In my last blog, I mentioned a French Film by the name of La Nuit de Varennes (1982) in a list of films having to do with Paris. I had an asterisk beside this film and asked that you read today’s blog for additional information behind this film.
This was and is a very popular film in France and abroad. I singled this film out due to the fact that I wrote the original storyline. I thought you might be interested in knowing how this film came to exist. To begin with, I’ll give you a brief rundown of the plot.
On June 20th of 1791, the king and queen of France (Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette) tried to escape from Revolutionary Paris to join a group of loyal followers outside Paris. They were arrested in the small town of Varennes. I took these actual facts and mixed them with some bizarre happenings going on around the king and queen’s situation. In that little town I had an aged Casanova (played in the film by Marcello Mastroianni) along with several other peculiar characters spending the night together in the local inn. I used the technique of classical French farce whereby people are quickly entering and leaving through the various doors of the inn. I had the night of June 20th become almost a Three Stooges event.
HOW THIS FILM CAME TO BE:
In the year of 1978 my friend Nestor Almendros won an Oscar in cinematography for the film Days of Heaven. He was likewise honored at the Cannes Film Festival. He asked a friend of ours, Mexican-Italian film producer Giuseppe Hibler, and me to go with him to Cannes and share his hotel room. This was wonderful for me as I had always dreamed of going to the Cannes Film Festival and getting in on all the parties and seeing all the new films.
Giuseppe was a real go getter and always had a nose out for film deals of any kind. I at this time was only known for having founded The Paris English Theater where 8 of my plays had been produced.
One day while having coffee on the patio of the Carlton Hotel, the meeting spot for all Cannes film wheeling and dealing, Giuseppe came running up with a stout young man smoking a cigar. He introduced the man to me and told him I was an outstanding writer. He then told me that the heavy guy owned a chain of porno theaters across the USA and was always on the look out for new storylines. He said he was willing to pay a hundred dollars for an acceptable storyline. My friend told him I could come up with something in an hour. The guy took off and said he’d meet us back here in an hour.
While complaining to Giuseppe that I had never written a porno storyline in my life, he convinced me that it would be a fast fifty bucks apiece. He escorted me to the press room and sat me at a typewriter and said he’d be back in about 45 minutes. He quickly disappeared, leaving me with a blank sheet of paper in the typewriter.
I began wondering what could I possibly write about that was based on sex. I had no idea how to begin. I noticed a large painting in the room of the French Court at Versailles at the time of Marie Antoinette. I got to thinking maybe no one had thought of porno in another time frame. I quickly dreamed up a tale of sexual swapping at the inn in Varennes where Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI were captured. I stocked the story with some rather outlandish characters. I actually finished my little tale before my 45 minutes were up.
Giuseppe shortly came running up, read my storyline, frowned and said this was worth more than a hundred dollars. He went tearing off and several hours later approached me at dinner with a big smile on his face. He had sold the “short treatment” to an Italian film director for a thousand dollars–$500 for me and $500 for him. It was like found money for both of us. We had sold total rights but that didn’t bother us as we were sure we’d never hear of my fanciful tale ever again. I was overjoyed as that was the first thing I had ever gotten “big” money for as a writer.
I thought very little about Varennes after that. However, in 1982, there my little tale was—a full-fledged movie being shown all over the world. My original title was “Le Paysan Perverti.” (The Perverted Peasant) but it was subsequently known as “La Nuit de Varennes.”
About ten years later I was flying to New York from California to catch a charter flight to Paris to visit friends. The plane had mechanical problems and touched down unexpectedly in Jacksonville, Florida, where the airline put us up for the night.
At dinner that night I was sitting at a table of eight and everyone broke out with the small talk. A very dignified man at the table began asking each of us where we were going. He asked me and I told him I was headed to Paris. I added that I used to live there and had founded The Paris English Theatre.
He was quite impressed and told me I was a kindred spirit as he was a Professor of Film at the University of North Carolina.
I admit I was a little taken aback because I had never heard of such a college program. He told me they had a very active film study department where one could earn up to a Masters Degree. I could only wonder what a person could do with that degree to keep a roof over the head. I didn’t ask him. Instead I asked him to give me an example of their program. He replied that the students had to write a thesis on a particular film or genre of film. He could tell I wanted an example. He looked at me with a broad smile and said “One of my students is writing a dissertation on a very fine French film “La Nuit de Varenes.” Do you know it?”
I told him everything I have written in this blog and he was amazed. He wasn’t any more amazed than I was. To put it bluntly, I was flabbergasted.
As I’ve said over and over, writing projects generally come from your adventures in life.