Me on holiday (but hard at work) in France, summer 1968.
Me on holiday (but hard at work) in France, summer 1968.
Me in Nice, 1968. (Update: actually, 1969 – année érotique!)
Robert Smithson, A Sedimentation of Mind: Earthworks, 1968
A great artist can make art by simply casting a glance. A set of glances could be as solid as any thing or place, but the society continues to cheat the artist out of his “art of looking”, by valuing only ‘art objects’.
This article appeard in 3:AM Magazine in April 2000:
Custard Pie in the Sky
Slapstick tactics and patisserie terrorism in Noël Godin’s Groucho-Marxist manifesto. Revenge has never been so sweet.
“Everything is to be found in Peter Rabbit,” the Consul liked to say.
– Malcolm Lowry, Under the Volcano
Marguerite Duras (nouveau roman), Jean-Luc Godard (nouvelle vague), Bernard-Henri Lévy (nouveau philosophe) and Bill Gates (nouveau riche) have one thing in common, besides their former novelty value. They have all ended up with egg on their faces after falling foul of Noël Godin (nouvelle cuisine), a colourful, cream-tart-toting terrorist, given to fits of Falstaffian histrionics. Since 1969, this boisterous Belgian has stalked some of the most prominent members of the literati, glitterati and politi — Europe’s crème de la crème — intent on giving them a taste of his anger: now he is going global. As reference points, imagine Nechayev starring in one of Mack Sennett’s commotion pictures, Ravachol sparking off a custard-pie free-for-all, or Delia Smith advocating gateau guerilla warfare at a chimpanzees’ tea party. These oft-fêted, sometimes ill-fated, culinary crimes are chronicled in Godin’s toothsomely-titled memoirs, Crème et châtiment (“Cream and Punishment”). Even in print, revenge has never been so sweet.
Dairy devils & doughy deeds
M. Godin, better known under his preposterous nom de guerre Georges Le Gloupier, is an unlikely if delightful desperado. Pie-eyed, pudding-faced and potbellied, he is the proud possessor of an unprepossessing appearance which seems to laugh in the airbrushed mugshot of our aesthetically-correct times. As if that were not enough, he adds insult to injury by displaying a penchant for unsuitable suits of the tatty Tatie variety — a dirt-cheap-and-cheerful Parisian department store — indicating a rejection of Savile Row chic in favour of skid row chicanery. Cheeky sideburns apart, he looks like your average, run-of-the-mill, middle-aged man on the street, all greying temples and tired attire. In fact, he could be anybody, or even nobody for all we know; indeed he is.
Godin-Le Gloupier inhabits a twilight world suspended between plot-hatching obscurity and limelight-hogging ubiquity. His patisserie pranks regularly hit the headlines, and yet he can still strike unawares in broad daylight, confounding the tightest of security measures Fantômas-fashion. France’s top TV producers fall over themselves to invite him on their prime-time tabloid shows for another havoc-wreaking (let alone alcohol-reeking) performance that will send the ratings sorely soaring, but his name does not even appear on the cover of his autobiography. This is where revolutionary abnegation and the proverbial death of the author meet neat marketing strategy.
For promotional purposes, Godin is Le Gloupier, although Le Gloupier is not necessarily Godin. To begin with, the phantom flan-flinger has always been a resolutely collective effort. Whenever la bande à Godin go on the warpath, several comrades are tarted up as Le Gloupier in order to create a diversion, or simply to ensure that at least one of them gets a bull’s-eye. Moreover, from the point of view of characterization, Le Gloupier is as flat as a baking tray. He is a Bergsonian textbook case — the degré zéro of comique de répétition. Any number of dairy devils itching for doughy, doughty deeds can flesh out this most basic of actantial functions: casting a confection at a figure of authority. It’s a piece of cake, so to speak. No wonder, then, that the pie-thrower should have contracted the Purple Rose of Cairo syndrome.
In the time-honoured tradition of Galatea, Pinocchio and sundry gingerbread men legging it after rising from the pastry board, Le Gloupier has taken on a life of his own. Being the stuff folk heroes are made of, he was bound to become public property sooner or later. Today, he is a runaway running gag, popping up all over the place, unbeknown to his creator, who is sometimes associated with attacks he has taken no part in, but is only too willing to take credit for. En un mot, Le Gloupier has become a name to conjure with — a name with which Godin attempts to conjure himself away. Thanks to the recent spate of copycat crimes, he has found it easy as pie to go on playing cat-and-mouse with the gendarmes, despite being shadowed round the clock by a police officer. In any case, arresting him would be neither here nor there because, to all intents and purposes, he is neither here nor there. Making due allowances, a parallel could be drawn with the well-nigh legendary Zapatist leader. When 60,000 Mexicans took to the streets like ducks to water chanting “We are all Marcos,” it became obvious that the masked poet-guerillero (half-Dante, half-Subcomandante) had succeeded in transforming his elusiveness into illusiveness. Godin has reached a similar, semi-mythical status, but disappearing into thin air is not always such an easy task in his case: unobtrusiveness ill-becomes a Belgian braggadocio. Try as he may, Godin never manages to convince us that he is merely the vanguard of gateau guerilla warfare, the icing on the cake, as it were. The interview format of Crème et châtiment captures the virtuoso volubility of his television performances, thus reinforcing the impression of an overpowering presence. The presence of a unique voice which seldom has the opportunity of expressing itself at any length.
Surprisingly enough, considering that the eponymous “gloup! gloup!” slogan repeated ad nauseam is all his victims ever get out of him, Noël Godin comes over as a mesmerizing conversationalist-cum-consummate stylist. In truth, he can rabbit on like his hero Bugs Bunny on speed until the vaches (French for pigs) come home. Reminiscing over the public humiliation of public figures seems to microwave the cockles of his little heart, setting his tongue a-wagging as if there were no tomorrow and the world needed an urgent talking-to. Eloquent and grandiloquent by turns, Godin turns out to be the talk of the town — a glutton for oratory, an inveterate verbal bulimic, cramming his unsavoury memoirs with meaty mouthfuls, kilograms of epigrams and wondrous witticisms. The author, pleased as Punch, leaves the reader reeling, punch-line-drunk.
Although he loathes the type of postmodern fiction that disappears up its own ars rhetorica, language is the pièce de résistance (a rococo pièce montée would be a more apt description) which Godin dishes out with evident relish. We are talking language with bite here, the mordant kind that bares its teeth and just about everything else, pouring forth at full lick like spewed-up moules frites, when it is not swooning at its own swagger. An acquired taste, of course, but one well worth acquiring if you have the stomach for a gargantuan four-course discourse. The spicy anecdotes are sometimes a mere pre-text: all the fun of the fare resides in their cocasse recountal. Around these veracious, elated, voraciously-related vignettes, Godin erects a Babel of babble, a towering inferno of titillating tittle-tattle: a pleasure-principle dome. Beyond the picaresque peripeteia — in the nooks and crannies of the tortuous sentences, the kooky portmanteau words (“attentarte”) and pithy, presumably off-the-cuff, one-liners — lies the plaisir du texte. The sheer-stocking bliss of textual harassment. The stoccado, scattato stiletto style. Even the cantankerous cursing is quaint and recherché; a devilishly efficacious cross between an eighteenth-century libertine (“foutre Dieu!”) and Tintin’s foul-mouthed sidekick, Captain Haddock (“ventre de boeuf !”, “mille tonerres!”, “jambon à cornes !”). If Godin won’t eat his words — every other sentence is a sentence to death — then the reader probably will: who would refuse to be fed a diet to die for in an age of Prozac prose and Lit Lite?
There are shades of Rabelais, a pervading sense of démesure, in this verbal surfeit, as well as in the constant oscillation between refinement and vulgarity. Gab-gifted Godin’s Gallic garrulity — with its declamatory, tribun-style tournures, and robust Third-Republic, école communale flavour — often degenerates into a slang slanging match with the world as it is and should not be. His cyclothymic style swells up into a bomb blast of bombast in the mock-heroic mode, then collapses from within into an understated, deadpan shorthand like a soufflé gone awry. There is always a rapid detumescent descent from the giddy heights of Godin’s furor loquendi: after each yackety-yack attack, the scintillating syntax grinds to a halt, not with a bang but a whimper. This self-deflating prose, which pricks its own champagne bubble of pomposity every now and then, gives the hilarious impression of an orgy ending in a bout of digestive-biscuit nibbling. Bref, Crème et châtiment is a feisty feast of lingual felicity, which is not to say that it is short on substance.
Prose & cons
Like an epic poem, the book begins in medias res, and then proceeds by successive flashbacks until halfway through the narrative. The first chapter zooms in on Bernard-Henri Lévy’s discomfiture at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival, which sums up Le Gloupier’s oeuvre in Godin’s view. Its title (“B.H.L., mon amour”), modelled on Hiroshima, mon amour, is an oblique reference to the original pie attack perpetrated against Marguerite Duras some fifteen years earlier. A potted history of Le Gloupier’s genesis (“Fondements théoriques de l’attentat pâtissier”) is interpolated into the account of the comical Duras incident which stretches out over two chapters. The three following chapters are devoted to a further analepsis. They form a kind of mini Bildungsroman, taking us from Godin’s early pranks as a fallen choirboy to his post-1968 agitprop. The rest of the book, covering more familiar territory, is devoted to the growth of the “révolution crémière”.
Global village idiot
Some, no doubt, will find this exercise in self-aggrandizement difficult to swallow — a trifle rich — and will probably make a meal of it. To them, Godin will remain a gredin, an oafish loafer whose bread and butter is to slice the upper crust down to size. Alternatively, he will be branded a frustrated loser, a sort of global-village idiot bent on pooping the jet set’s party, or dismissed as a mild irritant, the gratin‘s poil à gratter. Others will see Godin as as the maître farceur of our virtual-reality age, making a spectacle of the disintegrating société du spectacle; a globe-trotting terrorrist, whose stage is the world, forever hitting and running off to creamy, unpasteurized pastures new.
Ultimately, the author remains something of an enigma: a protean master of disguise, a Machiavellian maverick, an avant-garde film director, a pathological liar (in his incapacity as a critic), a righter of wrongs and a writer of sorts. A fruitcake, perhaps, but Crème et châtiment shows us that there is a recipe in his madness.
Godin’s juvenilia & other delinquencies
Noël Godin seems to have been a prankster with a cause for as long as he can remember. His strict Catholic upbringing at the slap-happy hands of Salesian fathers in Liège brought out the little devil in him. Young Godin’s spirited anticlerical capers would stop at nothing: hitching up the nuns’ skirts and shouting “Vive Diderot!” when Jacques Rivette’s La Religieuse was banned in 1966, playing a recorded concert of farts during mass, unleashing flocks of pigeons while The Birds was being shown at school, or even stooping to pissing in stoops — Manneken-Pis-fashion — on the odd occasion.
His law studies came to a sticky end when he poured a pot of glue over a right-wing professor who had worked for the Portuguese dictator Salazar. That was just before getting caught up in the student uprising of 1968 which was to change the course of his life. In 1995, he told The Observer that he was “never cured of the fever of May 1968.” As Walter Pater put it: “To burn always with this hard, gem-like flame, to maintain this ecstasy, is success in life.”
The demon cherub soon attracted a motley crew of genial freaks and terminal dropouts. Jean-Pierre Bouyxou, the one-time editor of a popular pornographic publication and renowned B-movie pundit, ranked high among them in terms of inspiration. Anatole Atlas, whose fifteen minutes of fame occured in 1972 when he showered Marxist egghead Jacques Lacan in pâtisseries flamandes, was another early convert. Jan Bucquoy, the eccentric agent provocateur whose misdeeds are legion, often lent a helping hand. In 1991, he burned a Magritte, framed the ashes, and entitled the new work of art Les Cendres de Magritte. He is also the founder of two rather unusual museums: the first, for some reason, is devoted exclusively to male underwear; the second is the infamous Musée de la Femme where one can visit a collection of live, naked women of all ages, colours and sizes (which may, or may not, have inspired Tilda Swinton’s stint as the sleeping Serpentine Gallery beauty a few years back). Besides editing a satirical newspaper (Belge) which is regularly banned, Bucquoy is the author of countless obscene Tintin books (in which Snowy the dog is invariably buggered by his bequiffed master), and the director of bittersweet, autobiographical films like La Vie sexuelle des Belges (1995).
With his mates, some of whom ended up as inmates, Godin set about gatecrashing the world of politics. In 1969, for instance, a mass meeting of Walloon nationalists degenerated into a western-style saloon rumble, when the agitators started brandishing their flag: the skull and crossbones.
Georges Tutukjian’s undelivered speech on psychoanalysis — three years and many acts of sabotage later — is another typical example. No sooner had the mandarin appeared on stage, than he was joined by Anatole Atlas who argued convincingly, and in no uncertain terms, that psychoanalysis was a load of tripe because it aimed at reintegrating sick people into a society which had made them sick in the first place. The heckler was immediately pounced upon by a couple of burly bouncers and forcibly ejected from the auditorium. Taking advantage of the pandemonium, Noël Godin jumped on stage and launched into a hearty, albeit slightly out-of-tune rendition of “Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad Stalinist wolf?” The doctored lyrics — establishing a parallel between Uncle Joe and Hitler through a reference to Tex Avery’s lupine portait of the German tyrant — proved well ahead of their time for Belgian intellectual circles, and anathema to M. Tutukjian, a notorious hardline Communist who was one of Claude Lévi-Strauss’s closest collaborators. The second heckler was consequently pounced upon by a couple of burly bouncers, and forcibly ejected from the auditorium. The speaker — who still had not been able to get a word in edgeways — then threw a primadonna wobbly, announcing that the conference was off as far as he was concerned. After protracted negotiations, he finally accepted to answer a few questions from the members of the audience. This turned out to be a big mistake, and even a grave error, on his part. The first question had a decidedly familiar ring to it: “Who’s afraid of the big, bad Stalinist wolf?” enquired Godin (whom Bucquoy had let in again through an emergency exit) with the placid obstinacy of Droopy. By that time, M. Tutukjian’s nerves were in shreds. He pondered the vexed question for a few seconds, getting increasingly hot and bothered by the minute. Suddenly, he got up, pushed his way past a couple of burly bouncers, and left the auditorium almost in tears.
Spoof political tracts were also circulated to great effect. One of them, inciting children to take up arms against the adulterated adult world, was distributed outside many Italian schools by people disguised as the cat and fox out of Pinocchio. Another, printed on the day Baader, Meinhof and Ensslin were “suicided” in jail, threatened assorted figures of authority with the most appalling, grand-guignolesque tortures as a retaliatory measure.
Godin was a scrupulous tractarian. When he travestied the tracts of established political parties, he always made sure that they were strikingly true to life. He was literally obsessed with linguistic and typographic punctilios: everything had to look just right, down to the slightest scintilla of detail. When the Soviet forces invaded Czechoslovakia, for instance, he produced a handbill on which the Belgian Communists invited the population to demonstrate its joy. And demonstrate, it did: an angry mob stormed the party’s headquarters, smashing it to smithereens.
Godin’s extra-curricular activities were just as potent. Isolating the Consul’s comment, in Under the Volcano, that “Everything is to be found in Peter Rabbit,” he reinterpreted Beatrix Potter’s classic in the light of Malcolm Lowry’s (“Jeannot Lapin au-dessous du volcan,” Etudes Comparées 2, 1970).
It is well worth looking up, if only for the psychoanalytical purple patch in which he makes much of the Oedipal tensions and death wish underlying Peter’s compulsion to explore Mr McGregor’s garden, despite his mother’s express order never to go near it — the very same garden where his father had met his fate, ending up, incidentally, in a pie. (The disappointing conclusion, however, is not worth a pet de lapin.) Puffing up Peter Rabbit into a powder-puffed Kirilov was thus the first step towards Godin’s more expeditious literary criticism: the flinging of flans at writers he did not appreciate (not that Lowry ranked among them).
These custard-pie scandals have revived interest in Godin’s three courts métrages which, in some circles, are now considered as celluloid classics in the “Dada-punk” vein. Incredibly enough, Godin seasons have already been organized in Paris, Geneva, Berlin and Moscow, as well as in other lesser cultural centres. A compilation video is even in the offing. Of course, one could argue that these short films have all the insolence of Duchamp’s bearded and mustachioed Mona Lisa but, in the final analysis, cheekiness is their only redeeming feature. As works of art, they are irredeemable. Godin himself claims that their only merit is to have established a new genre, which he defines as “la polissonnerie d’agitation” (“rapscallion agitprop”).
The Danish artist Asger Jorn used to doodle on daubs he found at the flea market: Godin did something similar with his first movie. He took, or rather stole, a pre-existing artefact (an army-training film aimed at national-service conscripts), but instead of doctoring it — in keeping with the Situationist tenet of détournement — left it exactly as it was, apart from the inconsequential title (Les Cahiers du Cinéma) and wacky credits. Convinced that the army’s self-praise was self-defeating, he let the public take a proper gander at the propaganda itself. Godin’s artless approach was vindicated by the spectators’ reactions. Stupefied by the stupendous stupidity of the voice-over, none of them were prepared to believe that they were actually listening to the genuine article — quod erat demonstrandum.
Prout, prout, tralala, Godin’s second film, was a denunciation of what is now known as ageism; a sort of video-nasty reading of Arsenic and Old Lace. The title is untranslatable literally, and literally untranslatable. “Prout,” an onomatopoeia mimicking the sound of flatulence, could be rendered by James Joyce’s celebrated “Pprrpffrrppff.” “Gone with the Wind” would also do the trick had it not been used before, as well as “I’m For Ever Blowing Raspberries” (the musical reference standing in for “tralala”). However, in all three cases one loses the wind-up windbag element; the childish, polymorphously-perverse delight in verbal diarrhoea (the “Pprrpffrrppff” coda is far too sophisticated). Something along the lines of “pooh,” “weewee” rather than the less juvenile “wee” (“pee” is positively grown-up) or even “knicky-knacky-noos” would do justice to the coprophilious spirit of the title, but not to its committed substance. There is more to “Prout, prout, tralala” than meets the nose. It is not all playful passing of wind, and the subsequent wallowing in the smell thereof, you know. That would be plain old “Prout, prout” without the “tralala” as in faire du tralala (to make a lot of fuss) or avec tout le tralala (with all the trimmings). The full phrase expresses contempt for snobbish airs and graces; it is an up-your-nostril raspberry blown in the face of social pretensions (“la-di-da pprrpffrrppff,” that kind of shit). In view of the plot — which centres on a grandmother who refuses to grow old gracefully — I would plump for “Boring Old Fart Tralalalala Lala La La.” Behind a benign, shrivelled and dishevelled exterior lurks an OTT OAP who blows up police stations, burns down churches, loots supermarkets, horsewhips bailiffs, stones soldiers, kills judges with poisoned gobstoppers, throws custard pies at her children, sleeps with her granddaughter and urinates in the street: a dear old dear!
Noël Godin was in a pickle when his celluloid prank landed a prize for Best Short Film in Belgium. “I had a dilemma there,” he explained to The Observer. “The award was presented by a mayor — the personification of every value I found distasteful. But the prize was two movie cameras. In the end I went up on the podium and threw my arms round him. I said ‘Thank you thank you my mayor’ and kissed him and licked him all over. I pushed him over and with our limbs intertwined, we rolled around the stage while I covered him with kisses. …Every time he tried to get up, I hauled him back by the buttocks.”
Lone loin purloiner
Grève et pets (“Strike and Farts”), with its homophonic echo of Guerre et paix (War and Peace), was Godin’s final foray into filmmaking. Although it was not a radical departure from his previous effort, the film caused quite a stir because it had been subsidized by the Belgian government.
Not that the governmental agency knew what it was promoting with the taxpayer’s hard-earned money. Apart from a lot of lollipop ladies lolloping in the nude and a lone loin purloiner pinching every buxom backside in sight, the original screenplay simply mentioned factory workers downing tools to obtain the abolition of work and the “immediate satisfaction of all their instincts.” What Godin had in mind was probably beyond their wildest nightmares: a close-up of a pair of bare, farting buttocks illustrating “geothermal airstreams” (hence the title), orgies on the shopfloor involving a sow, a blind man, two lesbians from Lisbon and several crocodiles; a truly obscene scene in which a Zairean choirboy is fellated by a nymphomaniac, and another depicting King Baudoin being impaled on a sword. The impalement sequence in particular was deemed beyond the pale, bringing about accusations of lese-majesty from the press, and the scrapping of public funds to the film industry. Even the private co-producer got cold feet, abandoning the distribution of Grève et pets at the first whiff of scandal. Godin was somewhat surprised by this desertion, for he knew for a fact that the man had balls, and enviably large ones at that: he had happened on them in a public lavatory where the priapic producer was auditioning a young female extra.
Aesthetics & Anaesthetics
If Godin’s politics were a development of his aesthetics, his aesthetics was a reaction against anaesthetic politics. While some were trying to make movies which were as wretched as life, he was flaunting the idea that life should be as glamorous as a Hollywood movie. When his righteous, right-on contemporaries — in thrall to the Verfremdungseffekt — were denouncing the American celluloid dream, he was advocating total identification with the impossibly-charming action men and action-packed plots of Tinseltown. In the interview he gave to The Observer, Godin drew a telling parallel between the Baader-Meinhof gang and “the novels of Dumas or the films of Howard Hawks”: “I have a powerful sympathy for the Baader gang, for instance. They gambled their lives, and it was an adventure that could only end one day. Their commitment reminds me of the flame that burns in the novels of Dumas or the films of Howard Hawks: unbridled friendship, reckless joie de vivre , the love of risk, the refusal to accept any limits.” Again that hard, gem-like flame.
Tinpot Red Guards & rearguard tosspots
In keeping with the zeitgeist , Godin believed that demanding the impossible was being realistic. The impossible, of course, had nothing to do with freedom fighters fighting freedom, sawdust Caesars having seizures over Che Guevara posters, or mentally-unemployed, latter-day Lotus-eaters, sheepishly waving about their copies of the Little Red Book. Those opiniated people were the opiate of the people, as far as Godin was concerned. Not that his concern stretched very far. Arguing the dialectical toss with tinpot Red Guards and rearguard tosspots seemed pointless when he could be at the pictures wooing Natalie Wood, or decimating slave traders with Caribbean pirates aboard the Captain Blood.
The grand scheme of things
All aboard, those who will not marry Time, sailing the seven seas to by-corners Byzantine, or wondrous Wherevers, to the end of the earth, at the end of their tethers. Those who have heard the roaring violence on the other side of silence, the cacophony of the spheres, the trickling sand in the hour-glass and the deafening din of the growing grass. Hark the deadening, scythe-like sound of the cycles, going through their implacable motions.
Musical beds the rotating, mating-game overture. Over there, everywhere. The guttural, gutter grunts — evil, primeval — of the climaxing embrace race. Crotch crotchet echoeing siren snare, transfixed by Medusean stare, drowned out by Bacchante blare. Follow, follow, through caverns hollow, and abandon all hope ye who enter there.
Enter Man. A buoy, bobbing up and down on the scrotum-tightening sea. The peacock pelvic thrusts, jerky juttings, and aquatic acrobatics; the alas and alack of it. A boy bobbing up and down on the scrotum-emptying She. She — a lass, alascivious, playing join-the-dots with the cracks in the ceiling. The sallee-man is not the man he used to be. Yo-heave-ho, and alack poor Yoprick! All passion spent, at a price.
A limp lover panting over his prey, like a dying man praying over his own tomb, the vassal of his vessel worship. And harbouring the seaman’s semen, a woman in every seedy port. And all around, the parturition partition. The embowered wooing of the womb: jellied ire entombed in the quagmire of desire. The icky, sticky time bomb ticking away within the womb. Already ticking away, Time within the wombomb; icky, dickory dock. The tempestuous breaking of waters, like all hell let loose, and the throbbing of the plucked umbilical cord. Let loose in Hell to the thrumming, humdrumming humbilical chord: another gurgling baby wreathed in smiles, pushing up daisies. Already pushing up daisies.
“Our world is so sinister,” says Godin, “that we have to laugh, to play the fool a bit” (L.A. Times).
Chief of mischief
In the beginning was the word. Le Gloupier was simply a journalistic hoax, a figment of Jean-Pierre Bouyxou’s skittish imagination. As a film critic in swinging Brussels, Bouyxou would spice up his reviews by peppering them with references to his whimsical creation. Week after week, readers were regaled with cocky, cock-and-bull stories which they seem to have lapped up without so much as batting an eyelid. They learned that Le Gloupier’s authority on all things creepy-crawly (he was the alleged author of a learned treatise on cockchafers written in slang) was matched by his ground-breaking contribution to the arts. Nobody, claimed the counterfeit critic, could remain unmoved by movies such as Moi, rien que moi, toujours moi: at each performance the director would prance about in puris naturabilis before a blank screen, after doing a striptease to the strains of a soppy pop song which he belted out ad captandum vulgus. Even in those early days, Le Gloupier was a chief of mischief. Accusing Pierre Boulez of plagiarizing his symphony for organ, gruyère grater and percussion, he was said to have challenged the composer to a duel, choosing the fire hose as his weapon!
Cooking up, or the critic as artist
At the time, Godin was another talented exponent of the critic-as-artist school. In his time, he conducted more than a hundred interviews with leading directors and actors (from Fritz Lang to Robert Mitchum) without ever actually meeting any of them. This enabled him to mete out the punishment he deemed appropriate to their aestheic or political misdemeanours. During one of these pseudo interviews, Henry Hathaway made the startling revelation that “manure spreads the flu”. In another, Robert Ryan, caught in philosophical mood, stated that there would no longer be any need to go out to work if we all became herbivores. Richard Brooks, who described himself as a “complete moron,” went on record as saying that his films were a load of “hot air”. As for Frédéric Rossif, he promised that his forthcoming efforts would be “dismal failures” just like the previous ones.
Godin’s coup de génie, however, was the invention of some forty filmmakers whose fictitious works he diligently reviewed, l’air de rien, using his own family snaps as illustrations (Adam’s too, too bogus gossip column in Vile Bodies obviously springs to mind). There was André Thurdulle’s verisimilar remake of L’Arroseur arrosé. It was very similar to the original, apparently, but made quite a splash on account of the garden hose which sprayed water on the spectators through a hole in the screen. The English title of this cinéma-vérité classic, Hose and Pantihose, reflected its racy climax (“Blooms and Bloomers” with its Joycean overtones and “Libideau” were both rejected by the American distributor on grounds of intellectual pretentiousness). Giving free rein to his fantasies, in fine and in close-up, Thurdulle decided to have the gardener spank the pert postérieur of a silk-stockinged, mini-skirted demoiselle (instead of a little boy’s), thus enhancing the sexual symbolism of the gushing geyser in the closing shot. The avant-garde cinéaste always became a gushing geezer when it came to becoming young ladies’ arrière-trains, explained Godin, getting a little carried away himself in his description par le menu of the nymphet’s chastisement.
Jean Clabau’s body of work was also lauded as a watershed in the history of the septième art, although female fundaments never played a fundamental part in it. Plants, potted or otherwise, figured more prominently. His masterpiece was a film de genre — a thinly-veiled pastiche of third-rate movies which the French, for reasons best known to themselves, refer to as navets (turnips). Firmly-rooted in the grotesque tradition of Arcimboldo, Légumes de bonne volonté (loosely translated as “Goodwill Grosseries”) was viewed by the hypocritic as an extended metaphor; the metaphor, as Dr Chasuble would put it, being drawn from vegetables. What the film actually meant at the end of the day, you had to rise early to ascertain. For the reviewer — who made it a point of principle never to get up before mpidday — it remained a bottomless mystery, which was all for the best, really, considering that explanations are wicked when works are incomprehensible. Suffice it to say that the plot was based on some sentimental passion of a vegetable fashion: Bertolucci was cast as an old has-bean and Rossellini as an artychoke, but Mastroianni towered above them in the part of the lanky leak.
Mum’s the word
At least one of Godin’s rave reviews had truly far-reaching consequences. It prompted a French historian of Asian cinema to travel all the way to Thailand in search of Vivian Peï, the very first “visually-challenged” filmmaker who, on closer inspection, turned out to be a lot of eyewash. When he came back, incensed, Godin greeted him with a bottle of bourbon and the complete works of Rabelais, to make sure he did not let the word out.
The word was made flesh shortly after Godin teamed up with Bouyxou in 1968. Bliss was it that dawn to be young, but to be a perky prankster was very heaven! The two men shared a passion for popular movies and uprisings; they shared their girlfriends, and even their employers (by penning each other’s reviews pending more subversive activities).
Their brand of schoolboy anarchy was reminiscent of the antisocial antics which Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell had celebrated, more than a decade earlier, in The Boy Hairdresser: “Donelly had a great enthusiasm for anarchy. The theft of toilet-rolls from public lavatories, pens from post-offices; the obscene telephone calls, the cards inserted in Praed Street windows giving the addresses of vicars’ aunts and aldermens’ widows.” This heady mix of high jinks and low comedy — Godin is the proud owner of a daunting collection of slapstick movies including the complete works of the Three Stooges — also harks back to the insurrectionary humour of late nineteenth-century French anarcho-pranksters like the Hydropathes or the Zutistes to whom he paid homage in his anthology of radical subversion (Anthologie de la subversion carabinée, 1988).
It was Godin who transformed the original, far-too-farfelu Le Gloupier concoction (buggery, humbuggery and maybugs) into an explosive Molotov cocktail. Although the very first custard pie was a confectionery con, its impact soon snowballed out of all proportion.
In 1969, Godin wrote an article reporting that Le Gloupier had been so outraged by Robert Bresson’s latest film, that he had felt compelled to chuck a “Mack Sennett-style” pie smack in the director’s face. In a sequel worthy of one of Orton’s classic epistolary pranks, he went on to describe how Marguerite Duras had avenged the initial “creamy affront” by giving Le Gloupier an impromptu pastry pasting while he was dining out in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. “Madame,” said the biter bit after licking his frothy chops, “I prefer your patisserie to your novels”.
Incredible, edible weapons
Through some quirk of fate, the publication of the second article coincided with Mme Duras’s arrival in Belgium on a promotional tour. This proved a godsend to Godin. The affair was causing so much fuss that the novelist was immediately forced to hold a press conference during which she repeatedly denied all prior knowledge of “Le Gloutier” (sic). As was to be expected (this is l’ère du soupçon after all) her protestations fell on deaf ears, most commentators suspecting her of being a two-faced, po-faced killjoy who could not appreciate a custard pie if it hit her in the visage. The punters, obeying their baser instincts, were baying for cream. Godin decided to give a final twist to his burlesque saga, thus illustrating Wilde’s dictum that life imitates art. He ambushed the prime exponent of the “empty novel,” and treated her to a real custard pie this time round. A visiting card was nestling in the incredible, edible weapon. It read: “With the compliments of Le Gloupier”.
The seminal Duras drubbing provided a blueprint for all the subsequent pie attacks. Le Gloupier’s metamorphosis from Ubuesque clown into a latter-day noble bandit figure had occured overnight. A few months later, it was choreograher Maurice Béjart’s turn to fall victim to a chantilly crime. By that time, Le Gloupier had acquired all his distinctive features: the refined dinner jacket and bow tie of gentleman-cambrioleur Arsène Lupin, the false beard and spectacles of a cartoon, bomb-throwing anarchist and, last but not least, the infamous “gloup! gloup!” absurditty. From then on, the “creamy revolution” gathered momentum.
According to Godin, custard pies are the weapons of “the weak and powerless” (L.A. Times). A well-aimed pie can shatter the pompous and vacuous public image of a celebrity in a matter of seconds. Le Gloupier’s targets (politicians, journalists, actors, pop stars, writers) are never selected at random (“Every victim has to be thoroughly justified,” The Observer) and his weapons are chosen with the same meticulous care (“We only use the finest patisserie ordered at the last minute from small local bakers. Quality is everything. If things go wrong, we eat them”). Pseudo-philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy was flanned on five different occasions because he was “totally in love with himself” and epitomized “empty, vanity-filled literature”.
Godin claims that a custard pie is “an uncannily precise barometer of human nature”. It breaks through the public image and lays bare the victim’s true character. News cameras caught Lévy, the champion of wishy-washy tolerance, beating the shit out of Le Gloupier on one celebrated occasion. Had he responded in good-humoured fashion like New Wave director Jean-luc Godard, Godin would not have pursued this personal vendetta.
The “creamy revolution” has many sympathizers. Bill Gates, for instance, was flanned in 1998 thanks to the information provided by a member of his entourage. Godin can also count on Alfred, a pedigree dog who sometimes carries the pies through security barriers.
Pastry cooks of the world unite! You have nothing to lose.