Saturday, November 08, 2008

La beauté sera convulsive

Last weekend, I went to the temporary Chanel Mobile Art exhibit in Central Park, which has moved on and will soon reappear in London. Not surprisingly, it was a lot like looking at a great issue of a fashion magazine: gorgeous, provocative, occasionally thought-provoking - but ultimately forgettable.

Unlike a magazine, which you can dip into on any page and read as you please, Mobile Art wants you to see it their way, not unlike having a chic saleswoman guide you around an expensive boutique. So visitors are asked by attractive and heavily scripted employees to check their bags and coats and don a tiny MP3 player, with over-the-ear headphones. The voice in those headphones, telling you when to turn right and left and providing art-related, world-weary musings, is the inimitable Jeanne Moreau.

Moreau, like her contemporary Anouk Aimée (so unforgettable in the beautifully scored but treacly A Man and a Woman), has always had the sort of wise, off-handed stylishness that only gets better with age.

While Catherine Deneuve always appeared perfectly coiffed and made up, even at her most aloofly depraved, as in Belle de Jour (a look channeled by Kate Winslet in a feature in the current Vanity Fair that's an empty-fashion classic, with clothes by Stefano Pilati channeling St. Laurent, who dressed Deneuve for the film), Moreau had a range that Amazon's review of her breakthrough role in Truffaut's Jules and Jim describes as "impulsive, demanding, sensual, passionate, destructive, and ultimately unknowable."

Just like the title character in the surrealist Andre Breton's novel Nadja, who insisted that "la beauté sera CONVULSIVE ou ne sera plus" (my adopted motto, which translates as "beauty will be convulsive or will not be at all"), that's who I wanted to be when I didn't grow up. But if what she sounds like at 80 is any indication, I also want to be her if I ever do.

Take a look at her in the 1958 Ascenseur pour l'échafaud (Elevator to the Gallows), directed by Louis Malle, with an ultra-cool soundtrack by Miles Davis. It's enough to make me want to spend my life wandering the streets of Paris, even unhappily.

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