Guest post by LeftyMN
Okay, okay. March Madness is here, and I'm not talking about the upcoming hearings on the firings of U.S. Attorneys by Abu Gonzalez of the ReichsJustice Chancellory.
No, I mean college basketball and hockey tournaments. I will admit that by last night, I had binged on so much basketball that even I was sated. But hey, did you see the great college hockey match between the Minnesota Gophers and the University of North Dakota (nickname not politically correct), which ended in a fantastic goal by Minnesota in overtime? Read more.
Saturday night. Sports had taken a toll on my brain. What was I to do? My wife had taken my daughter to Chicago for the weekend for a niece's wedding shower. My two sons deserted me for evenings out with their friends. So, it was time to look at the DVD offerings in the house.
I have a historical bent, so I decided to watch Sofia Coppola's "Marie Antoinette." Good gracious. That movie is the cinematic equivalent of a seven-course meal in frou-frou restaurant, of which at least four courses are impeccably decadent desserts!
The film is pure, unadulterated eye candy: costumes (Academy award winning), set design, art direction and cinematography are all truly amazing'"at the very least, a technical and artistic tour de force. Beyond the luscious sets and costumes, the movie's dialogue is spare and lean, but historically it represents fairly well a recent biography of Marie Antoinette by Antonia Fraser.
Kirsten Dunst portrays the 14 year-old Austrian princess Marie, married off to the 16 year-old future king of France, Louis XVI. Young Louis is unable and seemingly unwilling to consummate their marriage. Marie feels pressure from Vienna and the French Court to produce a male heir to the throne of France. Given that pressure on a young female outsider in the most powerful court of the time, she instead gives herself over to trying to enjoy life via haute couture, great parties and young friends. And she succeeds. Versailles is a clique-ish pleasure palace of intrigue and all night parties, separate from Paris and the rest of the world.
Viewers of the film are reminded that in its more than 100 years of wars of conquest internationally, there has been a toll on the financial stability of the French monarchy and kingdom. The internal infrastructure of services has eroded. Society is static, with about two percent of the population maintaining privilege and power (high clergy, high nobility with the finances to compete for favor at Versailles). A growing mercantile middle class and agrarian class is essentially neglected. Also, the tax system is an inefficient mess with not enough revenue being collected to maintain the nation in the face of foreign entanglements. (Hmmm sounding familiar?)
By the early 1700s, the dynastic rivalry between France and England that had been birthed in 1066 came once again to the forefront. In Europe, Asia, North America and the Caribbean, France and England were fighting real and proxy wars.
By 1778, France was giving financial and soon actual military aid to the new American colonies in their fight against England, with deficit financed funds. The movie shows two scenes in which Louis is urged to fund the Americans as a means to attacking England, even though the ministers and King seem to understand they cannot afford it.
The rest of the story is well known. The Bastille is stormed, heads roll, and the monarchy is overthrown. Libert, egalit and fraternit are enthroned (well, for a while anyway). The film ends without bloodshed and simply depicts the royal family (I forgot, they did consummate somewhere along the way) being escorted from Versailles.
And so I get to my point.
Versailles is a huge mirage in the film. Royalty and its retinues are seen indulging in a life of hyper enjoyment. From the latest frilly pink satin high heeled shoes, to extravagant landscaping, command performances, and all night parties, the modus operandi is continuous conspicuous consumption.
Marie Antoinette is viewed as being blissfully ignorant of the outside world. Even though she didn't really say, "Let them eat cake," she is portrayed as a nave, Austrian "valley girl." She appears no more able to explain the location of the colony of Virginia than the majority of Americans can now identify the geographic relationship of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Marie Antoinette is a metaphor for the "silent majority" in America that is faithfully shopping on credit while Rome is indeed burning. I'm not sure that is what Sofia intended, but it's what came across. Definitely worth thinking about . . . oh, excuse, me. There's another game. I have to go.