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Archive for December, 2017

Best (and worst) movies of 2017

Voilà AWAV’s annual list (for last year’s, see here). The movies here opened in theaters this year in France or the U.S. As usual, several well-reviewed Hollywood movies—and that figure on the “best of” lists of US critics—are opening in France after the new year, so I have yet to see them.

TOP 10:
Afterimage (Powidoki)
Beauty and the Dogs (La Belle et la Meute على كف عفريت)
Get Out
Loveless (Нелюбовь)
Moonlight
Paris la blanche
The Blessed (Les Bienheureux السعداء)
The Florida Project
The Nile Hilton Incident (حادث النيل هيلتون‎)
Wùlu

HONORABLE MENTION:
In Syria (Insyriated في سورية)
May God Save Us (Que dios nos perdone)
See You Up There (Au revoir là-haut)
The Workshop (L’Atelier)
Wind River

BEST MOVIE FROM IRAN:
A Man of Integrity (لرد)

BEST MOVIE FROM GEORGIA:
My Happy Family (ჩემი ბედნიერი ოჯახი)

BEST MOVIE FROM DENMARK:
Land of Mine (Under sandet)

BEST MOVIE FROM SWEDEN:
The Square

BEST ROAD MOVIE FROM ALGERIA:
Until the Birds Return (En attendant les hirondelles)

BEST SURVIVAL MOVIE FROM SOUTH KOREA:
The Tunnel (터널)

BEST CROWD-PLEASING MOVIE FROM PALESTINE:
The Idol (يا طير الطاير)

BEST MOVIE FROM ISRAEL ABOUT URBAN PALESTINIANS CASTING OFF PATRIARCHY:
In Between (بر بحر)

BEST MOVIE FROM ISRAEL ABOUT RURAL BEDOUINS WHO TRY BUT FAIL TO CAST OFF PATRIARCHY:
Sand Storm (عاصفة رملية)

BEST MOVIE FROM GREECE ABOUT A PUDGY MIDDLE-AGED MAN WHO TRIES BUT FAILS TO MAKE IT WITH WOMEN HALF HIS AGE:
Suntan

BEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE ABOUT THE ANGUISH OF A FARMER WHO IS ABOUT TO LOSE HIS LIVELIHOOD:
Bloody Milk (Petit paysan)

BEST POLITICAL MOVIE FROM FRANCE:
This Is Our Land (Chez nous)

BEST POLITICAL MOVIE FROM FRANCE ABOUT A CIVIL SOCIETY MOVEMENT:
120 Beats per Minute (120 battements par minute)

MOST OVERLY COMPLEX POLITICAL MOVIE FROM FRANCE ABOUT CORSICAN SEPARATISTS:
A Violent Life (Une vie violente)

MOST OVERLY COMPLEX POLITICAL MOVIE FROM SPAIN ABOUT BASQUE SEPARATISTS:
Smoke & Mirrors (El Hombre de las mil caras)

MOST UNORIGINAL MOVIE FROM BELGIUM ABOUT A MUSLIM IMMIGRANT FAMILY CAUGHT BETWEEN TRADITION AND MODERNITY:
A Wedding (Noces)

MOST WELL-REGARDED MOVIE FROM CHILE THAT WAS JUST AN OKAY MOVIE:
Los Perros

MOST MERITORIOUS BUT IMPERFECT MOVIE FROM THE CONGO:
Félicité

MOST PROMISING FIRST MOVIE FROM ZAMBIA:
I Am Not a Witch

MOST SO-SO MOVIE FROM BURKINA FASO THAT COULD HAVE BEEN A BETTER MOVIE:
Wallay

BEST COMEDY FROM FRANCE:
C’est la vie! (Le Sens de la fête)

BEST ROMANTIC COMEDY FROM FRANCE:
Just to Be Sure (Ôtez-moi d’un doute)

BEST COMEDY FROM FRANCE MAKING FUN OF RADICAL SALAFISTS:
Some Like It Veiled (Cherchez la femme)

BEST COMEDY FROM FRANCE ABOUT A RACIST PROFESSOR AND A STUDENT OF COLOR WITH ATTITUDE:
Le Brio

BEST MOVIE FROM BULGARIA BY A GERMAN DIRECTOR:
Western

BEST MOVIE FROM THAILAND BY A BURMESE-TAIWANESE DIRECTOR:
The Road to Mandalay

MOST TEDIOUS MOVIE FROM THAILAND BY A JAPANESE DIRECTOR:
Bangkok Nites

MOST UNBEARABLY TENSE MOVIE FROM TEXAS BY AN AMERICAN DIRECTOR:
Nocturnal Animals

BEST MOVIE WITH AMY ADAMS IN THE LEAD ROLE:
Arrival

BEST MOVIE WITH JESSICA CHASTAIN IN THE LEAD ROLE:
Miss Sloane

BEST MOVIE WITH FRANCES MCDORMAND IN THE LEAD ROLE:
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

BEST NOT BAD MOVIE WITH ANNETTE BENING IN THE LEAD ROLE:
20th Century Women

BEST NOT BAD MOVIE WITH RACHEL WEISZ IN THE LEAD ROLE:
Denial

BEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE WITH KARIN VIARD IN THE LEAD ROLE:
Jalouse

BEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE WITH SANDRINE BONNAIRE IN THE LEAD ROLE:
Catch the Wind (Prendre le large)

BEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE WITH TAHAR RAHIM IN THE LEAD ROLE:
The Price of Success (Le Prix du succès)

MOST UNSATISFYING MOVIE FROM FRANCE WITH EMMANUELLE DEVOS IN THE LEAD ROLE:
Number One (Numéro Une)

MOST IRRITATING MOVIE FROM FRANCE WITH JULIETTE BINOCHE IN THE LEAD ROLE:
Let the Sunshine In (Un beau soleil intérieur)

MOST MIND-NUMBING MOVIE WITH RYAN GOSLING IN THE LEAD ROLE:
Blade Runner 2049

MOST EXECRABLE MOVIE WITH JOAQUIN PHOENIX IN THE LEAD ROLE:
You Were Never Really Here

BEST ANGLO-FRANCO-GERMAN BIOPIC ABOUT A GREAT 19TH CENTURY REVOLUTIONARY:
The Young Karl Marx

BEST ANGLO-FRENCH BIOPIC ABOUT AN INFAMOUS NAZI WAR CRIMINAL:
The Man with the Iron Heart (HHhH)

BEST BIOPIC FROM FRANCE ABOUT A FAMOUS SINGER:
Dalida

WORST BIOPIC FROM FRANCE ABOUT A FAMOUS SINGER:
Barbara

BEST INDIE MOVIE ABOUT TWO AMERICAN SOLDIERS IN THE IRAQ WAR:
The Wall

MOST GRATIFYING MOVIE ON THE BLACK EXPERIENCE IN AMERICA:
Hidden Figures

MOST POWERFUL DOCUMENTARY ON THE BLACK EXPERIENCE IN AMERICA:
I Am Not Your Negro

MOST OFFBEAT ORIGINAL DOCUMENTARY FROM FRANCE BY AN ELDERLY NEW WAVE FILMMAKER AND A YOUNG PHOTOGRAPHER-MURALIST:
Faces Places (Visages, villages)

MOST IMPRESSIVE DOCUMENTARY FROM THE CONGO BY A FRENCH FILMMAKER:
Makala

MOST BONE-CHILLING DOCUMENTARY FROM BURMA BY A SWISS FILMMAKER:
The Venerable W.

BEST MOVIE BY AKI KAURISMÄKI:
The Other Side of Hope (Toivon tuolla puolen)

BEST MOVIE BY MICHAEL HANEKE:
Happy End

BEST MOVIE BY JEFF NICHOLS:
Loving

BEST MOVIE BY KATHRYN BIGELOW:
Detroit

BEST MOVIE BY ANG LEE:
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk

MOST OVERRATED MOVIE BY CHRISTOPHER NOLAN:
Dunkirk

MOST EVANESCENT MOVIE BY HIROKAZU KORE-EDA:
After the Storm (海よりもまだ深)

MOST SLEEP-INDUCING MOVIE BY MARTIN SCORSESE:
Silence

MOST ANTHROPOLOGICALLY INACCURATE MOVIE BY JAMES GRAY:
The Lost City of Z

MOST MERELY WATCHABLE MOVIE BY VOLKER SCHLÖNDORFF:
Return to Montauk (Rückkehr nach Montauk)

MOST ANNOYING MOVIE BY THOMAS VINTERBERG:
The Commune (Kollektivet)

MOST PERVERSE MOVIE BY FRANÇOIS OZON:
The Double Lover (L’Amant double)

MOST INSUFFERABLE MOVIE BY ARNAUD DESPLECHIN:
Ismael’s Ghosts (Les Fantômes d’Ismaël)

MOST UTTERLY FORGETTABLE MOVIE BY TERENCE MALICK:
Song to Song

MOST WASTE-OF-MY-TIME POPCORN MOVIE FOR THE MASSES:
Baby Driver

WORST EVER DOCUMENTARY FROM ALGERIA:
Bienvenue à Madagascar

WORST MOVIE FROM ALGERIA PERIOD:
I Still Hide to Smoke (À mon âge je me cache encore pour fumer)

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Deplorables

[update below]

One of the features of the dystopian Trump regime is the rogues’ gallery of personalities in its inner circle, who have flocked to Trump like flies to fecal matter. They are not just deplorable in their political values but are truly loathsome on the human level. I have come across portraits of two just today. One is by NYT columnist Charles M. Blow, of Omarosa Manigault Newman, Trump’s White House “director of African-American outreach,” who has apparently been sacked. Blow’s revulsion toward this abject woman is manifest from his opening words. One shares the revulsion. Yech.

The other is a 4½-minute educational video, “Who is Stephen Miller?,” narrated by actress and HIV/AIDS activist Debra Messing. I’ve read enough about Miller to know that he is a despicable human being but this makes him look even worse. A question to women reading this: can you imagine going out with this guy? My good friend Frank Adler, who posted the video on Facebook, labeled Miller a “fascist pig.” Tout court. As Frank is a well-known academic authority on fascism, I know he chose his words carefully.

And then there’s this report I read today in Slate, about a 100% Trumpian family that is not in the White House but could have been a heartbeat away from it had the 2008 election gone badly wrong, or had Trump chosen the Wasilla whack job as his running mate, which he had contemplated doing: “Sarah Palin’s son, Track, punches through window, beats up armed dad in dispute over a truck.”

What a trashy family. What trashy people there are on the American right.

À propos, James Traub has a pertinent essay just up on the Foreign Policy website, “The United States of America is decadent and depraved: The problem isn’t Donald Trump – it’s the Donald Trump in all of us.” Well, the current problem is Donald Trump and the Republican Party but Traub’s point is well taken. There is indeed a larger problem with the United States of America. And decadence and depravity are the maîtres-mots.

C’est tout ce que j’ai à dire ce soir.

UPDATE: À propos of deplorables and the Trump regime, Norman Ornstein had a pertinent piece in The Atlantic, dated October 9th, that I missed at the time, entitled “American Kakistocracy.” The lede: “There’s a case to be made that the United States is governed by the least scrupulous of its citizens.” The case, in fact, hardly needs to be made at this point, as it so utterly goes without saying.

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[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below] [4th update below]

If one didn’t see it, uber-pundit Fareed Zakaria, who epitomizes a centrist inside-the-Beltway sensibility, had a column last week in The Washington Post in which he argued that “The GOP tax bill may be the worst piece of legislation in modern history.” No less. Now headlines often exaggerate or misstate the content of the article or column—such as the click bait one on this post—but not here. Zakaria is serious. And he’s right, of course, as, entre autres, the Republican Party no longer even pretends to be acting in the interests of even its own electorate—don’t even think about that of the opposition party, let alone the broader interest of America—but is simply doing the bidding of its plutocratic billionaire donor class. There can be no dispute over this at this point. Democracy in America is off the rails.

À propos of this general topic, Robert Kuttner has a must-read review essay, “The Man from Red Vienna,” in the Dec. 21st issue of the NYRB, on a newly published biography of Karl Polanyi. Money quote

The great prophet of how market forces taken to an extreme destroy both democracy and a functioning economy was not Karl Marx but Karl Polanyi. Marx expected the crisis of capitalism to end in universal worker revolt and communism. Polanyi, with nearly a century more history to draw on, appreciated that the greater likelihood was fascism.

As Polanyi demonstrated in his masterwork The Great Transformation (1944), when markets become “dis-embedded” from their societies and create severe social dislocations, people eventually revolt. Polanyi saw the catastrophe of World War I, the interwar period, the Great Depression, fascism, and World War II as the logical culmination of market forces overwhelming society—“the utopian endeavor of economic liberalism to set up a self-regulating market system” that began in nineteenth-century England. This was a deliberate choice, he insisted, not a reversion to a natural economic state. Market society, Polanyi persuasively demonstrated, could only exist because of deliberate government action defining property rights, terms of labor, trade, and finance. “Laissez faire,” he impishly wrote, “was planned.”

Polanyi believed that the only way politically to temper the destructive influence of organized capital and its ultra-market ideology was with highly mobilized, shrewd, and sophisticated worker movements. He concluded this not from Marxist economic theory but from close observation of interwar Europe’s most successful experiment in municipal socialism: Red Vienna, where he worked as an economic journalist in the 1920s. And for a time in the post–World War II era, the entire West had an egalitarian form of capitalism built on the strength of the democratic state and underpinned by strong labor movements. But since the era of Thatcher and Reagan that countervailing power has been crushed, with predictable results.

I read The Great Transformation in graduate school, in the early ’80s. It’s one of the most important books I’ve read—an important book being one that changes the way I think about something. In view of what’s happening these days, I think I should read it again.

Back to Orwell-land, one has no doubt read about the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the list of forbidden words: “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based.”

I try to remain optimistic and tell myself that the nightmare will end, that the Democrats will retake Congress next year and then the White House in 2020, and will painstakingly reverse or repair the damage that has been done. Inshallah. But even if this perhaps Pollyannaish scenario comes to pass, America’s shattered reputation in the world will not be restored. Maybe somewhat but not entirely. America will never live down Donald Trump and the Trumpized Republican Party.

UPDATE: Politico’s Susan B. Glasser has a podcast interview (Dec. 18th) with two charter leaders of the #NeverTrump movement, Max Boot and Eliot Cohen, who assess Year One of the Trump regime. They say that if Trump were operating in a country without America’s constitutional checks and balances, “He would probably be a dictator by now.”

2nd UPDATE: Last week, after the exhilarating victory in Alabama—which had liberals, progressives, and Never Trumpers rapturous, thinking that, yes, maybe the Trump regime’s days are indeed numbered after all—Vox’s Ezra Klein had a sobering commentary on “Why Doug Jones’s narrow win is not enough to make me confident about American democracy.” In it, he writes

The most important concept for understanding what has gone wrong in American politics is political scientist Julia Azari’s observation that this is an age of weak parties and strong partisanship. I have come to think of this as a flaw in the software of American democracy, a vulnerability that can be exploited to send malware ricocheting through the system.

Unfortunately no institutional anti-virus program exists that could remove that political malware from the system.

3rd UPDATE: Will Wilkinson of the smart libertarian Niskanen Center gets it exactly right in a NYT op-ed (Dec. 20th), “The tax bill shows the G.O.P.’s contempt for democracy.”

In the op-ed, Wilkinson links to a lengthy piece by writer John Ganz on the website of the interesting lefty publication The Baffler (Dec. 15th), “The forgotten man: On Murray Rothbard, philosophical harbinger of Trump and the alt-right.”

4th UPDATE: Dissent magazine published an online article (May 23rd 2016) entitled “Karl Polanyi for President,” by Patrick Iber (historian) and Mike Konczal (specialist in finance). It begins

Should health care and education be rights, or products that those with enough money can purchase in markets? About seventy-five years ago, in response to the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt offered, through the programs of the New Deal, an expanded definition of freedom founded on economic security—immortalized as “freedom from want” in his famous speech of 1941. In our own time, severe inequality and the most serious economic crisis since the Great Depression have once again brought the issue of what should count as a right to the surface of political debate.

One candidate, Bernie Sanders, has argued explicitly that health care and education—two things that the New Deal mostly left alone—should be rights and therefore accessible to all. While public policy pundits fight over the specifics, they miss that Sanders, by discussing these things as rights instead of just policies, has changed the nature of the debate. This key distinction helps explain why tens of thousands have turned out to Sanders rallies across the country—not to mention the millions who have supported him online and at the polls—demonstrating enthusiasm for a politics that he explicitly identifies as “democratic socialism.” But what kind of socialism?

The vast majority of Sanders’s supporters are not Marxists clamoring for a dictatorship of the proletariat or the nationalization of industry. Most are, probably without knowing it, secret followers of Karl Polanyi. Polanyi’s classic, The Great Transformation, was published in 1944—the same year that FDR promised a “Second Bill of Rights” guaranteeing employment, housing, social security, medical care, and education to all Americans. Today, Polanyian arguments are once again in the air. Since his ideas seem to be everywhere but he is rarely mentioned, a (re-)introduction to his thinking, and its relevance to politics in 2016, is in order.

Continue reading here.

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Is #MeToo going too far?

[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below] [4th update below] [5th update below] [6th update below] [7th update below] [8th update below] [9th update below] [10th update below] [11th update below] [12th update below] [13th update below] [14th update below] [15th update below]

In my post three weeks ago on ‘The Weinstein fallout,’ I mentioned “an extensive, ongoing email exchange with several friends, over a lengthy, quite excellent essay that one of them has written on the matter, developing her viewpoint expressed on my FB thread (and which I will post as an update below as soon as it finds a publisher, hopefully in the coming days).” Well, the essay is finally up, as of yesterday (December 6th), in The American Interest, and that I am posting here (and not as an update on the old post). The author is my friend Claire Berlinski and her piece is entitled “The Warlock Hunt: The #MeToo moment has now morphed into a moral panic that poses as much danger to women as it does to men.” At some 5,700 words, it’s lengthy but well worth the read.

My friend Abbie Fields—who works and writes professionally on trauma and sexual violence—has read Claire’s essay and posted this comment on my Facebook page

I do think that when a man like Al Franken–one of the only sane, decent and enlightened voices in the US Senate–is forced by his Democratic party to resign for mostly unpublicized offenses, no doubt similar to making lewd jokes (at the expense of a female colleague) as a comedian and planting an overzealous (and unwanted) kiss on her lips during a performance, we have crossed (or perhaps blurred) a line. I am a feminist, I have dedicated my life to working against sexual violence and alleviating the trauma caused by it, and I am dumbfounded by what is happening. Natalie Portman’s quote is haunting (“I was like, wow, I’m so lucky I haven’t had this… but then I went from thinking I don’t have a story to thinking I have 100 stories…”). We are conflating sexual violence (an expression of male dominance and power, supposedly taboo in our society, which can have devastating and long-lasting impacts on its victims) with all of the other micro- (or macro) cultural expressions of male dominance and power that have been normalized in almost every sphere of our daily lives and realities (including but not limited to sexual harassment). This is in no way a justification of sexual harassment, and I join women in fighting it. But I fear that this conflation will ultimately serve to minimize the very profound and life-altering trauma caused to the victims/ survivors of rape and sexual abuse. At a minimum, some nuancing is warranted in the way we define and analyze sexual harassment and its impacts, and perhaps its perpetrators deserve just a bit of due process…

If one missed it, see the review in the December 7th NYRB of Gretchen Carlson’s Be Fierce: Stop Harassment and Take Your Power Back, “Kick against the pricks,” by Northwestern University professor Laura Kipnis.

UPDATE: Masha Gessen has a pertinent comment in The New Yorker (Dec. 7th), “Al Franken’s resignation and the selective force of #MeToo.”

2nd UPDATE: Denise C. McAllister, a Charlotte NC-based journalist heretofore unknown to me, has a post (Dec. 12th) in The Federalist—a conservative webzine that is, intellectually speaking, a notch above others on that end of the political spectrum—that is guaranteed to raise hackles, “Can we be honest about women?” The lede: “Here’s a little secret we have to say out loud: Women love the sexual interplay they experience with men, and they relish men desiring their beauty.” Personally speaking, I think the “Hot-Crazy Matrix” video McAllister links to is hilarious—impeccable second degree humor—but that’s probably because I’m a dude…

3rd UPDATE: Check out Elizabeth Drew’s piece in the New Republic (Dec. 13th), “Backlash.” The lede: “The implications of sending Al Franken packing are starting to become clear on Capitol Hill. And they are troubling.”

4th UPDATE: The New York Times has published a letter to the editor (Dec. 15th), “How #MeToo threatens equality,” by Wendy Kaminer—presumably the well-known feminist lawyer and author—that is, in effect, a two paragraph summary of Claire Berlinki’s essay.

5th UPDATE: Also in The New York Times is an op-ed (Dec. 15th) by Shanita Hubbard, who teaches criminal justice, “Russell Simmons, R. Kelly, and why black women can’t say #MeToo.”

6th UPDATE: Don’t miss ‘The Big Idea’ piece in Politico Magazine (Dec. 10th) by Emily Yoffe, “Why the #MeToo movement should be ready for a backlash.” The lede: “As a much-needed reckoning happens in the workplace, look to college campuses for a note of caution.”

7th UPDATE: Bloomberg View columnist Megan McArdle says (Dec. 18th) that “The current sex panic harks back to the era of coddling women.” The lede: “The outcome of #BelieveAllWomen is no utopia. We’ve seen such a repressive regime before.”

8th UPDATE: My old stateside friend, Don—whose political analyses I hold in the highest regard—has emailed me (Dec. 19th) this reaction to Claire Berlinski’s article

As the saying goes, I’ll defend her right to publish it but, geez, maybe in a year or two. A few men may be treated unfairly but rarely do we get such a learning lesson. Yeah, a few will be thrown under the bus, but revolutions are messy, and that is how women I know I regard this – a revolt. Plus Berlinksi seems to like some attention, while I could think of many women who would not want their “bum” grabbed. She is too clever by half.

On the bum grabbing anecdote, I responded to him

sure, except that it involved someone she knew well and with whom she had a good relationship. And it was at Oxford, after all. Context does matter.

À propos, Rebecca Traister has an important article in the Dec. 11th issue of New York magazine, “This moment isn’t (just) about sex. It’s really about work.”

9th UPDATE: Here’s an interview in Slate (Nov. 13th) with Barbara Ehrenreich, who explains that “Worker abuse is rampant, and sexual harassment is just the start.”

10th UPDATE: Journalist Kathy Lally has a piece in The Washington Post (Dec. 15th), in which she recounts personal experience, on “The two expat bros who terrorized women correspondents in Moscow.” The lede: “Matt Taibbi and Mark Ames trafficked in hideous stereotypes and body-shaming.” I’ve been a big fan of Matt Taibbi’s writing, particularly in this age of Trump. How hugely disappointing to learn what a disgusting sexist shithead he is.

11th UPDATE: Bret Stephens, the well-known Never Trumper—formerly with the WSJ, now with the NYT, whom I disliked until he started dumping on Trump—has a spot-on column (Dec. 20th), “When #MeToo goes too far.”

12th UPDATE: Here’s a good commentary (Dec. 20th), by Shikha Dalmia—who calls herself a “progressive libertarian”—in The Week, “#MeToo run amok.”

13th UPDATE: Marilyn Katz, a political activist and founder of Chicago Women Take Action, has a good opinion piece (Dec. 29th) in the Uber-progressive In These Times, “The ‘Me Too’ movement and the rights of the accused: Have the men and women accused of sexual harassment lost their right to a fair hearing?”

14th UPDATE: Novelist and critic Daphne Merkin has a fine op-ed (Jan. 5th 2018) in The New York Times, “Publicly, we say #MeToo. Privately, we have misgivings.”

15th UPDATE: Historian and psychoanalyst Elisabeth Roudinesco has a worthwhile tribune (Oct. 31st 2018) in Le Monde, “#metoo: ‘Jamais une explosion de rage, fût-elle nécessaire, ne doit devenir un modèle de lutte’.” The lede: “Si le mouvement a permis à des femmes de sortir de la honte et du silence, les réseaux sociaux ne peuvent pour autant se substituer aux magistrats.”

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Johnny Hallyday, R.I.P.

When I learned early this morning that he had died—which I wasn’t expecting, as I had forgotten that he had terminal cancer—I knew that there would be practically no other story on the news here today. This is one of those deaths that millions of people—99.9% of them French—genuinely feel saddened by—including my wife, who said this morning that “Johnny” was almost like “un membre de la famille.” C’est-à-dire, la famille des Français. A friend of mine I saw today—a lawyer in his 60s with highbrow cultural tastes—concurred with my wife’s sentiments, saying that he had seen “Johnny” at least six times in concert over the decades. Almost everyone publicly commenting today is calling him a French “icon,” which is true. (If one is not French and thus doesn’t know much about this icon, see the obits in The New York Times and The Guardian).

Quant à moi, I have mentioned “Johnny” exactly once in the history of AWAV, in a post in May 2011 that was mainly on Bernard-Henri Lévy, in which, entre autres, I linked to a piece by the US libertarian journalist Matt Welch that skewered the French pseudo-philosopher. I thought Welch was witty and on-the-mark in his takedown of BHL, except for his very last sentence: “And another reminder that BHL is 10 times the national embarrassment to France than Jerry Lewis or even Johnny Hallyday ever was.” On the French-and-Jerry Lewis cliché, I have definitively settled that one here. As for Johnny Hallyday, this was my response to Welch

[The Johnny Hallyday] cliché—that he’s a cheap French imitation of Elvis Presley, not very good, and generally a joke—seems to be more English than American (as Americans mostly have no idea who he is). I actually used to think the same thing, and would roll my eyes and snicker every time my wife and French friends—almost all of them—would tell me how great a singer “Johnny” is. But then I realized that I didn’t really know his music. I’d never bothered to listen to it. He just seemed too weird of a personality. And too bizarre looking. But eight years ago, when Johnny turned 60 and had a concert at the Parc des Princes to mark the event—before 60,000 fans and a live TV audience of millions—I decided to open my mind and give him a look. It went for three hours and I watched it to the end. It was great! Johnny is a great rock ‘n’ roller! And a great stage performer too. Voilà. Now I understand why he is so beloved in this country (even if he is still a weird guy). Matt Welch and other Anglo-Saxon Johnny snickerers have no doubt never listened to his music. If they like rock and roll, they should.

The more I’ve listened to Hallyday’s music over the years—on my favorite music radio station and CDs we own—the more I will assert that he was indeed very good, and that it’s too bad the musically protectionist Anglo-Americans were not exposed to him. Check out this YouTube playlist. And for the social scientifically minded, see the analysis in Le Monde by sociologist Jean-Louis Fabiani, “‘Pourquoi Johnny Hallyday, c’était la France’.” Also this homage by my favorite conservative politician, Jean-Pierre Raffarin. If there’s anyone who could unite Frenchmen and women across the political spectrum, it was “Johnny.”

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