A funny and peculiar war it was. Especially in wartime Vichy Paris which stretched the lexicon of all the imaginative permutations that plumbed the bottom of French culture. The complexities of that particular context were splendidly shrewd and also quite disconcerting. The ambiguity, the blurring of boundaries and testing the limits of personal consciousness in the face of ethical dilemma.
In the case of Sacha Guitry, even weirder since the Russian born actor/director was alleged to have jewish ancestry. Yet were types like Guitry ideological proponents, grovelers and boot lickers of higher authority, or just a need for the bright lights, the attention, filling a psychological cavity as much as for pecuniary motivations. After liberation, his star sunk, but was he really that different than even Sartre who had that gift of intellectual B.S. to refashion himself as zionist friendly resistor?
It is probably a question of degree. Perhaps like Guitry’s famous expression, “when a man marries his mistress, he creates a vacancy,” he married the gestapo and when they left him, he had nowhere to turn. Guitry’s completelynon-plausible and self-serving memoirs did not help; the obsequious doling out of alleged “bonne actes” such as restoring the dignity and honor of octogenarian jew Henri Bergson may have been partly true; but he became a convenient scapegoat and paid for the crimes of others. His dandyist, esthete talent and social witticisms were found much more refined, modern and enduring in the work of an Ernst Lubitsch. Guitry was not really cultural export material.
Instead Vichy Paris was a re-enactment of the Dreyfus trial. Part II. And this divison, pro or con was not always clear-cut. Although some writers and artists are revealed as lackey collaborators and others as bona-fide resistors, things were not always as clear-cut as they appeared, and the post war revisionism of a few bad eggs belies the overall complicity that was endemic, but another classic case of disavowal at work that blocks a confrontation with madness and insanity that defies rational explanation:
For example, Camus’s reputation as a résistant is well deserved, but this did not stop him agreeing to drop all references to Kafka, because he was Jewish, from his text of The Myth of Sisyphus before publishing it under German censorship. The actor/playwright Sacha Guitry regularly socialized with members of the German elite and was head of the theatre section of Vichy’s entertainment organizing committee. Nonetheless, he cancelled his staged tribute to French culture rather than bow to German demands to remove from his show his homage to Sarah Bernhardt, the legendary French Jewish actress. Nor is the issue of patriotism as simple as is sometimes assumed. In March 1941, an established author, critic and playwright of the interwar years sent an article to Paris from his POW camp entitled “VIVE LA FRANCE! The passionate cry of the prisoner”. The author was Robert Brasillach, one of the most notorious anti-Semitic collaborators of the war who was executed in February 1945. Read More:http://www.arlindo-correia.com/100311.html
Riding’s reach is broad as he finds the roots for French fascism in long-standing anti-Semitism and in a violent nationalist fringe in the 1930s that went right to work for the Germans after France’s capitulation in 1940.
Collaborators like Pierre Drieu La Rochelle and Robert Brasillach wrote for official pro-Nazi newspapers. (So did Simone de Beauvoir and others who needed money.) Louis-Ferdinand Céline turned anti-Semitism into a sulfurous stream of consciousness. Vain social creatures like Sacha Guitry and Jean Cocteau had plays performed (as did Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus), and dined with Nazis, as did much of Paris’ glitterati. Singers sang for them. The actress Arletty (“Children of Paradise,” filmed in 1944) was one of thousands who slept with them. “In my bed there are no uniforms,” she said. There was a resistance, Riding notes, although it didn’t surge until later in the occupation, and writers and artists weren’t leading it. And there were prominent victims – historian Marc Bloch, poet Max Jacob, novelist Irène Némirovsky. Riding’s survey puts the French cultural world under a reality lens that has been focused since 1971, when Marcel Ophuls’ epic documentary “The Sorrow and the Pity” reminded the public that collaboration, not resistance, was the norm.Read More:http://www.arlindo-correia.com/100311.html
…Riding, with his journalist’s background, can sometimes cram in a fact too many, but his weighing of the complexities of the time is splendidly shrewd. And the sections dealing with writers are a triumph (granted, they provide better quotes). The post-liberation writers’ purge committee, sniffing out evidence of collaboration, rebuked some for publishing in the Vichy-controlled press. It was the only press around. André Gide and Paul Valéry, without a collaborationist bone in their bodies, briefly wrote for the Nouvelle Revue Française even after Gallimard turned it over to a pro-Vichy editor. Sartre and Camus both published. The brilliantly waspish columnist Jean Galtier-Boissière denounced the holier-than-thou attitude of the purgers (some of whom had also published): “One forgets that some of them had only their pen with which to feed their family and wrote only anodyne pieces.one reproach the workers at Renault for making tanks for the Wehrmacht?” ( ibid.)