Thursday, April 24, 2008

Great Urban Cakes and Madame La Guillotine

'Marie Antoinette' (2006) directed by Sofia Coppola and Starring Kirsten Dunst

I've been lying in bed, unable to sleep. And for reasons I'm sure I'd never be able to fathom, I began thinking of Marie Antoinette's famous (or rather infamous) response to hearing that the poor in C18 France had no bread to eat - 'Let them eat cake' ('Qu'ils mangent de la brioche'). Ignoring the obvious disparity between 'cake' and 'brioche', the comment was supposed to reveal her complete ignorance of the desperate conditions of the time.

Marie Antoinette by Vigee Le Brun (1783)

I had the momentary thought that the queen might have been trying to say something in English which, with her strong Austrian accent, was taken for more of her ungrammatical French - 'Le temps est que'. If read slowly with different breaks it becomes 'Let them eat cake'. Haw haw!

However, the phrase was probably a re-working of something said 100 years earlier by Marie Therese d'Autriche (1638-83), wife of Louis XIV. As Jean-Jacques Rousseau says in his autobiographical 'Confessions' (1770) 'At length I recollected the thoughtless saying of a great princess, who, on being informed that the country people had no bread, replied, "Then let them eat pastry!". The remark would then have been appropriated by detractors to discredit the later queen.

In this context, Sofia Coppola's 2006 film about Marie Antoinette is an attempt at a sympathetic reconstruction of the life of the C18 aristocrat. The opening scene shows Kirsten Dunst, as Marie Antoinette, in very serious cake mode. And must raise more than an ironic laugh.

And makes me realize I how much more I prefer the great urban culinary myth, which gives a greater justification for Marie Antoinette's grisly encounter with 'Madame La Guillotine' in 1793.

Now if this post has touched and you need a constant reminder of it, the Archie McPhee 'Marie Antoinette Action Figure' is a must.

Complete with 'ejector head' it's the perfect way to end parties when your guests seem a bit too lingering!

But seriously, sometimes we (tho maybe it's just me) like to live with our long-held illusions and are quite resistant to their re-examination. Like a comfortable pair of old gym shoes or sneakers. Or that favorite old faded tee-shirt in which you've picked up the hottest guys you've ever slept with.

I haven't seen the Sofia Coppola film yet but will and am hoping to approach it with an open mind. Having listened to my own advice in this post.

And thinking about it, perhaps the real difficulty is letting go of a story that is soooooooooo memorable! Cos it conjures up such wicked images. Like the opening one of this post!


  1. Don't ya just love it when Hollywood makes movies about historical characters, and then proceeds to really fuck the real story up? lol

    Your Marie Antoinette's story reminds me of what our "beloved" president's mother said about the people suffering in New Orleans and the soldiers that have died in the bull-shit Iraq war.... "Why should I bother my pretty mind" or something to that effect. She should have been strung up right then and there!

    Oops - got political! Sorry!

  2. hey greg. as frankenstein's monster said 'politics is good. no politics is bad' - or words to that effect! and you are right, there are 'beloved leaders' closer than you think - we've had our share here too. Take care. nick

  3. I thought the cakes in "Marie Antoinette" looked sensational!

  4. hey victor. they looked amazing - surreal!

  5. You never cease to amaze me with the intelligence in your posts. And the fantas-magical way you put them together. I bow to the master!

  6. oh gee gosh thanks rick (accompanied by a shunksy goofy modest look!). but i love your blog too - starts my day off perfectly. take care my friend. nick

  7. I've seen the movie "Marie Antoinette" (2006) you mentioned. This was with a friend of mine that knew very little of the historical background and it was her idea to see it. I have a book on Marie Antoinette (Maria Antonia as she was known in Austria)and also studied modern European history (1715 and on) at university and the course covered the historical background leading up to the French revolution and the beheading (guillotine) of the king and queen of France. Sounds like some modern politicians would fit right in as far as being out of touch with the masses.

    It seems I've gone political too. Oh well. C'est domage!!! - Volker

  8. hey volker.

    did you think the movie was good? envious of your strong background in history - and your political conversion. take care my friend. nick