View Full Version : The True Story of Artaud the Momo

04-24-2007, 04:56 PM
"I'm an erupting volcano. I cannot rest until all those who rejected me are eliminated" -Antonin Artaud

This great 2-part documentary on Antonin Artaud sheds great light onto this powerful and tempestuous theatrical figure.

An almost 3-hour film by Gerard Mordillat & Jerome Prieur, this is probably the best insight you can get on Artaud anywhere. It has extensive dialogues with people who knew him, with very interesting stories, drawings, photographs, recorded speeches/performances and dramatic readings of powerful passages from his written works.

To say he had a difficult life is putting it mildly.
He was in pain throughout his entire life, spiritual, artistic, and physical.

He's written off by some who say he was categorically insane, and they prove it by pointing to his ten plus years in asylums.
But those who really admire his work know better. He read Rimbaud and Baudelaire, whose quote O Death, old Captain, it is time, let's raise the anchor, this country bores us, O death let us cast off... is something he liked to say often.

He was in deep, profound love with the theatre of the Ancient Greeks, theatre he felt was the only true theatre, the theatre of Aeschylus and Sophocles- the type that they used to put on at the original Olympic Games.
But that type of theatre was extinct to a large extent in his time. He tried to change that, and by most accounts, he failed. He was "symbolically bewitched" as it were.

I drew the conclusion that he was a fascinating man to be around, a man who did not want praise or criticism- both were slurs to him. I'll just give you some things gleaned from the film to ponder:

-A poet fatally sick with verse
-His illness was "APOCALYPSIA"
-Blasphemy as his form of love?
-Energy means LANGUAGE
-Persecution mania
-He wanted to die in front of an audience, a theatre audience
-The theatres' double was LIFE
-His importance is NOT text- it's elsewhere
-He wanted the theatre to be LIFE, like it was in Ancient Greece
-He was a true seer who formulated the essence of what we are all seeking in our own ways

Difficult. Unpredictable. Overwrought. Sullen.
Excited. Always polite and well mannered despite his wild theatrical flair. A "walker" with tremendous vitality.

Here's a passage that was read in the film from him that I love:

Do you know what cruelty is? Cruelty is extirpating, through the blood and until you bleed, GOD, the bestial hazard, of unconscious animalism of man everywhere you encounter him. Man when he is not controlled is an erotic animal. He has an inner quaver, an inspired quaver, and a kind of pulsation that produces beasts without number. Beasts which are the form that the ancient peoples of the earth universally attributed to god what is called A SPIRIT.

This is also great stuff:

Why the mind?
Why a body?
The starvation. The gasping. The degradation. The defecation. The Will. The Nil. A conscience. An ego. A soul. A duration. Why this mental life?
Untotal, humiliating, MEAN, and yet so vast that reason goes astray, that health is lost and feeling and faith.

To the gentleman who thinks he's sane:

Whose shrieking words no dictionary knows?
Perfect delirium?
I'm in the world to protest existence.

04-24-2007, 05:30 PM
Artaud also acted in films, like Abel Gance's Napoleon, in which he played Marat.

At his "rest home" called Ivry after he was released from the asylum in Rodez, he said the French Revolution started in his room, that Robespierre & Marat met there. He had a great sense of humour, his friends say in the film.
Someone in the doc says collectively all of his writings were like one big marvelous song.

It was "Artaud and His Language", which obviously left huge impressions on the people who knew him. They speak in very reverential tones, smiling when telling stories, crying when re-living memories, laughing when talking of "madness cementing the reason to write" .

I first heard about Artaud through Jim Morrison, who read "The Theatre and it's Double" and studied it. Jim also read "The Psychology of the Crowd", so you can see where he got his ability to suck the energy of an audience into himself like a black hole and transfix the masses...

Here's some more "mad poetry" from Antonin:


Since it's not the pussy meat one copulates in boss cock,they had belly to belly to bang each mother who wanted to penetrate pussy-cunt and boss cock in the rebellious bloodless tube as in the centre of the panacea. Pussy-cunt and boss cock are the two filthy words that father and mother invented to get the biggest kick from him. Him? Who? Strangled totem, like a member in a pocket that life frockets so close up that the walled-in totem will burst the belly to be born via the blown-up swimming pool of the cunt of the mother opened by the key of boss cock.

oscar jubis
04-25-2007, 01:18 AM
Excellent posts. Thanks Johann. I will eventually follow your lead and check out the documentary. It comes in a dvd set that includes:
My Life and Times with Antonin Artaud (1993), a black & white, 90 minutes long, fictionalized version of the last two years in his life. It's been over a decade since I watched it but I remember enjoying it.

04-25-2007, 07:40 AM
Yes- that is the set I watched.
I'll post on "My Life and Times" later today..

04-25-2007, 09:42 AM
Artaud was also in Dreyer's classic masterpiece
The Passion of Joan of Arc, an appropriate film for him to be in.

He loved Nerval's "Girls of Fire".
He was a bit of a drug addict too- opium, laudanum. He was prone to nervous fits, and in public he often frightened people with his bizarre tics and flailing arms. They say he seemed to be trying to rid himself of a hex, terrifying people.

In Marseille where he was born a "momo" is a holy idiot, a child.

Language mattered a lot to him. People in the doc say he almost expected it to replace him as a person. He said that he wrote XYLOGRAMS (what a great word), words not meant to be read but to be articulated, spoken aloud. Spoken with rapid rhythms, lively gestures. He'd sort of chant when composing them. In the doc they say he'd could go from an unbearable screech to an amazing bass. He worked on breathing too.

At his rest home he had a couple stumps of wood that he would bang on with a hammer while singing his "glossalalies" until the wood splintered. Again in the doc they point out that his theatrical sense was profound, insightful, that he "went beyond the theatre to language".

04-25-2007, 11:53 AM
My Life and Times with Antonin Artaud

Gerard Mordillat's great fiction film from 1993 is an interesting rendering of A.A.'s relationship with Jacques Prevel, the worshipping unknown poet who meets his idol after he's released from the asylum.
Prevel wrote a diary on his life with Artaud, and this film uses it as a base.

He was a sychophant of sorts, who was seen as useful by Artaud for securing him drugs. History has seen him as useful for being a chronicler. He wanted Artaud all to himself, but that isn't parlayed really well in the movie. Which is why I strongly suggest seeing the documentary in the first post before sitting down for this one. The context you gain will be a huge bonus. The impressions I got of Artaud in person do not line up exactly with his portrayal here, by Sami Frey, who has roles in Varda's Cleo From 5 to 7 & Godard's Band of Outsiders to his credit.
Mordillat basically got it right. The actors who play all of the respective parts look very much like the real thing- especially Collette. They got her "wild hair with gorgeous face" bang-on. They also nailed her sycophant behavior: "yes, Antonin Artaud. yes, Antonin Artaud."
The craziest scene in the movie is when Artaud is "instructing" her on how to deliver lines. She is wracked, crying, an emotional wreck, shouting his words over and over as per his incessant request:
Make it vibrate till the fibre of life squeals!
Make the words ring like steel, like the bang of a bomb, the crack of a gun!
A raging heart can get it across...

The film opens with a gorgeous cabaret scene, in deep focus, with a Billie Holiday-type singer singing like an angel:
If a man should rise above me...
Crazy enough to understand all...
I will recognize him...
Before toppling into the night

The scene where he's at the Sarah-Bernhardt Theatre watching Collete, hallucinating on Opium was incredible. I was thinking "so that's what it must be like on opium..."

Artaud is presented just about at all times in his beret, walking briskly around Paris with Prevel, each man doing what they have to in order to make their lives bearable.

I loved the ending too- but it wasn't Prevel who experienced "Artaud the Coachman" turning around. The documentary has the actual man it happened to explain it.

It is a gorgeous fairly short film (90mins.), but I think scholars of Artaud might bristle at some things. He wasn't "exactly" like that. But it's a herculean task to present a concise portrait of Artaud. The doc was 3 hours and it could have been 10. This was a very complex man, with a lot going on within him.

these little posts of mine can barely scratch the surface of the "Vorteil" that was Antonin Artaud.