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Marie Antoinette by Sofia Coppola

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A Film by Sofia Coppola,
based on the book by Antonia Fraser
Release Date (USA): October 20th, 2006 (IMDB Listing)

I'm more than a little excited by the much anticipated and talked about Marie Antoinette from Sophia Coppola. I first heard report of the adaptation nearly two years ago, and have been following not too closely ever since. I'm afeared to become saturated in pre-release excitement, so I have restrained myself.

But I watched the trailer for the first time today since seeing the teaser over a year ago and I'm all giddy with anticipation now.

I'm probably one of the few people this film is specifically made for. Me. All me. Being of an age with the director, I completely gel with her conceptualizing Marie as a modern teenager, and using music and motifs evocative of our own adolescence just makes wonderfully hysterical sense to me. As a matter of fact, it seems a brilliant way to bring Antoinette some sympathy. She is a difficult character to sympathize with on the suface. But she was very young and very sheltered when she was thrust center stage into the French Court, certainly one of the freakiest places to have existed ever.

I am a bit consternated that the revolution is given such short shrift in the film. And am hoping there is some balance with the veritable cinema blancmange that is the first two-thirds, or three-quarters or what have you. There is certainly something to be said for cinematic blancmange! But I understand it is more about the fluff than the tragedy. John Hughes rococo style!

In any case, I'll buy the soundtrack as soon as it is released. Mwowrrr! You can read more here about Marie Antoinette and the Guillotine!

EDIT: Saturday, October 21st, 2006

We went with Kelly & Robert to opening night in The City last night. They kindly filled us with champagne and cake beforehand at their lovely little victorian urban abode (wah, I miss city livin' despite the tranny whores and crack smokers!).

Gadzooks, it was gorgeous. It was hands down the most scrumptiously art directed costume froufy drama I've ever seen. And they knew it. The camera completely frotterized the exquisite costuming and candy, I've never been so desperately aroused by the cinema before. Sitting front center was totally awesome, all encompassing.

That said, the film is not for everyone. I'm a devout revolutionary, and never sympathized much with Marie Antoinette and her side of the fence, she wasn't a very good queen, but that doesn't mean she wasn't a good person. What I loved about Coppola's and Fraser's perspective is that we become immediately immersed in her story, the bubble she lived in. There are times when the myriad of mixed up acting styles and accents were jarring, but most of the story is told through whispers and sidelong glances. Coppola uses metaphor (sometimes anachonistically) to communicate things about 18th century life that we could not, would not understand. The strictures of etiquette, the importance of performance and presence. Marie Antoinette's first crime against the people was not that she was too haughty and distant, queenly even, but that she wasn't queenly enough. She sought release from some of the strictures of Versailles, and in doing so crossed boundaries that should not have been crossed (and spent heaps of cash, besides). The film addresses these things metaphorically and artfully. We understand without being told once the barrier created by tradition and etiquette falls, the people lose the respect for her that otherwise might have been manipulated in the face of revolution.

I was very excited to see Madame Vigee-Lebrun, the portait artist. Or the back of her at least. I have a thing for lady painters.

Marie Antoinette, at thirty-seven, was cut down just as she was growing up. Being the age she was when she was executed, I feel this accutely. The film ends just where the second half of her story begins. Though disappointed, I feel this was the right thing to do, considering the stories angle.

There are stories yet to be told of the Revolution, I'll await MA, Part Deux for the denouement.

This just in: From my favorite critic at Stephanie Zacharek always gets it.

No one-time teenager has suffered more from the cruelty of history's gossip mill than Marie Antoinette. When she was told the peasants were starving for lack of bread, the Marie Antoinette of lore shot back, "Let them eat cake!" -- a great line, straight out of "Mean Girls," except that the real Marie Antoinette never said it. Imported to France from her native Austria at age 14, she was the brokered bride of a future king, a bargaining chip with a womb. Her purpose was to cement peace between, and solidify the power of, the two nations. Marie Antoinette landed in a country, and a court, that eyed her with suspicion and contempt: She was a callow, uneducated foreigner, barely worth the disdain of oh-so-civilized France, and the fact that she couldn't immediately produce an heir didn't help. But because she was a future queen, she had access to -- and availed herself of -- the grand and costly buffet of opulence that had been the norm in Versailles long before she arrived. To paraphrase a lyric from another Lesley Gore song: You would shop, too, if it happened to you.

There is shopping in Sofia Coppola's buoyant, passionately sympathetic dream-bio "Marie Antoinette" (which plays the New York Film Festival Friday night, and opens in New York and other cities on Oct. 20). But this is not -- as you might have believed if you trusted the reviews out of Cannes, scrawled by critics from the garretlike confines of their hotel rooms as they clutched their Mao jackets tighter to protect themselves from the threat of beauty, pleasure and decadence -- a movie about shopping. Nor is it a straightforward biopic or a history of the French Revolution (it never purports to be either of those things).

"Marie Antoinette" is Coppola's silk-embroidered fantasy sampler of the inner life of a queen we can never really know: It's a humanist comedy-drama decked out not in sackcloth but in ribbons -- instead of flattering our ideas of our own virtuousness, it asks our sympathy for this doomed queen even as we can't help envying her privilege.

Read on...

Movie Tie-ins:

Marie Antoinette
Antonia Fraser

Marie Antoinette
Original Soundtrack

Marie Antoinette
Sofia Coppola

French Revolution Links

The Straight Dope: Does the head remain briefly conscious after decapitation?

New York Public Library (NYPL) Digital Gallery: thanks for all the amazing fashion prints made available. ♥!

Ministère de la culture - base Joconde: Catalogue des Collections des Musees de France. For their amazing collections of artists of the period such as Isabey, Boilly and Laurent.

Jean Baptiste Isabey: The Little Court Painter: Isabey's portraits are wonderfully informing on the various characters and fashions during the revolutionary period. Exquisite!

Jean-Baptiste Isabey: at Wikipedia!

The Metropolitan Museum of Art: wonderful portrait miniatures by Isabey and others.

Most of these are books I've read, for real! There's a few new ones in that are on my wish or "to read" list. These are the valuable tomes that have made this site possible. Praise be to the authors and publishers who make my inner life a dark and exciting wonderland!

(please be patient while widget loads!)

In Conclusion

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Ian Hamilton Finlay
& Gary Hincks, 1987
Both the garden style called 'sentimental', and the French Revolution, grew from Rousseau. The garden trellis, and the guillotine, are alike entwined with the honeysuckle of the new 'sensibility'.

— Ian Hamilton Finlay & Gary Hincks, 1987

The Guillotine was in use in France as it's official form of capitol punishment until 1977.

Lord Byron Witnesses an Execution

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The day before I left Rome I saw three robbers guillotined—the ceremony—including the masqued priests—the half-naked executioners—the bandaged criminals—the black Christ & his banner—the scaffold—the soldiery—the slow procession—& the quick rattle and heavy fall of the axe—the splash of the blood—& the ghastliness of the exposed heads—is altogether more impressive than the vulger and ungentlemanly dirty "new drop" & dog-like agony of infliction upon the sufferers of the English sentence (i.e. hanging). The head was taken off before the eye could trace the blow—but from an attempt to draw back the head—notwithstanding it was held forward by the hair—the first head was cut off close to the ears—the other two were taken off more cleanly;—it is better than the Oriental way (i.e. with sword)—& (I should think) than the axe of our ancestors. The pain seems little—& yet the effect to the spectator—& the preparation to the criminal—is very striking & chilling. The first turned me quite hot & thirsty—& made me shake so that I could hardly hold the opera-glass (I was close—but determined to see—as one should see everything once—with attention) the second and third (which shows how dreadully soon things grow indifferent) I am ashamed to say had no effect on me—as a horror—though I would have saved them if I could.

— Lord Byron, 1817

Camille Desmoulins

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Camille Desmoulins is prison
My Lucile, ma poule, despite my torment I believe there is a God, my blood will efface my faults, I wll see you again one day O my Lucile ... is the death which will deliver me from the spectable of so many crimes such a misfortune? Adieu Loulou, adieu my life, my soul, my divinity on earth ... I feel the river banks of life receding before me, I see you again Lucile, I see my arms locked about you, my tied hands embracing you, my severed head resting on you. I am going to die ...

Camille Desmoulins to His Wife on the Eve of His Execution, 1794

The Death of Madame du Barry

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The Comtesse du Barry
by Vigée Le Brun
Madame du Barry, mistress if the late Louis XV, grew terrified in the face of death, shrieked in the tumbril, begged the onlookers to save her, and struggled with the executioners on the scaffold. The painter Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun speculates in her memoirs that the mobs might indeed have relented had the victims not played their roles so well.
"Madame Du Barry ... is the only woman, among all the women who perished in the dreadful days, who could not stand the sight of the scaffold. She screamed, she begged mercy of the horrible crowd that stood around the scaffold, she aroused them to such a point that the executioner grew anxious and hastened to complete his task. This convinced me that if the victims of these terrible times had not been so proud, had not met death with such courage, the Terror would have ended much earlier. Men of limited intelligence lack the imagination to be touched by inner suffering, and the populace is more easily stirred by pity than by admiration."

Marquis de Sade: Near Miss

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Quills, Directed by
Philip Kaufman, 2001
Having been released from prison in 1790 by the revolutionary government, the Marquis de Sade spent the next three years trying to be a good patriot, but when he was thrown back into prison in 1793 as a former aristocrat he must have feared the worst. He was spared the guillotine only by the fall of Robespierre in 1794. During his imprisonment under the Reign of Terror, Sade recorded his revulsion at the carnage.
"... when suddenly the execution grounds were placed absolutely under our windows and the cemetery for those guillotined put in the very middle of our garden. We have buried eighteen hundred of these in thirty-five days, a third of them from our unfortunate house." And later he complained, "My detention by the state with the guillotine right before my eyes did me a hundred times more harm than all imaginable Bastilles."

la Princess(e) de Lamballe

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La Princesse de Lamballe
by Joseph Sifiède Duplessis
Marie-Therese De Savoie-Carignan (1749-92) Princess of Lamballe
A long time friend to Marie-Antoinette, Lamballe faithfully stuck by her until forcefully removed from the Queen's company in 1792. Confronted by an improvised court on trumped up charges which she denied, she was then asked to swear an oath of loyalty to Liberty and Equality and one of hatred to the King, Queen and Monarchy, she accepted the first but refused the latter. A door was opened off the interrogation room, where she saw men waiting with axes and pikes. Pushed into an alley she was hacked to death in minutes. Her clothes were stripped from her body, and her head was struck off and stuck on a pike. Some accounts attest to the crowd cutting off her breasts and mutilating her genitals. What is certain is that her head was carried in triumph through Paris to be shown to the Queen. Marie-Antoinette spared herself this torment by fainting on the spot. The valet however peered through the blinds to see de Lamballe's blonde curls bobbing in the air.

— Simon Schama (somewhat paraphrased) - Citizens

Marie Antoinette: Crown Without a Head

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Marie Antoinette Imprisoned in the Conciergerie
The Marquise de Bréhan c. 1793-95

Josephe Jeanne Marie Antoinette von Habsburg-Lorraine,
aka Marie Antoinette, Queen of France

(November 2, 1755 – October 16, 1793)

It may be that the champagne glass so familiar today was modeled upon the famous breast of Marie Antoinette, and that her most famed and inflaming quote "Let them eat cake," is fabricated political propoganda, but hindsight renders much of what was so scandalous in her own day, down right trivial by our own standards.

From sycophantic tyrantess, to an obsolete, fluffy-headed haute grandeur, to doomed teen queen, Marie Antoinette's image has been somewhat resurrected in recent years. The truth, in the early years, lies somewhere inbetween this laundry list of feminine archetypes. But it was towards the end, when most of us grow up (she was 37 when she was executed), that her spirit and fortitude shone most. In the end, all pomp gone, she was a dedicated mother, sister, and wife. Brave as a tigress and willing to sacrifice all for her family, this is the picture that is rarely shown in our history books, literature and cinema.

From the fall of the Bastille, July 14th, 1789, til the day of her execution on October 16, 1793, her life became a series of ever shrinking spaces. In 1790 the royal family was taken by force from the palace of Versaille fifteen miles outside of Paris, to a carefully guarded Tuileries Palace in Paris. After a failed attempt to escape in disguise in 1791 to Austria (they were captured in Varenne), rather than bend and except a Republican Monarchy, Marie Antoinette machinated a war with Austria (her home country) that she'd hoped France would lose, and the family would be rescued. The parisienne masses were incensed at such gall, and on August 10, 1792 the mob stormed the Tuileries and massacred the Swiss Guard, while the royal family fled. A few days later Louis XVI was arrested and on September 21 1792 the monarchy in France was officially abolished. The family was moved to the Temple Fortress and put under heavy guard. The Princesse de Lamballe, who up until this point had shared the fate of her closest friend, was seperated from Marie Antoinette and forced to repudiate her. When she refused she was attacked by the mob and beaten to death with a hammer. The story goes that she was torn apart, her head paraded on a pike in front of the Queen's prison window, but the story cannot be substantiated beyond hear say.

[to be written]

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