Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Babylon Revisited

In the Lowry's Notes on a Screenplay for Scott Fitzgerald's Tender is the Night, they discuss the names of 2 Cafés on Page 91 of their film script which reads:

Now we are in the Rue Blanche and we pass Zelli's and the Poet's Cave and stop where the two great mouths of the Café of Heaven and the Café of Hell yawn across the street at each other.

The Lowry's were concerned about the use of the names of the Cafés in their filmscript which had been obtained from Fitzgerald's 'Babylon Revisited' because there were unsure about the historical realism and the use of the English names:

The Poet's Cave had disappeared, but the two great mouths of the Café of Heaven and the Café of Hell still yawned--even devoured 'Babylon Revisited'

Their note says:

Fitzgerald's original intention here was undoubtedly Babylonian but with the accent on damnation and spiritual emptiness, rather than psychical, as in the story. So also the notion of 'Babylon' in the sequence - though a metro sign is not copyright - could go, if the suggestion of the infernal can somehow remain.

The 2 Cafés definitely existed next door to each other in Pigelle - Le Café de L'Enfer and Le Café de Le Ciel. I can only assume Malc was unfamiliar with these 2 Cafés from his time in Paris as I am sure that he would have reveled in their existence and included them in his work!

“A hot spot called Hell’s Café lured 19th-century Parisians to the city’s Montmartre neighborhood—like the Marais—on the Right Bank of the Seine. With plaster lost souls writhing on its walls and a bug-eyed devil’s head for a front door, le Café de l’Enfer may have been one of the world’s first theme restaurants. According to one 1899 visitor, the café’s doorman—in a Satan suit—welcomed diners with the greeting, “Enter and be damned!” Hell’s waiters also dressed as devils. An order for three black coffees spiked with cognac was shrieked back to the kitchen as: “Three seething bumpers of molten sins, with a dash of brimstone intensifier!” National Geographic

The exterior facade appears to be molten rock surrounding misshapen windows and dripping off the building while inside, caldrons of fire and ghostly bodies of humans and beasts covered the walls and ceiling. From an account published in Morrow and Cucuel‘s Bohemian Paris of Today (1899):

Red-hot bars and gratings through which flaming coals gleamed appeared in the walls within the red mouth. A placard announced that should the temperature of this inferno make one thirsty, innumerable bocks might be had at sixty-five centimes each. A little red imp guarded the throat of the monster into whose mouth we had walked; he was cutting extraordinary capers, and made a great show of stirring the fires. The red imp opened the imitation heavy metal door for our passage to the interior, crying, – “Ah, ah, ah! still they come! Oh, how they will roast!”

Quite a site! (In an epic battle of good and evil, another entrepreneur opened Le Ciel—”Heaven”—next door that was filled with clouds, angels, and harps.) Archpaper

However these 2 Cafés may have predecessors called according to a fascinating book called Roses and Thorns of Paris and London (Anonymous) - Café de La Mort on the Boulevard Clichy and the Cabaret du Ciel. See Roses and Thorns for full details. Though they maybe the same places? ( Popular theatre: a sourcebook By Joel Schechter)

What about the Lowry's mention of the use of the Metro sign? This would have been familiar to Malc as he spent time in the Montparnasse area in 1934.

Sèvres-Babylone is a station on lines 10 and 12 of the Paris Métro. It is located at the intersection of the Boulevard Raspail and the Rue de Sèvres, on the border of the 6th arrondissement and 7th arrondissements, near le Bon Marché department store.

The line 12 platforms opened as line 10 Sèvres on 5 November 1910 as part of the original section of the Nord-Sud Company's line A between Porte de Versailles and Notre-Dame-de-Lorette. On 27 March 1931 line A became line 12 of the Métro. It is named after the Rue de Sèvres which in medieval times ran from Paris to Sèvres, and the Rue de Babylone, named in 1673 after the Bishop of Babylon. The line 10 station was opened by the Compagnie du chemin de fer métropolitain de Paris on 30 December 1923 as part of the first section of the ligne circulaire interieur (inner circular line) from Invalides (now on line 13) to Croix Rouge (a station east of Sèvres - Babylone, which was closed during World War II).

At the start the line 10 station was named Babylon, while the nearby line 12 station was still named Sèvres. Shortly after the opening of line 10, the city forced the two companies to form a common station, but the sign for line 10 read Sèvres-Babylone (emphasizing Babylone), and that of line 12 by contrast read Sèvres-Babylone (emphasizing Sèvres).

Would the metro sign have conveyed the same intensity of the infernal as the 2 Cafes? You can see where the Lowrys are coming from using the sign to link to Fitzgerald's story of dissipation after the Great Crash of 1929 and the symbolism of Babylon as the city of evil which ties in with Malc's ideas of Liverpool - 'that terrible city whose main street is the ocean' and Enochvilleport - Vancouver.

"Babylon Revisited" is a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, written in 1930 and first published on February 21, 1931 in the Saturday Evening Post. It was later adapted into a movie called The Last Time I Saw Paris.

The story is set in the year after the crash of the 1929, just after what Fitzgerald called the "Jazz Age". Brief flashbacks take place in the Jazz age itself. Much of it is based on the author's own experiences.

The story is based on a true incident regarding Fitzgerald, his and his wife Zelda's daughter "Scottie", and Zelda's sister Rosalind and her husband Newman Smith (a banker based in Belgium, who as a colonel in the U.S. Army in World War II would be in charge of worldwide strategic deception for the U. S. Joint Chiefs of Staff), on whom Marion and Lincoln Peters are based. Rosalind and Newman had not been able financially to live as well as Scott and Zelda had lived during the 1920s, and they had always regarded Scott as an irresponsible drunkard whose obsession with high living was responsible for Zelda's mental problems. When Zelda suffered a breakdown and was committed to a sanitarium in Switzerland, Rosalind felt that Scott was unfit to raise their daughter and that Rosalind and Newman should adopt her.

Text of Babylon Revisted

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