By Amy Nicholson
By LA Weekly critics
By Zachary Pincus-Roth
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Anthony D'Alessandro
Lately, MPAA president Jack Valenti (who did not return the Weekly‘s phone calls) has been taking a softer line on the French. ”We’re not opposed to subsidies, and we accept the status quo on the E.C. broadcasting directive,“ he was quoted as saying last year. But since he is also on record as saying that in a few years the Internet will make all quota systems obsolete, it appears likely that Valenti is simply being diplomatic. Why fight a battle when you‘re about to win the war? Even without the Internet, American films accounted for 55 percent of the market share in France last year (down from 63 percent in 1998), and reached levels of almost total saturation elsewhere in Europe. With the Internet, when Jean, Luc and Virginie are able to download movies at will, it will be a different game altogether. That the French will be able to do anything to protect French culture on the Web has been dismissed as ”a fantasy of the French administration“ even within France itself.
The last week of October 1999 was not only the week that hundreds of thousands of Parisians were going to see the new Star Wars movie; it was also the week they were celebrating Halloween. It was a sight to warm Jack Valenti’s heart. Two years ago, hardly anyone in France had heard of Halloween, let alone celebrated it; suddenly, it was everywhere. In the cafes, the white cobwebs were glued to the windows as if in accordance with some obscure branch of the Napoleonic code; on the streets, schoolchildren would be marched up to a skeleton poking out of a cafe window and scream on cue.
The French had a line about Halloween. Namely, that it was Irish in origin. No matter who I asked, whether it was a 22-year-old girl on rollerblades or a middle-aged Algerian making couscous, that was what I was told: ”D‘origine, c’est Irlandais.“ It was a perfect example of a socially unified nation-state in action, and I half suspected the Ministry of Culture of having hurriedly commissioned a rigged study in order to loudly disseminate the results. At any rate, Halloween wasn‘t American, it was Celtic2 -- that was the main thing. Obviously, it made the French feel better about having rapidly succumbed to one more piece of American culture.
Still, the main impression was of how un-American everything was. At first glance, Paris looked oddly denuded, and it took a few minutes to figure out why: There was much less advertising than in an American city. Buildings had not been turned into billboards. Buses did not come wrapped in the green scales of the latest giant-reptile flick. (In the words of one American dot.com millionaire, indignant at all the unused advertising space, the buses and cabs in Paris were covered in ”nothing but dust.“) There was no stock-market bubble, no e-commerce, no fevered sense of fortunes being made. At dinner time, the French would descend in packs on tiny restaurants and then sit there eating and drinking and smoking for hours, as if no one had heard of the Internet, a health warning or an IPO. a
This was in the city, of course. To get a sense of the changes going on in the suburbs, one had only to pay a visit to Chatelet-les-Halles, the giant train station through which unemployed kids from the projects enter and leave the city. On the day I was there the kids were African and Arab, and suddenly it was all Nikes and Walkmans and baseball caps and the swish of oversize nylon track suits slicing through the crowd. It was a crowd within a crowd, with an electric energy you recognized immediately. The style was that of rap and rock videos, the slash and burn of the NBA -- a kind of Islam dunk. It certainly didn’t make you think of Eric Rohmer.
”Since 15 years, the young people in the suburbs stopped sharing the same culture that‘s in the center of the town,“ I was told by Arnaud Desplechin, the pale, soft-spoken, 39-year-old director of La Sentinelle and My Sex Life . . . or How I Got Into an Argument, two resolutely cerebral, Alain Resnais--influenced films. ”It’s the case in L.A., it‘s the case in New York, it’s the case everywhere around the world. There is a very specific culture -- which is not really a ‘culture’ [Desplechin laughed] -- in the suburbs. And in the center of the town there is a culture of the bourgeoisie.“
Desplechin wasn‘t talking about Chatelet-les-Halles. He was talking about the rise of a mass global culture (”not really a ’culture‘“) that was marginalizing French films. ”We would love that our films could speak to all audiences,“ he said, ”but frankly, even the great American directors of the ’70s have stopped making [personal] films, and you have just action movies which are done like products, objects to sell to the majority, and the good films are just for specific audiences. Fine. What would we do? Cry? No, this is our times.“
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