TamTam Books News

Saturday, August 23, 2003:

Sometime ago, and through the mysterious world of the Internet, I purchased a used copy of Jacques Gerber’s "Anatole Dauman: Pictures of a Producer" (BFI Publishing, 1992). This particular book is interesting because it focuses on the magnificent career of M. Dauman as a producer of remarkable film works by Godard, Bresson, Oshima, Chris Marker, Wim Wenders and others.

Among the interesting documents in this volume is a short commentary by Boris Vian for a film Dauman produced in 1957 called "The Mona Lisa," directed by Henri Gruel. As of this date I couldn’t find any information about this film. The book mentions that the text was written within twenty-four hours and that Anatole Dauman and Vian corrected it in two hours. I am presuming that Paul Willemen translated this text. Here is the text by Vian.


And ever since she was born, that 450-year-old lady has been provoking passions and crimes. . . to the point that her exploiters have now discreetly put her under surveillance . . . .

In the crime world’s jargon, that kind of an informer is called ‘a grass’ or ‘a stool-pigeon’.

The museum that lives off Mona Lisa’s charms also shows a great deal of striptease. For instance: the Venus de Milo. Nevertheless, the bulk of the clients come because of the place’s most banal resident, attracted by nothing more than her face.

This Turkish painter has been coming every morning for twenty-seven years: he has copied that oblique smile and the folded hands more than 200 times. More than 150,000 copies spread throughout the world offer themselves up to the admiration of all peoples. The most advanced nations assess the power of their artistic heritage in terms of Mona-horsepower.

Every day, on the commodity brokers’ page, journalists report on important movements in Mona Lisa stocks. On foot, on horseback, in cars, the Mona Lisa moves around the universe.

In Paris, every year 100,000 tourists pay their money for a standard artistic turn-on. And many go to look, ignoring what they have come to see: the Mona Lisa; an abstract concept. How to escape from the obsession?

The Mona Lisa is everywhere. She is branded into innocent orange-skins. She gives the come-on for Italian tourism. She slips into the corsets of decent women.

Because she sells: cigars, aperitifs, projectors, suspender belts, books . . .

A milk cow, fifteen race horses, one element of the Saclay atomic reactor, all bear her name . . .

Buy why her? How did this moon-faced character, smiling like a procuress, achieve such a reputation?

Who are you, Mona Lisa?

Leonardo da Vinci sees her coming in. Are you coming for the cleaning lady’s job? She doesn’t answer. She smiles.

Hmm, Leonardo thinks, at last one who keeps her mouth shut. And he takes her as a model.

Four years later, the painting is finished . . . and the mystery begins.

Mona, are you Isabelle d’Este?

It is a man, one critic assures us. Let us verify this hypothesis with an open mind and try out some becoming and typically male hair-dos. Well . . . There is no doubt . . . she is ugly, all right, but not ugly enough to be a man.

Let’s go back to basics. What is the Mona Lisa?

An uncertain smile. Where does it come from?

Is it the raptured smile of a music nut enchanted by Leonardo’s caressing tenor?

Is it the resigned smile of an inconsolable mother?

Is it the buddha-like smile of some Asian divinity?

Is it the charming smile of a barbarous Etruscan?

Answer: it is a satiated smile. Leonardo da Vinci, the famous inventor of cocktails, tried them out on his models. Of course we rejected the hypothesis that it is a professional smile. Besides, all sixteenth-century Italian women smiled obliquely. They even took lessons from the good master Angelo Firenzuola. Smile obliquely! . . . and fold your hands. The smile, the folded hands, that’s the Mona Lisa in a nutshell.

That was the opinion of: Raphael, Corot, Matisse, Soutine, Picasso and Léger.

The Mona Lisa obsesses the great and the good of this world.

And they all contribute their own commentary.

Elizabeth: enigmatic.

Bonaparte: The Sphinx of the West.

Cambronne: [1]

Dali: I am her. She is me.

George Sand: It isn’t a person. It’s an idée fixe.

Morse: Beep, beep, beep

Michelet: [2] This canvas attracts, calls out, overwhelms, absorbs. Watch out.

Michelet’s warning wasn’t heeded. Luc Maspero, a young painter who lives in the attic of a moth-eaten hotel in old Saint-Denis, tries in vain to fix onto his canvas the smile that fascinated him. Lethal mistake. At the end of his tether, with a broken heart, Maspero jumps from the fourth floor.

Others are determined not to die without a fight.

On 22 August 1911, at seven in the morning, the house painter Vicenzo Perrugia slips into a deserted Louvre.

The voice of the court usher:

Twelve months in gaol
Cousins accused as accomplices
To the station the lot of you.

The poet Guillaume Apollinaire is suspected of receiving stolen goods.

The voice of the court usher: Fatal mistake.

After the passively defensive stance of Perrugia, a direct attack.

On 30 December 1956, at 16.15, the waiter Hugo Unzaga Villegas suddenly throws a rock at Mona Lisa.

Unfortunately, he misses and only inflicts a wound of one square centimetre on her arm. He is charged with damaging an object of public utility.

The voice of the court usher: psychiatric hospital.

Like Jupiter, Mona Lisa first renders mad those she wants to destroy and at that game, she wins every time.


1. [Pierre Cambronne (1770-1842) was a French general who, when summoned to surrender at Waterloo, allegedly replied ‘Merde’, i.e. ‘shit’. That word has remained associated with his name ever since]

2. [Jules Michelet (1798-1874) was France’s most illustrious historian, also known for his stylistic sophistication.]

Tosh // 5:38 PM

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