The Song of the Century

photo: le petit bofinger

There is a big Bofinger at Bastille - this is the little
one in Montparnasse.

French Car Chosen 'Car of the Century'

Paris:- Sunday, 5. December 1999:- As usual I have not been diligently reading the papers bit by bit, day by day as I am supposed to be doing. When I thought up Metropole, I really thought I would sit in a café every day and read - a - paper. A little bit at least.

To be honest, the good part about the idea was the 'sitting in a café' part. I've read the papers without fail for decades and at one time I thought I was getting good at it - good at reading 'between the lines' I mean.

What has happened I think, I got so good at it that I have learnedphoto: literie st germain all the 'between the lines' so things I read in newspapers hardly surprise me anymore. What is actually printed are just recombinations of stories that have appeared before.

Like this shop, this column is stuffed with goose feathers.

Maybe this is why the better French papers only devote minimum space to 'news' and reserve the majority of their columns for 'culture,' and intellectual arguments.

At this very moment I realize I could be writing a very interesting column today - if I had caught the current big argument when it started.

This has to do with a group of film makers who produced some sort of 'open protest' - no, they didn't parade, not yet - against French film critics who routinely say that new films are boring.

The film makers are annoyed because they invite the critics to pre-opening screenings and some of the critics go to the trouble of rushing their opinions of the film into print, before it opens in the cinemas.

This is dirty pool indeed if the reviewer chooses to think the film is a dud. Most French producers do not have huge promotional budgets for all sorts of TV-ads, to entice the folks away from the comfort of their living rooms; to go out in the cold winter air and plunk down 45 francs or so.

The big budget films do have a publicity splurge, plus they somehow get the film bookedphoto: bistro at buci into 500 cinemas for its launch. This gives them the advantage of getting out the free word-of-mouth publicity pretty quickly.

Here is where I was supposed to 'research' this column.

However, to show how this is really done, you just have to watch the Americans. With a 'really big show,' they book 850 cinemas at once. When the first week's receipts are in, the score is invariably Americans '1,' French '2' - because more people fit into 850 cinemas than into just 500.

But the current argument isn't about big-budget blockbuster films. It is about the small-budget 'auteur' films, some of which are major gems.

Anyhow, I came in late and missed the beginning and this is fatal because French newspapers assume their readers are paying attention, so there is no 're-cap' anywhere in the first five paragraphs.

Without this, you may read the whole piece and get to the end before figuring out you don't know what it's about, and never will.

However, in Chaudio's barbershop and Shampoo Salon last week, I met a real film actor - over 70 films! - and he surprised me by expressing an unwillingness to make any more films. I mean, somebody has to play older characters, or films will look lopsided.

He said more or less, that nobody writes stories anymore. They just write sketches; and string them together, more or less with cellotape.

This is not a particularly French problem.

I do not have the TV-cable anymore so all I receive are the stations that broadcast via the airwaves in Paris. I get the two state-run stations, two commercial stations, and the French-German 'cultural' channel, Arte.

Lacking a TV-guide I rely on the papers for the program, but as I've written above, I don't read them in the café like I should. Usually on Mondays I don't buy a paper at all.

Seven times out of ten if I try the two state stations and the two commercial stations I am going to getphoto: fiat 500 some 'amusement' show, where the principal entertainment consists of the insanely-verbal host leading the studio audience in applauding. Actually, it isn't really applauding, because there is nothing to applaud - it is mere hand-clapping.

Then I push the button for Arte. Sometimes I get opera and sometimes I get a Polish cops-and-robbers show.

If this was Italy, this would be the 'car of the century.'

I don't know how these get made because times are tough in the east. The stories - they have stories! - are usually about these tough times, and they are pretty gritty.

But there are no zombie shows and no 99th version of divorced mom and pop and the beautiful-but-troubled kids and their cute pets, hung together for 90 minutes minus the time for the cut-out commercial breaks.

A lot of these made-in-the-east 'krimis' would made pretty good 'B' thrillers because they usually have stories. They have these because writers are available and are cheaper than a lot of special effects - like the gasoline tanker that blows up in every second US-made TV-film you see these days.

I'm not trying to say it is easy to write actual stories. I am just pointing out that it used to be done, and it seems to be a skill that has died in the west.

Maybe this is what the French film critics are complaining about.

If so, then the real problem is that they can't write real stories either. Because, once upon a time, French film critics stopped writing criticism, and wrote films with names like 'Breathless.'

It was the age of 'New Wave.' So called, because so many critics started making films that there were no critics left to criticize them. 'New Wave' lasted a pretty long time - at least until another generation of critics came along.


There is no sports news this week because the Australians won everything. Bravo Australia! Le Parisien's response was to unilaterally name Jacques Brel's 'Ne Me Quittez Pas' the song of the century and the 2CV as the 'car of the century.'

French Web Life This Week

Cité des Sciences

The big science museum in Paris' northeast corner has been online since three weeks before the dawn of time, but because it involves 'science' it must be in the forefront, while publications like this one are content to remain in the stone age. The Cité des Sciences has always had too much for me to understand. Science is also 'culture' in France and this is the reason it is not called the 'factory of science.' Actually, this Web site is also used for scientific experiments. Ah - the reason for this blurb is that the Cité des Sciences has spiffed up its Web site. En garde!

When Is the 3rd Millennium?

I thought this question was settled, but there are apparently people around who are still in doubt. Thierry Blandet, who is an engineer of 'photonique systems' at the Louis-Pasteur University of Strasbourg, is trying to find out. He is doing his research online and maybe you can help, or are just curious. Tune in and find out.

Y2K Bug?

I am a great disbeliever in this because I can't do anything about it and therefore expect that somebody who can, will. I don't have any specific Web site to recommend for finding solutions for real or imagined problems that may crop up three weeks from now, and will merely suggest you check out this other fable.

Inside Paris

I'm going to let 'Mon Quartier' run another week because it is a Web site that presents Paris by the activities of Parisians in their arrondissements, quartiersphoto: xmas tree, pl lepine and 'villages.' It has lists of local businesses and merchants, public services, local news and a large area devoted to local associations and artistic activities.

Shorties: - France Télécom's ' Voilà' is testing the waters of the robot-translation act. Try changing Metropole into Spanish or German - for a friendly little snicker, try English too. How's this for an extra-short set of shorties?

And a happy pine cone to all readers.

Some of the suggestions for these Web site references have been supplied by 'Internet Actu.' For more weird stuff, give The Liar's Chronicles a shot. If you understand French, look around for anything by Pierre Lazuly and his acid pen.

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