Thursday, May 15, 2008

Tempus fu**it: Les évènements de Mai '68

The premise expressed in the lower left quadrant I can, and could in 1968, fully subscribe to. In London the excitement of that year had little to do with politics but a lot to do with lifestyle. It was, we knew, very different in France and Germany. In Chelsea we felt no need to prise the cobble-stones from the streets and toss them through the windows of expensive boutiques; on the contrary, we dreamed of opening our own expensive boutiques, like Mr Fish, Mary Quant or Biba or with names like Granny Takes A Trip, Mister Freedom or Gandalf’s Garden, or starting other enterprises to serve the unprecedented, unconventional and, for a dazed establishment, unfathomable demands of our own generation.

“Talkin’ 'bout my generation…”

I suppose the Frogs are right to deride us as a nation of shopkeepers. But even the surviving protagonists portrayed in The Dreamers would have to shop somewhere, when they finally came for a visit across the channel! And in the years which followed the youth of France again invaded the island, looking for the cool which their own revolution had failed to introduce... or maybe they were just fleeing what passed for Gallic rock 'n' roll?

In London we felt no imperative to shoot bankers or pillory professors. On the contrary, we hoped our bank managers would overlook our garish garb, hippie beads and long hair and grant the overdraft we needed to finance our dream, whether of opening up the ultimate head shop, setting up a multi-track recording studio or… providing the budget for the pilot episode of a sure-to-succeed television series.

We were not, in my crowd, even remotely anti-capitalistic. One of my closes friends drove a silver-grey four-seater Ferrari and his wardrobe may have looked like Portobello Market but was in fact made to measure. I couldn’t rival his wheels but I patronized the same tailor. And we shared a poetically libertine girlfriend, too.

In spite of the colourful sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll hedonism we enjoyed in Kensington, Chelsea, Hampstead and Notting Hill, no excuse to pop across to Paris was ignored.

In some ways I find this in retrospect hard to comprehend, for Paris with its undercurrent of growing turmoil was, even a year before the events of May ’68, far from cool. Under their daringly abbreviated skirts many French girls tended to wear horrendous garments resembling today’s cyclists Lycra shorts and termed panty girdles. The girl in the passenger seat of the Ferrari, of course, wore nothing at all under her Ossie Clark.

For a memorable Paris excursion in sixty-seven I once again happily crossed the Channel by train. From Victoria Station the locomotive hauled the sleeping cars to the coast where they were then shunted noisily onto a ferry boat and the next morning rolled sedately into the Gare du Nord.

Friends of mine on that occasion had made a more prosaic crossing; not the Ferrari this time, but the Mini Traveller van I had talked WifeOne into lending us. The little car’s suspension was sorely taxed by the freight it transported.

It had seemed like a capital wheeze, a brilliant stunt, to promote the innovative cardboard armchair by installing a few dozen where the bums of the international press would occupy them. Few journalists attending Ungaro’s haute couture show that spring failed to write about the TabChair.

[The eagle-eyed may note the 'accessorizing' of the photo above. Oz was one of the alternative magazine which marked those years. The contents of the cigarette case on the glass table look distnctly hand-rolled! And furry carpets didn't become desperately naff until the seventies!]

And few of Saint-Germain’s cafés, bars and jazz clubs remained for me undiscovered, thanks to an Ungaro runway model from Denmark. Who found panty girdles ludicrous.

Hardly surprising, then, that my planning for sixty-eight needed a project which would again involve Paris. And these plans had nothing to do with heaving cobble-stones through showroom windows. Nor would I be anything less than utterly charming to anyone inclined to finance the pilot episode of Filmcentre Europe. ‘The Woman’s Role In The European Cinema’ was the sub-title of the episode titled “The Girls”. Paris I liked; girls, too!

[There will be more about Filmcentre Europe and The Girls in a future post which should be ignored by any for whom Jane Fonda, Anita Pallenberg and Jane Birkin are names which trigger yawns. The photo above shows us shooting the segment with Anita on the roof of the Passage Choiseul. Tall skinny guy on the right in Gucci loafers… yup! And below is the permit which allowed us to film Birkin in surroundings as fresh and delightful… Okay!]

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