Zinnias: the Life of Clementine Hunter


I really enjoyed the latest creation of stage director Robert Wilson: Zinnias, the Life of Clementine Hunter at Montclair State University. It was a nice surprise, colorful and greatly musical and quite different from Robert Wilson’s other works.

It was a « childish » play in some ways reflecting the close and confined world of Clementine Hunter. Clementine was born in 1887 and raised on the Melrose cotton plantation in Louisiana owned by French immigrant Claude Thomas Metier and Congo born Marie Therese Coincoin. She first worked in the fields before being hired as a maid in the main house. All of this would be of no interest if it was not for the artistic life that when on in the plantation, the residencies of painters in the Yucca house that allowed Clementine to gather end of paint tubes and old brushes, and finally start painting. Thanks to the protection and friendship she developed with Francois Bignon, the contremaitre, she painted more and more and finally her works was exhibited in a museum in New Orleans where she was not allowed to go in this times of segregation expect when the museum was closed on Sunday.

Thierry Mugler style  costums cut in primary colors, simple gestures performed with élégance and restraint, beautiful live music from the South….. Bob Wilson succeeded in making the life of Clementine Hunter what it was, a small miracle. But so was it for the famous American director who has elected domicile in Long Island at the Watermill Imagecenter. He met Clementine when he was 11 and his parents took him on a visit to the plantation. He loved the paintings and asked his parents to buy him one for 25 cents. He went back as a teenager and bought more and stayed in contact with the woman. She died at 101, and this play is a tribute, full of love and respect.

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Mayor Koch


I remember Mayor Koch in 1983.  I interviewed him for Le Matin Magazine, a weekly supplement to A French daily and leftist newspaper Le Matin de Paris, where my editor was Jean Dominique Bauby, Jean Do.(Yes the guy from the The Butterfly and the Diving Bell!).

The magazine is long gone, the Butterfly has escaped behind close lids and Mayor Koch is dead.

I remember the man larger than life, impressive, and, like many New Yorkers, I have a special thought for him today.

I was a young journalist and interviewing Koch was not a piece of cake. I had prepared my questions thoroughly and tried to shut my ears to various comments from fellow journalists: « Mayor Koch is the worst interviewee ». « All he does is talk and does not answer questions. » Bla, bla bla..

As I arrived at the Mayor’s office, I relied on Gallic charm to operate.  (Well if the man was not homosexual as rumor said…). After all he was a Francophile. He had fought the Second World War in France, landed in Normandy with the allies on D-Day. Usually those who did so and were lucky enough to come back, had a sweet spot for France they had liberated.

But my questions that day were different and tricky. In that issue dedicated to New York, published in March 1983, I wrote the first magazine story on AIDS published in the French press, reporting on Homosexuals in Greenwich Village.(entitled “Rien ne va plus à Christopher Street”(All is wrong on Christopher Street). The interview with the Mayor was focused on this touchy subject. What was Mayor Koch doing to help Gays infected by the virus who unlike their counterparts in San Francisco received little help from the city. With a special question from Bauby: Was Mayor Koch gay himself?

It all started on a wrong foot with Mayor Koch asking questions. He had been elected in 1981 and so had Francois Mitterrand in France. The first move of the new French President had been to appoint communist ministers. Ed Koch was democrat, but America’s left was far from socialism. « How was it to have a very socialist government? How was it to have communist in the forefront? ». I could hardly place a line. I remember Mayor Koch talking nonstop and explaining persuasively what he was doing for the community touched by the deadly disease and how he had defended them against the others. Behind his informal talk, it was all double speak  or better said in France la langue de bois (literally to have a tongue in wood).He was a genius in communication and PR.

Was it that same year or the year after? The youngest elected mayor of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, came to New York to meet with Koch and learn a few useful tips about political communication!

Incredibly enough I found a cover of the issue on the Net

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The We and The I


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It was the US premiere of the new film by French director Michel Gondry (The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). The We and the I was acclaimed at the Directors’ Fortnight at the last Cannes festival. The film is controversial: 40 teenagers from the Bronx, all amateur actors pour their violence, resentment, questions, silliness during this very long bus ride through the Bronx (It the Bronx THAT spread out!) on the last day of the school year. There are a lot of four letters words, a lot of provoking gestures or thoughts. But as the bus moves on, as students descent, the atmosphere gradually quiets down, and the remaining teenagers on the bus are faced with themselves, with their realities. It is very, very strong. The highlight of the evening was the Q & A after the movie with six amateurs/actors/kids and the two writers. The kids talked about their experience “Man, it was hot on that bus!”- Their discovery of filming -they raved about Michel Gondry who was not an… imbecile and listened to them, about their sense of empowerment – they had a real input on the script which became interactive in the end. They all live in the Bronx, are involved with “programs”- anti HIV, community programs that imply acting. -, They all dream and their dream came true: they went to Cannes! How cool is that! They all are totally emotional, totally genuine. And if you think about it, their problems are just problems of teenagers, and not so far from problems of Upper East Side teenagers. It is all about bullies and bullied, about love and hate, about crossing the Rubicon or not, about fragile -oh! So fragile minds- of teenagers, about finding oneself. Obviously their environment has no, or very little structure, and this makes it so difficult for them. Yet, the freedom they have allows them to truly look at themselves if they want to do so. They talk, they communicate, and they live! Great movie released in the US in March.
Thanks once again Michel Gondry for daring and forcing us to grow and look around!

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London No Paris Yes


Who is the fairest of all? Gad Elmaleh will have a new character to stigmatize : our soon to be new US ambassador to France , Anna Wintour, Vogue Editor in chief. She might not be the warmest diplomat but she will certainly be the most glamourous of all , and American fashion designer should rejoice: Their creations will have pignon sur rue in the Hotel de Santalba rue du faubourg Saint Honoré. Where else! .. Image

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Les Miserables… The Film!


The buzz is building around Les Miserables released on Christmas Day by Universal as previews for the press and VIPs are being held in New York and Los Angeles this week.  It is the film after the play. Is it a film? Is it a play? Director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) skillfully and elegantly surfs between these two artistic forms. The first scene for example is an epic view of a ship being hauled and dragged by slaves to its mooring like in a 3D movie.  Yet, one of the last scenes during the 1830 Revolution in Paris nicknamed Les Trois Glorieuses (although there is nothing glorious about it as we can see in the movie)  could have been staged at Le Chatelet. In the end it is a filmed musical comedy, definitely not an easy choice. But it works, and it works beautifully for two reasons. The cast is exceptional. When Anna Hathaway alias Fontine sings her dream, with her face distorted by suffering and misery, she brought tears to my eyes. And when Eddye Remaine alias Marius Pontmercy sung his dead friends with his reddened eyes, it is just heartbreaking. Not to mentioned a perfectly well cast Russel Crowe as Inspector Javert, Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean and Amanda Seyfried as Cosette and an amazing Helena_Bonham_Carter as Madame Thénardier, the wife of the brothel and innkeeper. The other reason is the lyrics and songs we all know and rediscover with intense pleasure. “I Dreamed a Dream,” “Bring Him Home,” “One Day More” or “On My Own”, the original score written by Claude- Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil comes wonderfully forth on the screen.

So for the Oscars I suggest, Best Actress Best original score;Best adapted screen play… for a start. And could we add Best Foreign Inspiration as lets not forget Les Miserables is a French story, originally written by Victor Hugo!

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Gad Elmaleh in New York


French actor and comic Gad Elmaleh has obvioulsy never met French Ambassador Francois Delattre. If he had, he would have refrained from jokingly critizing him. « The ambassador who was there at the beginning of the movie and made some gracious remarks and is gone now. It was a French movie but he did not stay. Maybe he did not like the movie » said in a substance Gad Elmaleh who was attending film festival InFrench with English Subtitles at the Florence Gould hall and participated to a Q and A following the screening of his latest movie starring Sophie Marceau « Happiness Never Comes Alone » « Un bonheur n’arrive jamais seul » . If Ambassador Francois Delattre is so popular among the French community it is precisely because of his talent of ubiquity , attending every single opening, gala or conférence, sharing with the largest number of French people in the US important moments.
Very unfair but very funny. As one of the attendant said : It is not everyday that one can mock the power to be with no sense of guilt. » And there is always that rebellious part of us who enjoys putting down those in power.
Gad Elmaleh was a funny actor in the movie and after, in the Q and A, doing unexpected stand up comedy ( He was at the City Winery this week) .
But the film in the end is about Sophie Marceau, the wonderful actress from La Boum who now at 46 looks beautiful and sexy as ever.

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Sandy on my mind


Sandy has passed flooding our shores, washing our brains, New Yorkers have come out this morning like rats out of their holes as morning of the day after has broken upon the Island. Coffee in one hand, android in the other, they are assessing in their own way the damages, taking pictures of broken trees, battered parks, broken benches. At the Northern tip of the Island, the Carl Schurz Park is a mess. Centennial trees are down; branches are blocking pathways. With the FDR closed, the image of the day is taking a picture of your friend walking on what is usually the busiest highway of Manhattan. All talks are on Sandy, exchanging news on water damages and power cuts on Brooklyn, New Jersey or Suffolk County. Friends are calling, asking how it was and each one of us is Anderson Cooper reporting, texting, twitting, participating in the instant news as I am precisely doing right now. Brains washed, winds whirling in our minds. Yesterday it was a day off (as is today), a day for thoughts, words, books. All I could do last night was go back to watching TV , looking at events unfold on the screen: A tree has fallen in Bergen County, a crane in Manhattan, a ship has landed on Staten Island. There is a sort of excitement when such a powerful event occurs. What is going to happen next? Expectation mixed with fear takes control of our brains. On the high floor where I live, powerful winds were battering the windows last night. Were the windows going to shatter? How resistant were they? A noisy in-draft was coming from the corridor, so powerful that I could not open the door to the apartment. I was trapped in my flat. If a fire had started, I could not have opened the door. I was isolated, cut from the word if it was not for the ongoing bewildering news. Selfishly and inappropriately for a minute I envied those with no power who could live the experience fully, be cut from the world, from the news. Of course, I did not really wish so as I know that loss of power means loss of water pumps, rotten food, and much more. And my heart goes to those with broken houses and dismantled lives.
Today is another day off, a silent day with no traffic if it is not for the wind.
The East river is free of boats, the FDR free of cars, my brain free of thoughts.

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