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Angelina Jolie and the French Revolution

by ALEXANDER COCKBURN and JEFFREY ST. CLAIR

Originally published, June 10, 2001.

Since the finely honed intellect, not to mention exuberant body of Angelina Jolie have become an object of vulgar interest to many of our associates we turned eagerly to Britain’s News of the World for an update on the star of Tomb Raider. Sunday’s edition of the Murdoch-owned tabloid is full of ripe detail about Angelina’s self-confessed sexual tastes, plus admiring commentary from her husband, Billy Bob Thornton and former co-star Elizabeth Mitchell, who starred with her in a movie about lesbian supermodel Gia Carangi, and who sighed to the News of the World: “Angelina’s got such beautiful lips and they’re all her own. She’s all real. She’s a work of nature.”

It depends how you define nature. Perhaps they were still part of the original bodywork when Angelina and Elizabeth embraced each other, but since then Angelina’s breasts have clearly been into the bodyshop for an upgrade. Part of our painful duty as investigative journalists has been to spend wearisome hours on Monday comparing various photographs of Angelina’s breasts, as available for inspection on http://www.newsoftheworld.co.uk

As you can see, one set has the tedious soup-plate symmetry of artificial enhancement, in contrast to the somewhat less ample, but erotically more pleasing tits of an earlier era.

It seems that Billy Bob hires a nurse to extract his blood so he can send droplets to Angelina when she is away filming. She wears it in an ampule around her neck. Chic, and reminiscent of the red threads the fast set of young aristocrats used to wear round their necks in late eighteenth-century France, in the Directoire period. The threads were an ironic homage to the guillotine on which many of their relatives had perished.

The News of the World tells us that this daughter of Jon Voigt and French actress Marcheline Bertrand, born in Los Angeles, “spent much of her childhood living out of suitcases. At 14 she began to rebel and had a live-in boyfriend at her mother’s house. She also began mutilating herself with knives.” Tattooing is another enthusiasm. An inventory:

1 Dragon on left arm
2 Black Cross on inner thigh
3 “H” on left wrist
4 Dragon with tribal design on lower back
5 Japanese symbol for death on shoulder
6 Cross on lower front hip
7 “Quod me nutrit me destruit” Latin on stomach [What nourishes me destroys me]
8 “Courage” … was removed
9 Blue box on lower back, center
10 “A prayer for the wild at heart, kept in cages” Tennessee Williams quote on left inside forearm
11 “Billy Bob” above dragon on left shoulder.

In harmony with her teenage habit, Angelina and Billy Bob keep a knife under their pillow to slash at each other during sex sessions. They spent last Christmas happily cutting their fingers and daubing messages in blood on the walls above their bed. “I was looking at her asleep,” Mr Thornton confides to the News of the World reporters, “and I had to restrain myself from literally squeezing her to death. Sex for us is almost too much. It’s so intense that sometimes we can look at each other and think, ‘We can’t get into this right now or something’s going to happen’.”

Over the breakfast table, the News of the World reports, he confessed to her that he had come close to doing her in the night before. “Angelina added: ‘You know when you love someone so much you can almost kill them? I nearly was killed one night, and it was the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me!’”

Oh well, knives for some, ear plugs and eye blinders for others. Angelina and Billy Bob’s stated preferences somehow made us think of Balzac’s novella, La Duchesse de Langeais where a beastly sensualist called Montriveau plots to turn the duchess into his love slave. Irked by her caprices Montriveau has her abducted from a ball to his apartment where he informs her that as a serpentsinthegardenpunishment she is to be branded on the forehead with a red-hot iron (shaped as a cross of Lorraine), which three masked pals of his are even now heating up in the next room.

Greatly to Montriveau’s mortification the duchess is thrilled with the plan. “Ah! My Armand, mark, mark quickly your creature as a poor little possession When you have thus marked a woman as your own, when you have an enslaved creature wearing your red cipher, oh, then you can never give her up, you will be forever mine But the woman who loves always marks herself. Come gentlemen, come and mark, mark the Duchesse de Langeais. Come quickly, all of you, my forehead burns hotter than your red brand.”

Under this eager torrent of verbiage Montriveau’s ardor wilts and he loses “faith” in his whole plan. We think there could be the germ of a script here for Angelina and Billy Bob, though maybe they’re more interested in Geoffrey Wolff’s great book Black Sun: The Brief Transit and Violent Eclipse of Harry Crosby about the love-unto-death affair of Harry Crosby and Josephine Bigelow, in the months after the stock market went through the cellar in the fall of 1929.

In December, Crosby and Mrs. Bigelow took a five day trip to Detroit. Wolff writes: “..they checked into the Book-Cadillac [Hotel] on December 3, registering as Mr. and Mrs. Harry Crane in a twelve-dollar-a-day room on the twentieth floor. Most of their meals they took in bed, where they also smoked opium, made love and battled.”

On December 7 the lovers returned to New York where they agreed that Mrs. Bigelow should return to Boston to her husband. But Josephine did not return to Boston and on December 9 she had delivered a 36-line poem to Crosby who was staying with his wife Caresse at the Savoy-Plaza Hotel. The last line of the poem is: “Death is our marriage.”

On December 9, Harry Crosby made the following entries into his notebooks:

“One is not in love unless one desires to die with one’s beloved. There is only one happiness it  is to love and to be loved.” These were Crosby’s very last entries into his journal because on December 10, after shooting Josephine, Harry Crosby shot himself a few hours later. Wolff sums it up thus: “He had meant to do it; it was no mistake; it was not a joke. If anything of Harry Crosby commands respects, perhaps even awe, it was the unswerving character of his intention.”

Crosby always struck us as a horrible little twerp, but Angelina and Billy Bob could surely make something of all this.

Returning to that red thread and the guillotine, the common view is that thousands of French aristos perished under the blade. Not true. Greer’s statistical study The Incidence of the Terror, published in 1935, shows that 666 nobles got the chop in Paris and another 1,543 in the rest of France. Compare that to the carnage after the French commune of 1871 when some 20,000 Communards were executed.

The best defense of the French revolution and its supposed excesses is surely that of Mark Twain in “A Connecticut Yankee”:

“There were two ‘Reigns of Terror’ if we would remember it and consider it; the one wrought murder in hot passion, the other in heartless cold blood; the one lasted mere months, the other had lasted a thousand years; the one inflicted death upon ten thousand persons, the other upon a hundred millions; but our shudders are all for the ‘horrors’ of the minor Terror, the momentary Terror, so to speak; whereas, what is the horror of swift death by the axe, compared with lifelong death from hunger, cold, insult, cruelty and heart-break? What is swift death by lightning compared with death by slow fire at the stake? A city cemetery could contain the coffins filled by that brief Terror which we have all been so diligently taught to shiver at and mourn over; but all France could hardly contain the coffins filled by that older and real Terror ? that unspeakably bitter and awful Terror which none of us have been taught to see in its vastness or pity as it deserves.”

And to think that Lewis Lapham dared put Tom Wolfe on the cover of Harper’s next to the man who wrote those tremendous lines! Come to think about it, Angelina and Billy Bob could do a movie about Charlotte Corday’s stabbing of Marat in his bath. Corday was a counter-revolutionary of course. Despite this the crowd around the guillotine were shocked when the executioner had fun with her severed head and pulled her features about. Supposedly, Corday’s face blushed, prompting two centuries worth of debate among physiologists on whether the guillotine was, in fact, an instrument of quick and painless death or a gruesome form of vivisection.

The Jacobins were terrified of female radicals. Olympe de Gouges, author of Les Droits de la femme et de la citoyenne (1791), perished on the guillotine not long thereafter, as did Madam Roland. St Just invoked the “male energie” of the Republic.

In his very interesting 1993 book Bodywork Peter Brooks wrote, “In the cult of Marat Charlotte Corday is present only in that gash in Marat’s breast, a kind of displaced representation of her woman’s sex as a wound on the martyred man. David’s painting, Marat Assassine, says it all: the ecstatic face of the martyr, the drops of blood on the immaculate sheet, the quill pen still grasped next to the kitchen knife fallen on the floor, the bathwater become a pool of blood all these elements suggest the intrusion of ungoverned female sexuality on a life dedicated to the higher cause.”

And now, with Angelina, ungoverned female sexuality and the higher cause are one!

This essay is excerpted from Serpents in the Garden: Liaisons with Sex and Culture.

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is Killing Trayvons: an Anthology of American Violence (with JoAnn Wypijewski and Kevin Alexander Gray). He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net. Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

CounterPunch Magazine

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