Peggy Nelson, Arnaud d'Usseau, and Olivier Bernier
BROADCAST: 1962 | DURATION: 00:48:16
Studs speaks to actress Peggy Nelson, playwright Arnaud d'Usseau, and student Olivier Bernier while he is in France. [Part 2 includes Yves Montand.]
Tap within the transcript to jump to that part of the audio.
Studs Terkel Well, just as Mr. Fellini left, and incidentally, this was a catch-as-catch-can conversation, yet, I feel a great deal came out of it. Catch-as-catch-can because he is in the middle of a rather monumental job of editing this film, and I've just--he did it between dubbings and laborious work it is. And one of the actresses in the film is Peggy Nelson, who strangely enough is from Chicago and you went to Francis Parker. Now you're in Italy now, working with, what are your reactions in working with a director like Fellini, say?
Peggy Nelson Well, he's quite exciting, and this is the second picture I've dubbed for him. I dubbed a part in "La Dolce Vita". But I can only do a part that has an American accent.
Studs Terkel Let's talk about this for a minute. You say you dubbed a part. This is an interesting technique. By the way, we should point out the Italians, perhaps, are the greatest masters of dubbing in the world. You know, this is true, you know. Now, dubbing.
Peggy Nelson Well, they dub every picture they make, so they don't take direct sounds, they have to be experts.
Studs Terkel I notice you were, I think we should point out that you are not in the film visually.
Peggy Nelson No.
Peggy Nelson Yes. And since I've been in Italy I've been doing this work usually in English, though we dub films from Italian to English, which we send to the United States or to other English-speaking countries.
Studs Terkel Perhaps we can talk a little about the nature of dubbing itself. Of course, I know here this is a country where they are [unintelligible].
Peggy Nelson Well, the nature it's tedious work and very difficult, it can be fun, and our problem when we do an entire film is trying to make a better actor of the person on the screen. And we also have to do other translations and we call it a synchronizing translation. It's not just a translation, you have to make sure that the lengths are proper, that the labials fall into place, and still keep the same sense of the original script.
Studs Terkel This is really a new kind of, well, if you want to call it art form, okay, it's a new kind, isn't it? It's come into being, I think, originally in Italy, I believe. I think it did. The dubbing, dubbing for--you dub for, as I notice, this is several versions, doesn't it? There was a girl speaking with a Swedish accent, and then someone spoke Italian, is that it?
Peggy Nelson Yes. Well, when he likes--Fellini likes many different types and he likes a lot of different nationalities, too. But for the public, he has to make it all be in Italian, so he'll have a French woman who it's much easier for her to do her part in French, and then they just put the Italian words in her mouth.
Studs Terkel Well, the dubbing this afternoon that I was watching, how many languages were involved here?
Peggy Nelson Well, I was doing an American part. Another friend was doing a Swedish part. The girl Jacqueline I think is French, but she did Italian and then Mastroianni, who is Italian. I don't remember, gee.
Studs Terkel What I was thinking of the nature itself, he--it's now being done for the Italian audience and for the international audience both, isn't it? It's being done simultaneously, right?
Peggy Nelson Yes, that's why he likes an accent. The part that I did was an American, though she had to speak in Italian. He liked the flavor of having an accent.
Studs Terkel Ah, so it was the, now I follow. You were doing, you were speaking Italian with an American accent.
Peggy Nelson Yes.
Studs Terkel And that girl was speaking Italian with a Swedish accent.
Peggy Nelson Yes.
Studs Terkel So in other words, it's not a question of just a ridiculous--even though we Americans may not know it's an authentic Italian accent, he wants to make it as authentic as possible.
Peggy Nelson Yes. That's why he had me running across the room and jumping up in the air. I did the same thing in "La Dolce Vita"--we were lying on the floor.
Studs Terkel So it's, he wants also not only get the authenticity of accent itself, but of the, forgive the expression, position, too.
Peggy Nelson Well, yes. It's what we call the direct take. Instead of doing it then and there on the sound screen, they do it in the dubbing room.
Studs Terkel Have you worked with a number--now, this is dubbing you do primarily. Have you done on the screen acting, too, here in Italy?
Peggy Nelson No, I haven't much. I was on Broadway in New York for many years.
Studs Terkel I'm curious, this is from an actress' point of view. What led you to Italy as an actress?
Peggy Nelson Oh, well, not as an actress, as a tourist.
Studs Terkel Oh, you came as a tourist.
Peggy Nelson Yes. I came for two weeks and I've been here seven years. But it was a new way of life for me, seeing the sun. It was being treated very chivalry--I don't know how you say
Studs Terkel it. Chivalrously.
Peggy Nelson Chivalrously by the Italian men, getting a lot of attention. And then I felt that I would try to live here for a while and it grew and grew and grew on me and it was harder and harder to leave. And Rome, to me, is a fascinating city.
Studs Terkel Well, is this a--this is an economic question, the matter of dubbing itself, the work you're doing. Is this livelihood for you?
Peggy Nelson Yes.
Studs Terkel Sufficiently?
Peggy Nelson Yes.
Peggy Nelson But as I say, besides the voices I do do the synchronizing the dialogue, and in the actual work itself I make sure that the actors start on time, and end on time, and everything's done properly, too. So I do do the whole thing of the dubbing.
Studs Terkel Have you done, have you worked with a variety of Italian directors in doing this?
Peggy Nelson Oh, dear. Try to think. Well, I just did a film for Fellini's brother. It was only a small part, too.
Studs Terkel I was asking this even though you are just doing the dubbing and the voice. Different attitudes of different directors, different approaches they have.
Peggy Nelson Yes.
Studs Terkel I suppose each one has a wholly different approach.
Peggy Nelson Well, it also depends, too, on what their economical budget is. I mean, Fellini is terribly patient and is a perfectionist and you work very, very--you know, 'til you get that particular take that he wants. There are other directors that are a little more stressed for time or for money and they accept the first thing that is reasonably good, and, so there's, to me, it's a feeling of rapport whether a person takes the time or just doesn't really care about you. And of course, the dubbing is very difficult and particular in itself.
Studs Terkel Well, Peggy, I must ask another question since you brought it up earlier. One of the reasons you came to Italy or remain was the chivalry of Italian men. I've been speaking to different American wives in Italy and to an Italian writer, Cesare Zavattini, a scriptwriter, and they feel--now, you're an observer, I'm asking you this since you're not an Italian woman, but there's a feeling that there's still a feudal aspect involved, a man-woman relationship here, that the woman has less even though there's a romantic chivalrous attitude toward the woman, somehow she's less free as a woman than might be in other countries. What's your feeling about this?
Peggy Nelson Well, as an outsider I can speak for myself personally and speak for the Italian woman, too. Yes, I do agree that the Italian woman has a pretty rough time of it. That marriage is, she's the wife, the mother, and the leader of the family, but she doesn't have much rights in public, we might say. For a foreigner living here, you have all the advantages of being a foreigner, you can go to the movies with other girls in the evening and not be frowned upon, you can lead a more or less normal life. At the same time, have all the advantages of being treated like, well, the way the Italian men treat you. So I'd say it's rather nice being a foreigner living here.
Studs Terkel Well, this is strange enough, one of the last comments that I must make, Peggy, as you say this, it reminds me of an early American folk song during the American frontier in which the single girl, the single girl had a gay life and, indeed, a very good life on the frontier, where they were, she was outnumbered by the men. But the married woman, you know, just rocks the baby and cries. The married woman stays home and cries. And that seems to be the case, strangely enough. Though it was frontier America, it seems the case in ancient Rome at the moment, too, that's involves some further discussion somewhere. Well, Peggy--
Peggy Nelson However, the Italian woman is being emancipated, because for instance, for them to work is no longer a necessity. There are a lot of women that now do like to have careers and work and try to lead a more American life.
Studs Terkel You speak of the middle-class woman now.
Peggy Nelson Yes. And so, the new frontier is becoming a little bit old.
Studs Terkel Well, let's hope that there will be some alteration of this, speaking on behalf of women, Italian women, specifically. Peggy, thank you very much.
Peggy Nelson Thank you very much.
Studs Terkel Good luck to you in Italy.
Peggy Nelson Say "Hello" to all my friends and family in Chicago.
Studs Terkel Francis Parker, hey?
Studs Terkel Alumna. [pause in recording] "American in Paris". No music by George Gershwin here nor dancing by Gene Kelly, but rather comments of an American writer living in Paris. Arnaud d'Usseau, who may be remembered by Chicago theatergoers as co-author of two very provocative and successful plays: "Deep Are the Roots" and "Tomorrow the World". In addition, with Dorothy Parker, he collaborated on a play that was in New York for a while, "Ladies in the Corridor" (sic) it was, was it not? So Arnaud d'Usseau, of course the name, you are now living in Paris, and must ask, your name itself is French.
Arnaud d'Usseau Very French, yes. It is. My family, of course, have lived in the United States for a very long time. My father came from Toledo, Ohio. There are d'Usseaus on the Canadian and on the United States side of the Great Lakes, but I am an American. I was born in Los Angeles in California.
Studs Terkel All your life has been that of an American, yet, for the past, is it--how long?
Arnaud d'Usseau Two years, I've been here for two years, yes.
Studs Terkel Two years in Paris. Your feelings about you living in a--about to say, new world, an old world, a new world man living in the old world, Paris.
Arnaud d'Usseau Well, I like it very much. Of course, to praise Paris and to speak enthusiastically about it is a little bit like praising the Garden of Eden. It's been praised for so many centuries. But in my case I find that it's all true. I really--there's hardly a part of it that I don't really, that I don't like very much.
Studs Terkel Well, why do you feel this way? What is it about you living in Paris that intrigues you?
Arnaud d'Usseau Oh, I don't know, I think, perhaps, it's a question of temperament. I think when I got here first I began to believe for the first time in something called "race memory," that I had been here before, that--now, possibly this came from reading French literature, enjoying French painting, I don't know what it was, but everywhere I went there was something to delight the eye, something to please me that I really, I really felt a part of for the first time. I felt in a way that I was coming home. Now, you might say because of my name, in a sense I was, that--but I had not expected this feeling, and I've gotten it from no other city in Europe. I've been to Madrid, I've been to London, I've been to Rome, but Paris I feel this every time I come back to it.
Studs Terkel Could you be a little more specific, Arnaud, about why you feel--you are a creative man, you are a writing man, you--what is it that affects you, that say, would not affect you elsewhere in Paris?
Arnaud d'Usseau Oh, well, I don't know. It's very hard to begin. There are many levels of appreciation. It seems to me the Parisian always does something to make his city a little more attractive. This is on one level. The planting of trees, the flowers, the way the people dress, of course, the women are famous throughout the world for the way they dress. Then there is the attitude the people have toward each other. There are criticisms of the French, but I find that if you begin by being polite to the French, the French are immediately polite back to you. They're an enormously polite people. And this makes life very much more agreeable. If people have difficulty in France, I usually find out it's because they do without the ceremony which the Frenchman requires. Once you learn this, this is very nice. Then there, of course, there is the whole background of literature, which I know, Balzac, Flaubert, and Maupassant, all of them, which I feel is here, and which I have appreciated now, which I recognize, it seems to me, in the French I meet and the people I see and talk to. And I think this is part of why I like Paris very much.
Studs Terkel Arnaud, one of the questions raised continuously in our time is, being the individual, being a man, as unique as any man can possibly be. Do you feel there's this part is easy here, too?
Arnaud d'Usseau Well, this I feel very strongly. The Frenchman is an enormously independent person. He is his own person. Much more, it seems to me, than any other city in the world that I've ever been in. He dresses pretty much the way he pleases. For instance, in London I'm always conscious of the fact that a great many of the people are in some kind of a uniform, whether the uniform of a bank clerk or the uniform of the profession they represent. The Frenchman to a degree is this, but there is an independence that he has in his views, in his thinking. Another thing about Paris is the tremendous vitality here. Of course, France is, the last two or three years has enjoyed a tremendous prosperity and you see this everywhere, and the country is bursting in terms of plans and hopes and this is good to be part of. My own feeling is that--I've always admired the French political system. I have never been one of those who are critical of the fact that there were very many Cabinet changes, that there are these constant elections going on, because I feel that in one way, the French are more democratic than any other Western country. They respe--all classes, all interests are taken into account. You get expressions of all types of opinions, you got this in the last election. And I'm very much aware of this in Paris.
Studs Terkel I'm thinking ever since the turn of the century and before, we associate France as far as the artist, or the writer, the painter, the musician. The phrase in the--at the turn of the century, early part of the century, was "Bohemianism," of the man being free to be whatever he is. Do you feel this still applies to France?
Arnaud d'Usseau I think so. I think so, although I think this can, this Bohemian thing can be exaggerated. For instance, I am just reading Renoir's, Jean Renoir's life of his father. Well, in one respect he lived in the Montmartre, it was a bohemian existence, but it was also a life of tremendously hard work, of tremendous discipline. Renoir makes the point that his father got up every day and worked and painted. There wasn't a day that went by that didn't paint. I think that one of the reasons for the artistic achievement of Paris is there may have been this freedom, but there was also this tremendous discipline that went along with it, and this, too, you get a feeling of in France today of an ebullience, a freedom, but a tremendous amount of hard work being done, a tremendous amount of application.
Studs Terkel I'm thinking about that phrase you used early, you didn't use the phrase, but what's that phrase, you said you had been before, you have seen this before.
Arnaud d'Usseau Deja vu. Deja vu. This is a common thing that happens to all of us, a moment goes and we say, "Well, this happened to me before." Well, I feel this in terms of coming to Paris, that somehow I've been here before. As I say, maybe it comes from all of the paintings I've seen, all of the books I've read, the pictures I've gone to, but I definitely have that feeling when I turn a block, walk down a street, that this I've seen.
Studs Terkel So if not realistically in a spiritual sense, this is the return of a native, really.
Arnaud d'Usseau It might be said so, yes.
Studs Terkel Anything else you'd care to say, Arnaud, about feelings, living here?
Arnaud d'Usseau Nothing that I could think of the moment, except that I find it enormously congenial. That's it.
Studs Terkel Arnaud d'Usseau, thank you very much. [pause in recording] One more question, Arnaud, I have because this is a subject for a tome in itself. The woman. The woman and her relation to the man in Europe in contrast to the woman relation to the man in the States. And you've been--you're living in Paris and, yet, you've been living, too, in other cities in Europe, and just coming from Rome. The, you know, the incredible discovery for me the difference, really, in how woman is regarded, what's you--what has been your observation? What have you discovered?
Arnaud d'Usseau Well, one of the things I've discovered is that Paris is very definitely a man's town. This is illustrated on any number of levels. For instance, I was living at a hotel. A friend of mine, a woman, was living at the same hotel. I would order breakfast, it would arrive in three minutes. She would order breakfast, and it would arrive in half an hour. This happened over and over again, so that you can only assume that because I was on the phone and had ordered the breakfast, I was favored first, and I'd mention this to people, and they said, "Well, it happens on any number of levels. Getting a taxi, going into a restaurant. A man is given preference." So this is on one level. The other thing is, that it is expected, for instance, well, in Madrid a single woman never goes out alone unaccompanied. If she does, she is in--Chances are she's in difficulties. Though she's assumed, perhaps, that she's a prostitute and that advances will be accepted. In Paris, it is very much this way. A woman has to remember that if she exchanges looks with a man, it is the beginning of something really more than a flirtation, that they're really ready to consider her as someone with whom they can really make a proposition.
Studs Terkel What was the woman generally do, then, when say, a woman is driving a car, and the other man's car stops beside, and accidentally her eyes meet his, she must look down, is that the idea?
Arnaud d'Usseau I had, for instance, a friend who stopped at, it was about 10 o'clock at night and she stopped at a signal. She looked across at the man, the man looked across at her, and it was a very serious mistake from her point of view, because for the next 35 miles as she drove back to her home in the country, he followed her, and she didn't want him to follow, and only when she turned into a driveway did lose him. Now this was a mistake on her part, because most French women keep their eyes straight ahead or the look is so brief it is to immediately discourage any sort of interest unless, of course, they're interested in encouraging that interest. And a woman is much more sensitive to this in the States. In Paris. In the States a man and a woman can sit down in a train together or at a station and begin a bit of a conversation. Nothing is thought very much of it, or over a lunch counter and doesn't necessarily mean very much beyond a certain friendliness. But in Paris, it's very much different. The lines are drawn and they are recognized both by the men and by the women.
Studs Terkel This then is a matter of ritual, a matter of tradition then--
Arnaud d'Usseau About a background, about a matter of custom, yes. Paris is much more liberal about this than other cities. Another thing you must remember is that the French--as far as French women are concerned--my observation, the demarcation is very sharp. The correct woman, the woman of so-called good background, is raised very strictly. Her behavior is careful. Then there is the other woman who is committed to a much easier way of life. And the French are conscious of this. For instance, you don't get this situation, it seems to me, in England, where as a result of repression, perhaps, and the puritanical background, an English girl, it seems to me, is capable of almost any behavior, though almost unpredictable sort. There is no rein on her conduct. With the French women, there is a much greater consciousness of her position. I think there is much greater consciousness of the whole thing of human emotion, of human psychology, of her role as a woman. I mean, one of the things that is, to me, is so attractive about Paris is that the women are enormously feminine. They do not seem to resent the fact that they are women and they accept it, they know all of the pleasures and difficulties that go with it, but they accept this is part of their life. And they like it more, it seems to me, which is very much different, for instance, than in the States. This, of course, is a personal opinion, but this is the opinion I have.
Studs Terkel Well, it's one that obviously comes out of observations on your part. The--
Arnaud d'Usseau Not entirely. Some observation and some acquaintance. I must tell you this, that I've gotten to know a number of French people. It is very difficult for an American, or any foreigner, really, to get to know the French. Henry James, when he came here, liked Paris very much but decided to live in London because he felt he could never really know the French. The culture was too difficult. And what happens to you is that you can carry a relationship with a man, with a woman, up to a certain point and then it stops. And it's not because the French are parochial as the Americans sometimes say, or that the American is provincial, as the Frenchmen sometimes say, as that suddenly the backgrounds of each becomes a stopping point. Our educations are different, our--we cannot make jokes, we cannot do the shortcuts that are so much a part of an easy conversation. Our historical references, our backgrounds are so much different, so that conversation and acquaintanceship, no matter how much goodwill, becomes a strain. I suppose if one lived here long enough, really mastered the language completely, and had a number of friends, and a certain professional way, this would break down, but it would seem to me to take an awfully long time.
Studs Terkel You feel, for example, that this--you don't feel this is, this tradition may be ending or changing because of the vast changes taking place?
Arnaud d'Usseau Well, I do think so. I think--but I think this is because of changes that are happening all over the world. For instance, the French, everywhere you go in France you hear American jazz, American music. You're very conscious of this. They're adapting a great many American things in terms of commercial life. The French are enormously fond of American Westerns. There is an awful lot about American life they like. And they're using it. And in this sense, all of the countries of the world are coming together. From my own point of view, this is both good and bad. What I dislike seeing very much is a national identity being lost. I have never liked very much the whole idea of the melting pot theory. I never liked it when people applied it to life in New York. I don't think there was any value to have all the colors running together. I would like to see them distinct and personal. And I think it's a great pity when a country gives up the things that are unique and special about it, that make it attractive, that make it different. Yes, we all know what a fine thing democracy is, but I think this, if vitality and variety is lost, at the same time then I think something very vital is being lost. It seems to me that the best kind of democracy is one in which we respect each other as equals, but we like each other because they are different, not because they are like us. And this, it seems to me, is the thing that is being lost throughout the world and which I hate seeing lost, really.
Studs Terkel This, in other words, you see here the peril to the uniqueness of a land just as there is the peril to the uniqueness of the individual. The same principle would apply here as you see it.
Arnaud d'Usseau I think, for instance, French food, the French countryside, French customs all reflect a marvelous way of looking at life that is really developed over the centuries. Now, this is going to be lost the next 50 or 100 years through industrialization or through other, for other reasons. I think it will be a great, great pity because a lot of beauty and a lot of marvelous tradition will go out of life that just should not be lost. All the character will go out, which is too bad. I mean, this is, the differences are the thing that make things interesting. One doesn't come to a country to see exactly what one saw at home. It's like traveling around the world and going from one hotel to another. And you walk in and there are those, there is that bed with that green bedspread and the same wallpaper in Madrid, in Rome, in Tokyo, and pretty soon there isn't, there are no differences. And it's lamentable.
Studs Terkel Thank you very much, Arnaud, for pointing out, I mean, what appears to be a very definite and at the moment dangerous truth, the danger of loss of uniqueness of land as well as of individual. As long as it can be preserved. Okay. Thank you, Arnaud. [pause in recording] You know, Paris has more university students than any other city in the world, and it would be certainly criminally negligent of me to leave Paris on this our last day in Europe without talking to a student. I've been negligent in not gathering up a group of students from one of the cafes around the Sorbonne, but we're fortunate to have seated in the lobby of the hotel Olivier Bernier, who is a student. What school would this be now, Olivier?
Olivier Bernier The École Nationale des Langues Orientales Vivantes, which is a place where, if you're French, you go to learn Russian or Chinese or Mongolian, if you so desire. All Oriental languages.
Studs Terkel Now, what is it you're studying?
Olivier Bernier Russian.
Studs Terkel Why?
Olivier Bernier Well, I speak French and English, and I think one should know a reasonable number of languages. Russian seems to be a very important language to know right now. I think there's going to be far more relationships between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. in the future than there have been in the past 20 years, and I think it will prove extremely useful to know Russian at that point.
Studs Terkel Well, as you're talking right now, this point you raise is a singular one for you, a young student to raise, 'cause so often we hear of the bleak aspect of things being accentuated. You seem to be looking at the other side of it. Do you have a feeling about this, eh?
Olivier Bernier Well, yes, I mean, I've--and I think many other French students have found it extremely encouraging to see the events that have been taking place inside Russia since the de-Stalinization movement started. I mean, there is obviously a very limited way, still, for more democracy in Russia than there has ever been. On the other hand, there is a sort of equilibrium it would seem at the moment between the two superpowers, America and the U.S.S.R., and it would seem again that when a really important crisis comes up, such as the Cuban crisis, some form of agreement can be reached between the two countries.
Studs Terkel You said something about French students, this is interesting, French students seem to feel there is some ferment going on in intellectual circles in Russia among how, how do they read, how come? How is the, what's the basis of this feeling?
Olivier Bernier Well, for one thing we read translations of articles appearing in various Soviet newspapers about Stalin, we read through strophe speeches about Stalin and the ills of the Stalin era. We cannot but know, of course, about the Moscow literary magazine publishing a story about someone who spent what was 10 years in the Russian concentration camp under Stalin. I mean, great emphasis is being put on the way things were done under the dictatorship and equal emphasis on the way things are going to change now that Russia is no longer, let's say, as much of a dictatorship.
Studs Terkel This raises a point before I ask you about yourself, Olivier, the French students reading these magazines. Is there, has there been an exchange, or is that a possibility that an exchange between French and Soviet students has happened yet?
Olivier Bernier Not, not very much, really. It's--I mean, going to Russia by oneself is, of course, very expensive, and there's practically no program, I gather, between the two governments for the exchange of students so that there hasn't been very much contact, other than that with Russian students, for instance, which the Russian government sends to France.
Studs Terkel Have you, I wonder now, are you speaking, this interest that you have and this knowledge of what seems to be going on among the students, would you say that you represent a good portion of French students or is this just a small minority?
Olivier Bernier I think I share the opinions of about--well, one important section of the French students, and I should say there, too, our French students like most students everywhere, are very much interested in politics and they are divided in essentially two groups. Well, three groups, really. There's one very large group of people who are vaguely interested in politics but feel that things are going rather well as it is and don't really care too much. Then there's one small group I think, of the kind of people who would be going around with plastic bombs last year, people who agree with the OAS theories and who feel that France should become even more of a police and authoritarian state than it is now. I, on the other hand, belong to another group, and more important, I think, of students who feel that France is now being governed in a very autocratic way, that the economic decisions taken by the government are essentially reactionary, and that it's extremely necessary that some sort of evolution to the left take place in the one hopes near future.
Studs Terkel So there are three, then there are three categories of students. The first, the broad category, which I'm sure is the same all over the world, of students who just aren't too interested one way or the other, would like to be a success in their personal lives and let it go at that.
Olivier Bernier Exactly.
Studs Terkel Those whom we might call organization men, perhaps.
Studs Terkel And then there is the second group. But is there much since the elections haven't--haven't they sort of disintegrated? The OAS
Olivier Bernier sympathizers? Not really, you see, the OAS was only one form of their opinion, so to speak. Those people represent an element which has lived on solidly in France for at least the last 100 years and which believes in the constitution of a very strong authoritarian state. I mean, those were the people who would remain, who would be following [Mohars?] between the two wars. Those would be the people of the [unintelligible] before the first World War and also in the period between the two wars, and those would be the people, of course, or at least the sons of the people whom, some of them, collaborated with the Vichy government during the war. To those people, the kind of fascism which the OAS represents is only one way of expressing their ideas. If that method fails, well, there will be others. And I must say, I think it's very comforting that in the last election the traditional reactionary right has been completely crushed by the electorate.
Studs Terkel You still feel this, there is a sentiment that's quite entrenched in French life.
Olivier Bernier Very, very much so. It has long been and it still is amongst, I think, as I said, a relatively small fraction, but very much there.
Studs Terkel And then there's the third group. Now, what percentage would you say of student groups in France are represented by this group, would you say? It's an articulate group, I assume.
Olivier Bernier It's an articulate group and the students' union, the UNEF, belongs to the leftists, if you want to call it that, where a group progressive would be probably a better word. People have--conservatives have tried lately or moderates, more moderates, let's say, to form another student union, and haven't very much succeeded so far. So this includes probably in at least in Paris about 30 to 40 percent--well, about 30 percent of the students. But because of the fact that the union tends to have that sort of feeling, that very one knows very well about their ideas and opinions.
Studs Terkel Well, there is a great deal at the moment, I think ,there's a period of affluence, is there not, in French economic society right now? For instance, how has this affected, would you say, the students one way or the other? Do you sense?
Olivier Bernier Not terribly, terribly much, except in the sense of indifference, because at the moment, shocking as it sounds, and it is shocking, if you take the University of Paris, only seven percent of the students come from lower-class, if you want to put it that way, backgrounds. I think the figure is three percent from working-class backgrounds and four percent from peasant backgrounds. All the rest of the students belong to the bourgeoisie. Therefore, while they are on the average better off than they would have been, say, 10 years ago, because quite a few of them belonged to the very small bourgeoisie, it's only a difference in quantity, not really a difference in quality. Those of them who are very much better, very much more well-off, tend to be more placid and less interested in things other than their career and just their studies, but I think that's about all.
Studs Terkel Since we think that France, too, is the home of leading intellectuals and two names, of course, come to mind, the late Albert Camus and Sartre, let's take--now, in America I think the intellectual circle of students have been more inclined to feel, this is just a feeling I have that Camus has been the more popular one among French students. Is this so?
Olivier Bernier Camus has had immense influence amongst French students and he was very much liked as a man. On the other hand, I think it is fair to say that Sartre has had tremendous influence as well, especially just after the war, and the apex, the climax was probably in the years of '46 to '50, when Sartre was very much of what the French call the "maitre pensee" of the whole generation. He is still influential now, of course. So is Camus, though he's dead. But both of them a little less so, because they belong to another generation. I don't think they've really been replaced by any one person.
Studs Terkel Is there a new, is there a new voice heard? Or is there an influence among younger writers or philosophers?
Olivier Bernier I don't think, at least as far as I know, that there is one particular influence, one has a feeling on the contrary, of people not always knowing very well where they are going, and being rather mixed up.
Studs Terkel This being so, isn't there then, pretty much then the student is pretty much on his own as far as his thoughts are concerned, or the formulation of them?
Olivier Bernier I think very much so, and all the more so that a phenomenon has been taking place in France in the last, especially in the last 10 years, in a very violent manner. There have always been in France our schools of philosophy and schools of thought that were officially accepted, that is, so-and-so was the official master, everything he said was right. This has become even more true in the last 10 years. There have been certain school of schools of thoughts about certain philosophers, Heidegger, Husserl, foreign philosophers, Merleau-Ponty as far as the French go, Sartre, of course in a way, who have tried to reach some sort of a very difficult synthesis between existentialism as it's conceived by, for instance, a man like Sartre, phenomenology in general, and Husserlian and Heideggerian doctrines, since I don't think it's possible since this has, indeed, been very difficult, and the result has been, I think, rather stifling to French intellectual life. Now, I'll make a plug, if I may, there's a man who's been writing books for and been rather famous since the last seven or eight years called Jean-Francois Revel, whose last book came out in the spring of '62 and who's been attacking precisely all that, this the stultifying of the French intellectual mind. His two last books, the first called "Pourquoi les Philosophes", "Why Philosophers", and the second called, "La Cabale des Devots", which is almost untranslatable, but is a reminder of a powerful clan that existed in the 17th century of people who were then extreme religious conservatives. This refers, of course, not to religious conservatives now, but to intellectual conservatives, and in his two books, he not only proves very satisfactorily, I think, the falsity of their point of view, but also points the amusing contrasts between their way of thinking, which is very conservative, in other words, some things are considered as being discovered and eternally true, and those things that, really ,are not very valid. Things like "Science doesn't know what it's doing, only philosophy knows." And, so, we must completely ignore anything science is doing, because only philosophy has the true way.
Studs Terkel I'm thinking as you're talking, Olivier Bernier, we should find out a bit about yourself. It's just a matter of age, because I ask for a very specific reason, I'm thinking of you in contrast, say, to an American student, and your attitude. How old are you?
Olivier Bernier Twenty-one.
Studs Terkel You're 21. Now, you yourself, I suppose that one of the questions might be asked. Your knowledge of English, how this came to be.
Olivier Bernier Well, my mother is an American and taught me how to speak English, and when I was a child I lived here, but I used to go to England for the summers and Easter occasions or Christmas sometimes, and, so, for quite some time now I've been speaking English and I spent four years in America, which has helped, of course.
Studs Terkel So you are half English, half French.
Olivier Bernier Exactly.
Studs Terkel And for four years, you were at Harvard, too.
Olivier Bernier Exactly. Well, for three years, and I took a year off and had a job which made me travel all over the U.S., which was absolutely fascinating.
Studs Terkel One more [app?] before you have to go, I know you have another engagement. The student and the fine lively and popular arts. What is happening in this vein? I'm just wondering if students interest in theater, say. Has TNP, the Théâtre National Populaire of Jean Vilar, has that had a big influence upon students?
Olivier Bernier Enormous. Students are very much interested in the theater, the TNP has been immensely useful because as you know, seats are cheap, and it's very, very good, indeed. Jean Vilar is an admirable director and actor. Students are more now, I think, than before interested in the movie as a fine art. They like, for instance, movies such as those of Antonioni, some Swedish movies though Bergman's going a bit out of fashion now, but they are very, very much interested in movies, there's theater, quite a lot of them interested in music. There's a huge association called the Jeunesses Musicales de France, the purpose of which is to have its members listen to good music. I think students are interested, yes.
Studs Terkel You say a trend, and say let's take music for a moment. Is there a trend toward a certain kind of serious music?
Olivier Bernier I don't think towards a kind, composers here as everywhere are being rediscovered now and again. Of course, composers like Vivaldi and the Italian composers of the 17th century, the Italian Baroque music, in other words, has been very popular here for the last few years. So has relatively the modern music by composers like Alban Berg or some of Stravinsky's latest things. Webern.
Studs Terkel So the student interest, then, is pretty all-encompassing, isn't it, as far as the arts are concerned. Theater, music, films, although I see a certain trend. I mean, interest in Antonioni's films, they're looking for new forms of expression, I suppose, too, aren't they?
Olivier Bernier They are very much, that's why the Nouvelle Vague, the new wave here, had so much success. And they think that Antonioni is the kind of new director who would be able to produce better films.
Studs Terkel How do they feel about Alain Resnais, say "The Last Year at Marienbad"? Has that created a little discussion here?
Olivier Bernier It's created quite a lot of discussion, slightly less than his last and his first film, however, "Hiroshima, Mon Amour", because I think more people feel that "Marienbad" is not a very good film. I at least think it's very pretentious intellectually, very much a fakey film, aside from being abysmally dull, but some people have defended it.
Studs Terkel "Hiroshima".
Olivier Bernier Oh, "Hiroshima", I mean, Paris was split in two. On the one hand, there were the people who thought it was the greatest film ever made. On the other hand, people who could not say enough nasty things about it.
Studs Terkel So there is, this point, perhaps the most important point. There is discussion, there is disagreement, on issues involving the arts as well as political matters. There is, Paris is still, then, a home of discussion. I mean, the shroud of conformity has not covered.
Olivier Bernier No, at least as far as the arts are concerned, no, students are interested. They do try and find, well, or discover, at least, new and better filmmakers, they are interested in modern music, they are, I think, interested in modern painting. And from that point of view, at least, I think there is a very lively intellectual life.
Studs Terkel One last question--the popular arts. How can I put this? Pop music, [if we, let's say?] pop music. That the American influence has been strongly felt here, hasn't it?
Olivier Bernier Very, very strongly. American rock and roll and the American Twist have hit France, and France by now, I think, probably twists more than America does. We've been buying up American records such as this, I don't know, Chubby Checker, or Jerry Dee, or what have you, and France has produced its own twist singles, with singing French, they take American names because they have to, you see, it's an American thing, people like Johnny Holiday,
Olivier Bernier immensely popular here. And-- Go ahead. Well, you know that very much I think like in America, the "Twist" has suddenly become the popular dance which people dance all the time everywhere.
Studs Terkel It caught on here all over Paris. I know that there is one last question. It's not your world, really, but in every big city and every country has the kid delinquents, one reason or another, you know, that the what, maybe the teddy boys or in London or the pachucos in Mexico City or Moscow has its group of kids that have special name; Paris does, too, or does it?
Olivier Bernier Yes, Paris does. And it's due, I think, to if you reasonably clear social phenomenon. The first one of those is, that while France is very prosperous, prosperity is unequally distributed, which means there's still a very important poorer class, which cannot really afford to take care of its children, which means therefore the children are sent when they were young out to play into the street and often tend to stay there, and eventually graduate to things more annoying than just, say, breaking a window by accident. There's also the fact that French schools are wholly unsufficient and furthermore nothing is being done to make them sufficient. Therefore, a very important part of the French population, especially the French urban population, stops going to school at age, say, 14 or 15, I forget what [drops it to?] is the legal age. Since they're in quite a few cases a little too young to work, really, since they have absolutely nothing to do and since they don't have yet enough education to realize a little interest of what they're doing, they do tend to become a type of problem youth, and--
Studs Terkel Hasn't this been found, too, among middle-class kids, too, to some extent? This has been an aspect of it in America, that among middle-class kids as well, has been delinquency, so I was wondering whether this particular syndrome isn't made itself manifest.
Olivier Bernier There have been, yes, there are some middle-class delinquents, but far fewer, I think. And I think those are delinquents just because they have had no family education at all. In other words, they live in usually rather rich milieus, their parents have a lot of money, but not all that much, either, so that their parents are not going to buy them an Alfa Romeo, say. They've seen money, without really having it themselves, and they've never been taught that you don't go and steal a [cup?] because their parents don't care. They're not interested, they're too prosperous, relatively speaking. And I mean, after all, one must realize that they're not very intelligent people, and otherwise, I mean, they would realize there are better things to do in life than stealing an Alfa Romeo and going at 120 miles an hour on the auto routes around Paris.
Studs Terkel Here's a last question. Better things to do in life. What is it that you--this is your last question--anything you want to say that we haven't talked about? What is it you want to see or do?
Olivier Bernier Well, being French, you know, the all-important concern is what's being done about politics and what's being done about the students. And I would like to say that nothing is being done about the students. This government is not interested in welfare of a student population. It finds other things more important, [van der?], the French atom bomb, and therefore no money is being spent on building more halls. I mean, there are not enough rooms in Paris universities so that students can attend courses.