think, that a dollar in a savings account is freedom? Maybe you have understood nothing I have said. You are trying to make me sound like an American average citizen.”
His arguments in response to my questions were often semantic. Kinski hates words; he resents having to use them to express himself, he finds them untrustworthy, confining, reductive.
“Experiencing the ocean is an experience of liberty. When you talk about the ocean, is it liberty? Even looking at the ocean is not liberty. It is like a wounded bird looking at the sky and saying, ‘Why are my wings broken?’ Or even worse: putting a bird cage near the window so that the bird can see the sky. But, of course, it’s much better to look than not to, even if it hurts. But words – words are not enough! It is true what Rimbaud said once; It’s absolutely true; I proved lt. He said, ‘If you think a book is strong enough, try it at the ocean, in the wind, at the waves. If the book can resist the ocean, the elements, then it exists. Otherwise, throw it away.'”
Afterward, I tried to write what he had told me when he’d started explaining this thing to me. He had given me examples, images that he thought I would grasp. The “thing” was comparable, by analogy, to the power of kung fu, he had told me. He had mentioned Bruce Lee, for example, and how it is possible to observe that the concentration, the energy that the kung-fu artist taps into begins long before the point of impact and continues afterward. He talked with me also about how this thing that enables you to create is the thing that makes you suffer, suffer so much that you hate your fate, which has driven you to it, because it is not a choice. You start doing it and then you cannot stop, and the more you do it, the more it makes you suffer. And you cannot get rid of it once you have felt lt. You cannot kill it, no matter how much you hate it for making you suffer. You try to kill it, but it is like the snake with 100 heads; there is always another head. “But you need a framework,” I said.
“You need a framework? What is this, a framework? You don’t need a framework. They told you you need this. You don’t need this. You need a painting, not a frame. You are going too slow. Just go.”
“It should not be necessary to explain things, I don’t know… maybe it comes from this fucking occupation that they call art. I don’t know what the meaning of that is. And they call me ‘actor’ and I know this is shit, OK, because it just means that some idiot, absolutely imbecilic, cretin, illiterate director can say what he wants to me, can even harm me. So I say to him — FUCK OFF! Or I go home or whatever. And then they say ‘He is mad, he just happens to be an artist.’ These people who do not see the terrible things and therefore do not see the beautiful things, either. But I cannot dump, dump this thing. They think you can dump all this and be an actor. Then they say ‘Good job.’ Do you say ‘Good job’ to an earthquake?”
“I don’t know. Why have I had this life? If I knew, I wouldn’t have done it. Do you know what I mean? You cannot even say, I cannot even tell myself, why did I do it? I shouldn’t have done it. It’s ridiculous. It wasn’t a choice? It wasn’t my choice.”
For the first time in his presence, I felt afraid. Not of him but of the furor of that younger self he was reincarnating in the small, cramped space where we sat, yet another cage to be filled with that power and rage that I finally understood to be his furor at his own fate. And I saw that same vein stand out on his forehead that I had seen on Aguirre’s, and the same intensity in the set of his jaw: It was not the rage of helplessness, it was the rage of defiance.
“So it means, the only thing I can say is — OK, shit! Just like saying — Shit! to yourself. You say SHIT ten times when you hurt yourself. You say SHIT. Nobody is there. You just say SHIT. So I could tell myself — Oh, shit, why, WHY, why did all that happen to me? Why was I not a bird on the ocean? You know? Instead of this, you know? This I could say, but just to myself. SHIT! It doesn’t even make sense after a while when you say SHIT from morning to evening, but there was a time when I could not stop. It was like a tic. I said SHIT all the time. SHIT!”
Kinski opened his eyes, which had been clamped shut, and then looked away at the ocean. In the car, the silence seemed new. Well, it wasn’t a silence. There was still the wind, the sound of a sea gull’s wings flapping. It only seemed like a new silence to me, because I had watched a man say “Fuck you” to his own pain. Kinski stared steadfastly at the ocean.
“Yes, love is the salvation. I didn’t choose to be alone. But I cannot explain this. I could be with a woman in a bed, for weeks even and it would seem to me like three seconds. Or 300 years. There is no time sense because of things that are going on in you. I don’t know, there is no explanation of this. But every time, even with someone I…. But whenever I was with a woman, I always sort of want another one. So there was always another one. I can’t explain this, but it means that these women, they were not sharing my solitude. I wanted to stay with somebody, but I couldn’t, it wasn’t possible, because of this thing moving in myself. I had to learn this. I didn’t want to be alone, but I had to learn that the dimensions of my feelings are too violent. I had to learn this. It is what I was just telling you before. Why? Why am I like this? It is the same as — why wasn’t I born a fisherman? This is not a choice. There is not a why. Look at this bird there. Why does he fly to the left? Why?”
We watched as the gull flew out of our sight, toward the mountains. A few hundred feet away, on the road leading to the beach, a truck pulled up and some men got out, carrying pneumatic drills and jackhammers. They set to work, and it was the sounds of the drills and the hammers that now reached the car.
“Look at them! They are not happy if they don’t hammer. They hammer, they hammer; it is unbearable. That is why you have to go away. It is not a solution, but you have to go away, to protect your feeling of life, where people won’t shock you and hurt you. They hammer everywhere! Everywhere they can possibly hammer! They hammer in your brain! Hell, these idiots, they come with their hammer, where people are sitting, to hammer, to hammer, to hammer! LET’S GO!”
how Godard and Truffaut changed film…
In Emmanuel Laurent’s new documentary, “Two in the Wave,” the “two” are the filmmakers François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard. The wave, needless to say, is La Nouvelle Vague, a journalistic name that not only stuck to Truffaut, Mr. Godard and their colleagues, but that also changed the way film history is understood. Since the days when that Gallic wave crashed ashore, critics and cinephiles have scanned the horizon looking for the next one, while groups of young directors and critics, sometimes consciously, sometimes not, seek to replicate the daring and self-confidence that bubbled up in France in the late 1950s and early ’60s.
Mr. Laurent, for his part, dutifully combs the beach, gathering wonderful bits of detritus from that much-mythologized moment. The surviving members of the New Wave — Truffaut died in 1984 — are by now venerated members of the old guard. (Mr. Godard, at 79, showed his new film at the Cannes Film Festival on Monday.) But “Two in the Wave” wisely resists the temptation to invite them to share memories of youth. Rather, it gathers newspaper clippings, newsreel footage and movie clips to assemble a present-tense essay that is both time capsule and collage. Instead of featuring talking-head retrospective interviews, the movie frames its backward looks with images of the actress Isild Le Besco reading old magazine articles and occasionally visiting a historically significant spot in Paris. Her presence is puzzling for a while, until you begin to absorb some of the images that surround her — Jean Seberg in “Breathless,” Anna Karina in “A Woman Is a Woman” — and recall Mr. Godard’s axiom that all he needed to make a film was “a girl and a gun.” Mr. Laurent displays no firearms, but Ms. Le Besco’s silent presence suggests a corollary, namely that any movie can benefit from a beautiful woman with an interesting face.
There is also a third man in “Two in the Wave”: Jean-Pierre Léaud, the actor who worked frequently with both directors and who became the on-screen embodiment of their attitudes and styles. For Truffaut, Mr. Léaud served as a frequent alter ego, appearing as Antoine Doinel in a series of autobiographical films, beginning with “The 400 Blows” in 1959. That movie and “Breathless,” Mr. Godard’s first feature, occupy much of Mr. Laurent’s documentary, which was written and narrated by the film critic Antoine de Baecque. The triumphant arrival of “The 400 Blows” at the Cannes Film Festival in 1959 and the release of “Breathless” a year later feel almost like a single event, one of those epochal moments that divide time into before and after.
Before, there was a group of young movie buffs, haunting the Cinémathèque Française and the offices of Cahiers du Cinéma, disciples of two high priests of postwar cinephilia: the archivist Henri Langlois and the critic André Bazin. They absorbed everything they saw, forming particular affinities with the American directors we now regard (thanks partly to the Cahiers gang) as idols of classic Hollywood. These Hitchcocko-Hawksians, as they were sometimes known, set out to change French cinema, and in assessing their campaign, “Two in the Wave” becomes frustratingly vague. The grandiose rhetoric of revolution and reinvention is certainly there — mostly courtesy of Mr. Godard, a fount of aphorisms on the nature of “le cinéma” — but apart from a few remarks about hand-held cameras and jump cuts, there is not much in the way of concrete analysis. So the audience is left to guess at what exactly made Truffaut’s and Mr. Godard’s work so transformative.
And yet the evidence provided by the films themselves is a powerful reminder of just how exciting that work remains. “Two in the Wave,” while it provides plenty of biographical information, is above all interested in the artistic personalities of its subjects. It was, after all, the shared love of film that brought them together, despite their differences in temperament and background. And it was partly their divergent ideas about what cinema should become that drove the two men apart.
After their initial triumphs, with “The 400 Blows” and “Breathless,” Truffaut and Mr. Godard continued to work closely together through the 1960s. But as Mr. Godard’s work became increasingly politicized, and as his always uncompromising and prickly personality grew even more so, a schism emerged that would become irreparable in 1973. That year Mr. Godard wrote a letter to Truffaut attacking his film “Day for Night” and enclosing an equally venomous letter to Mr. Léaud. Truffaut returned that letter, along with one of his own — 20 handwritten pages condemning the selfishness and pigheadedness of his longtime friend. And that is where Mr. Laurent’s story ends, as so many tales of artistic camaraderie do. But “Two in the Wave” honors that collaboration by carefully recounting its details and arguing for its significance. The films of Truffaut and Mr. Godard stand or fall by themselves, but together they made history.
“TWO IN THE WAVE” (2009) directed by Emmanuel Laurent
This interview was her first in the United States. She wore faded denims, smoked frequently, looked thinner and more intriguing than in “Last Tango in Paris” and seemed ready to revise her European image.
Roger Ebert: Why California?
Maria Schneider: The main thing was the space. It was getting hard to breathe in Europe – it’s too compact, too compressed. I lived in France about three years, traveling around a lot, and then I tried London, and about six months ago I settled on here.
RE: So far you’ve been in two movies with two top directors, Bertolucci and Antonioni . . .
MS: Six movies. Nobody knows, but I did six movies before “Last Tango in Paris.” I don’t think any of them ever played here. One was directed by Roger Vadim, after he made “Pretty Maids All in a Row.” And I did some theater, and a couple of underground French movies. I walked out on one of them when I wasn’t paid. I fought with the director, went back to Paris, and met Bertolucci. He offered me the role in “Tango.” Dominique Sanda was going to do it, but she got pregnant.
RE: And you got a sort of immortality, because the movie’s already a landmark.
MS: So much of that was because of Brando. He was wonderful to work with, for an actor like myself who was still beginning. He had just finished “The Godfather,” and now this was also part of his comeback, and you’d think he’d want the advantage in all of the scenes. Actors always try to look their best. But he gave me the advantage, the material to work with. And he was brilliant when we improvised . . . the bathroom scene was improvised.
RE: And Bertolucci?
MS: He’s a great director, but . . . well, I was 20 when I did “Tango.” Bertolucci made me wear very heavy black makeup under my eyes. Makeup on a girl who’s too young gives her the wrong character, gives her a funny look. I argued with him, but with no luck. I don’t know who he thought I was supposed to be. Marlon was such a good force on the picture. We were working like dogs with an Italian crew, filming in Paris, overtime and all that, and two crew members came down with stomach ulcers. And Marlon was the one – not Bertolucci, who goes on about being a member of the Italian Communist party – but Marlon was the one who brought sandwiches and wine for the crew and worried about them.
RE: After the film was released you were suddenly famous – or infamous – all over the world.
MS: And Marlon told me about that, too. He was the first to tell me about the bad parts of fame. How the press can seize on everything and make it as sensational as they can. And there the European press is worse than the American. I think they’ll print anything.
RE: There were some amazing quotes attributed to you.
MS: I think I said a lot of them. After “Tango” came out, I amused myself at interviews by saying scandalous things, thinking they were funny. I talked about going out with men, women, I sounded promiscuous, I took it all as a joke. I see now it wasn’t funny . . .
RE: And then you went to Antonioni . . .
MS: For “The Passenger.” It’s an interesting thing about that film. It did better in America than it did in Europe. And Antonioni is supposed to be a star in Europe. I’m glad the Americans could watch something slower and more thoughtful for a change, instead of all the violence and crime. Still, I think Michelangelo has a problem with his English. He doesn’t speak it very well, and I think some of the dialog in “The Passenger,” which was supposed to sound real, sounded falsely poetic. Like when Jack Nicholson says, “What the hell are you doing here with me?” And I say, “Which me?” You see how wrong that sounds? And in another scene he says, “I met you before – you were reading” And I say, “That must have been me.” Terrible!
RE: Paul Kohner was thinking out loud about the idea of a movie of Hemingway’s “Across the River and into the Trees,” which would be directed by John Huston and might star Robert Mitchum as the old colonel and you as the young contessa . . .
MS: And be shot in Venice. I’d love to work in Venice. I lived there for a while. The light and the silence and all around the sound of the footsteps. You know, I saw Mitchum just last night in “Farewell, My Lovely.” It stayed in my mind all night. I loved Jack Nicholson playing the detective in “Chinatown,” but I much preferred this detective by Mitchum. What do you think of the . . . the chemistry if Mitchum and I were to be together?
MS: (Laughs) And yet, you know, I always act with these men like Brando and Nicholson, who are much older than me. I wouldn’t be with a man that age in my own life. And I think there’d be a problem in filming in Venice, too.
RE: The canals?
MS: No, the insurance. You know, I have a problem in Italy since my last film with the companies that insure a film. I signed myself into an asylum for a friend of mine. They locked her up, and so I had to do it out of loyalty.
RE: That was in all the papers here.
MS: And all the papers everywhere. But they never printed that I finished the movie.
RE: You did? I got the impression it was closed down.
MS: Oh, yes, I finished it. It was called “The Baby Sitter,” it’s a thriller by Rene Clement, who did “Forbidden Games.” It’s a good thriller, well made, nothing poetic about it. They took away two-thirds of my salary to keep the insurance people happy. The producer was Carlo Ponti. He’ll come out ahead any way he can. When Clement wanted me for the movie, he wanted me to play the role that was negative. There were two girls in the movie, and one was perverse and destroyed, and of course that was the one he wanted me for. But Antonioni showed him “The Passenger,” and then I got the other role. He only knew me from “Tango.” God knows what people think I really look like and act like!
RE: After “The Baby Sitter,” did you split for Hollywood?
MS: More or less. I was supposed to make a movie in Paris with Jean-Luc Godard. You know, he works in eight millimeter now. He gave a brilliant press conference about it in Cannes. He explained to me that the actor would put up $40,000, and he would put up $40,000, and then we would make the movie together. I would have, too, but I didn’t have $40,000. And I still don’t.
RE: But “Tango” made millions and millions . . .
MS: Ha! You know what I was paid? Five thousand dollars! That’s all. I didn’t even get a percentage of all those profits. Jack Nicholson told me that after “Easy Rider” made so much money, they gave him something more in addition to the little he made in the first place. But no Italian producer would ever do that. I’m glad I’ve got Paul as my agent. He’ll look after things like that. I’m no good with money. Working on my own, I constantly got ripped off. I just can’t handle money.
RE: And in the meantime you’re keeping life uncomplicated?
MS: That’s right. I don’t own anything. Well, I own a pickup truck. I don’t have any maids or answering services or any of those things. I spend my money on food and travel and cameras. I live in Laurel Canyon with some friends, including some writers. None of my friends are actors or directors or Hollywood types. I’m not interested in that crowd. And I’ll just hold out and look for a decent role for a woman. “The Story of an African Farm” looks about the best.
RE: What else is around?
MS: Paramount wants me to do “Black Sunday,” which is about terrorists, and I play a Palestinian guerrilla. That’s their idea of a woman’s role. But things are changing. Most of the members of my generation are gay, or bisexual, they have more open minds about sexuality, about what a woman’s role can be, or what the potentials are.
RE: Did you say most of your generation?
MS: Most of my friends, anyway. Or maybe it’s just California.
the Swiss Alps project will be the longest…
the drill machine “Sissi”…
The new Gotthard Base Tunnel is seen as an important milestone in the creation of a high-speed transportation network connecting all corners of Europe.
First conceived in 1947 by engineer Eduard Gruner, it will allow millions of tons of goods that are currently transported through the Alps on heavy trucks to be shifted onto the rails, particularly on the economically important link between the Dutch port of Rotterdam and Italy’s Mediterranean port of Genoa.
The tunnel also aims to reduce the damage that heavy trucks are inflicting on Switzerland’s pristine Alpine landscape.
Some 2,500 workers have spent nearly 20 years smashing through the rock beneath the towering Gotthard massif, including the 8,200-foot Piz Vatgira (Vatgira Peak).
When the $10 billion tunnel opens for rail traffic in 2017, it will replace Japan’s 33.5-mile Seikan Tunnel as the world’s longest – excluding aqueducts – and let passenger and cargo trains pass under the Alps at speeds of up to 155 mph on their way from Germany to Italy.
Swiss voters, who are paying over $1,300 each to fund the project, approved its construction in a series of referendums almost 20 years ago.
European transport ministers watched the breakthrough ceremony live from a meeting in Luxembourg, conscious that Switzerland has set the bar very high for future cross-Alpine rail projects. Two further tunnels – one connecting connect Lyon, France, to Turin in Italy, and the other replacing the Brenner road tunnel between Austria and Italy – are still a long way from completion.
Swiss engineers are hoping to complete the rail tunnel even sooner than planned – possibly by the end of 2016 – but its first high-speed trains could be delayed by protests in Germany and Italy, where local opposition to new tracks and budget constraints have become an issue in recent months.
The protesters in Stuttgart oppose plans to move the city’s station underground, viewing the €4.1 billion ($5.7 billion) project as a waste of money. Supporters say it will free up the city’s packed center and help shorten journeys across Europe.