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The Parade

O the most violent Paradise of the furious grimace! Not to be compared with your Fakirs and other theatrical buffooneries. In improvised costumes like something out of a bad dream, they enact heroic romances of brigands and of demigods, more inspiriting than history or religions have ever been. Chinese, Hottentots, gypsies, simpletons, hyenas, Molochs, old dementias, sinister demons, they combine popular maternal turns with bestial poses and caresses. They would interpret new plays, “romantic” songs. Master jugglers, they transform place and persons and have recourse to magnetic comedy. Eyes flame, blood sings, bones swell, tears and red trickles flow. Their clowning or their terror lasts a minute or entire months. I alone have the key to this savage sideshow.
Arthur Rimbaud, ‘Parade’, Illuminations (1886)

A svelte Swedish hippie couple, sporting beads, chiffon waistcoats, motorcycle shades and rainbow crash helmets, sweat excitedly into their silk bandanas. Clinging greedily to bouquets of coloured balloons, their two toddlers contemplate with raised brow. Not for them the naïve aesthetic panacea of the Movie Stars and Motorcars Parade. Without indiscretion, they had visited every fairground on earth. Only the diversity of the everyday and the pace of temporary autonomous zones would suffice for the restless hearted. The vanguard of some 25,000 fops, house-freaks and mime artists sojourning in Paris that May of 1917, they had travelled from 1973 through a looking-glass to protest against the war and Windows NT. The surrealist special effects looked unconvincing then, but were now way ahead of their time. This would be a Mayday megavent of final overwhelming certainty, with burlesque dance routines, whirligig driving, peepshows in fantastic hotels, and costumes covered with crests of tiny lights. Chills rushed through their naughty souls as the lights cut and the Gabber roared. Horrified screaming ensued as the hippies pushed hard against the nylon cut-off ropes, waving frantically as their youngest disappeared into the laser lit cabaret of broken types in garbage suits with gas mask.
Clutching cloves of garlic, the hippies shuffled through the mob of coxcombs. In desperate search of their offspring they past merry-go-rounds, dizziness, world upside-down velvet mirrors and enamel-painted Louis XIV horses rearing in a paradise of dentists. Presently, the hippies found themselves in a torn and tattered arcade of boutiques selling audio-visual equipment, shoes and soft porn. Delicious divas, lips and lashes drifted past as a sampled musical mantra of rhythmic, echoing footsteps and swansong wafted from a gigantic stack. From the bouffant silhouette formed on a Hermes screen, a voice preached to an eager crowd of blind dandies with enamel eyes. The effete timbre of his personal aesthetic permeated every corner of the cockatoo-shaped shopping precinct: “Let me say to those who seek to judge me that I can’t judge any of you. I have no malice against you and no ribbons for you. But I think that it is high time that you all start looking at yourselves, and judging the lie that you live in. I can’t dislike you, but I will say this to you: you haven’t got long before you are all going to kill yourselves, because you are all crazy. And you can project it back at me… but I am only what lives inside each and everyone of you… I am only what you made me. I am only a reflection of you.”
The hieratic grandeur of the Orphic shadow now projecting onto the ruins of the arcade told the hippies that this could only be the voice of the Night Prince Mark Leckey, the beau Apostle of Terror. Could this incorruptible clotheshorse be the guide the Scandinavians needed on their crusade against the Demon Dullness and his preposterous surroundings? Concerned about possible vendettas from the avant-garde, the Hippies cautiously sought confirmation. “To which service are your indefatigable sartorial quirks being pressed?” they queried. “Fashion is about ugliness – since, were we ever to encounter true beauty it would decisively defeat the desire to consume ever-new things.” Touché! Was this profound prattle a precious essay in Bolshevism or merely a flâneur’s flannel? Perhaps the truth was too naked. “Are you truly as incorruptible as your reputation suggests”, they replied. “I haven’t got any guilt about anything because I have never been able to see any wrong.  I have always said do what your love tells you, and I do what my love tells me. Is it my fault that your children do what they do? What about your children? You say there are just a few? There are many, many more, coming in the same direction. They are running in the streets – and they are coming right at you!” The hippies turned abruptly to witness their brood float past, still clutching at their balloons.
Desperately pushing through the crowd, the hippies reached an impassable gaggle of Moderns sporting top hats, canes and cubo-futurist skyscraper encrusted tailcoats. The Luddites were no fans of La Belle Époque, camp bricolage and eco-sustainability being the order of the day in the seventies. Their technophobic mentor Monsieur Hulôt had shown them the delights of the old town, scorning work, efficiency and organization. The moderns feared that exuberant café-style brawling might ensue over their tense ideological differences. Only a fervent bout of syncretism could prevent disaster. Holding off the impending collapsing ice floe, Guillaume Apollinaire took out a simmering ball of opium from his pocket and placed it on a long needle. In no time, a spidery foliage of waxy hair emerged like watered silk from the urbane plumes of smoke oozing from the Modern’s rectilinear flute. In the twilight, a spinning wiry head flickered like the shades of death. Standing in a picture frame holding his hands over his face, Jean Cocteau wallowed in an assortment of mirrors, fireplaces, guns and hand-held candelabras. As he revealed his face, it was clear from the impalpable look in his two-dimensional cut out eyes that he had not fully recovered from his bitter encounter with the Surrealists.
Weeping tears of milk, the sleepwalking poet began to take a line for a walk, his tapering nervous fingers drawing fluently in the air with a permanently lit cigarette. A slouch hat, shag pipe and creased beige trench coat – hung upon what appeared to be the physique of a giraffe – gradually revealed themselves amidst a vortex of fine lines. The hippies clicked their fingers approvingly at the dandy arriviste, for his elite cosmopolitan hands were truly blessed. Quickly pulling his trousers up half-mast to reveal his red and white stripy socks, Jacques Tati turned abruptly, extended his lanky arm and, with careful timidity, grasped the limp palm of Cocteau. To Tati’s surprise, Cocteau’s plaster hand pulled off, causing the comic to crash ungraciously to the ground. “Living is a horizontal fall”, quipped Cocteau, revealing his real hand from underneath a draped cloth. Tati silently raised his pipe thoughtfully for a moment, before stumbling backwards awkwardly as he attempted to sit on chair placed too far behind him. From the darkness emerged the lost children, mesmerised by this phantasmagorical son of the silent age.
Pied Pipers of the Commedia dell’Arte, Tati and Cocteau lead the way to the modern light entertainment Mecca, Le Theatre du Chatelet. The theatre throbbed with the buoyant mood of the arts populaires. The Fratellini Brothers – the famous Cirque Medrano clowns – worked eagerly to finish the tableaux of Harlequins while the hippie audience confronted their inner Sphinx. Erik Satie fine-tuned his multi-rig brass and string sections, discharging an abstract collage of noises, a naturalistic music designed to synch with the onstage action. As the orchestra practiced their form, a black poodle walked on two legs through the proscenium arch, inadvertently commencing the performance. Tati the ringmaster strolled onstage and effortlessly proceeded to mime the role of goalkeeper, fisherman, tennis-player and traffic-cop.
Three managers dressed in Apollinaire’s cubist garb attempted to enlist the audience in events, to join the parade of incest, monsters, angels and Greek myth. One member, frustrated by the lack of metaphysical subtext in the performance of the Chinese magician, conjured a cultivated recourse to myth liberally from his ringside seat. A yodelling ice hockey team, who fell over a vaulting horse with weightless lyricism, shortly usurped him. The main acrobatic theatre of mistakes over, the top-hated vaulting horse, a star of Cocteau’s Orphee and Oedipus Rex, tangoed with the clowns. The rigorous choreography of Léonide Massine ensured that Eric Sykes was able to fully exploit a series of mishaps caused by carrying a large plank around. The clowns and the Chinese conjuror accompanied, performing a jamboree of Oompah on balloons, car horns and paint tins.
The party over, the acrobats, the conjuror and the Master of Silence finally leave the ring. Their eyes turned to plaster, Cocteau’s little American girl and Tati’s two small children storm the stage to play with the ensemble of circus tricks. The mischievous naivety of the parade had inculcated innocence in this most perceptive of audiences. By joining the spectacle they surrendered to synergism, their incorruptibility guaranteed in the ‘mange-tout’ melange. Every thought they now had meant nothing.


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