Here’s another in the series titled “Berowne’s Mediocre Adventures.”
A few decades ago I was working as a film-maker and I received a wonderful assignment: to make a brief movie on Paris.
One item I certainly wanted in the film was some special footage of the famous Place de la Concorde, known, surely, to every tourist.
This place is possibly the most beautiful public square in what generations have claimed is the most beautiful city in the world.
It wasn’t always beautiful. A few centuries ago it was called the Place de la Revolution. The unfortunate French king had to mount the stairs to keep his appointment with Mme la Guillotine...
And the executioner impulsively showed the result of his work to the cheering crowd. The equally unfortunate Marie Antoinette had to make the same trip.
But “concorde” suggests reconciliation, so no one gets beheaded there these days.
At one end of the famous public square was a building I found fascinating. It was the National Assembly, home of the French Parliament, and if I could get up there on top of it I would be able to get sensational footage of the entire Place de la Concorde.
However, I was told that no commercial photographer or cameraman had ever been given that permission. They told me in the French version of our phrase, “Fuggedaboutit.”
But I persisted. I emphasized that I was no commercial photog or paparazzo; I was working for the French Government Tourist Office.
Ergo, or ipso facto, or whatever, I was one of them; we were all working for the same boss, the gouvernement of France.
But there seemed to be some morose person in that building who was sure, once I got up on top, I’d whip out a home-made bomb and blow the whole place to the French equivalent of smithereens.
It took quite a while, but finally the word came through that, okay, even though they didn’t think it was a great idea, they’d give me the permission.
They assigned me two gendarmes, a sparse quasi-military unit that was to make sure I wouldn’t pull any funny stuff.
The two cops were prepared for this assignment as though it was a platoon of Wehrmacht troops they were supposed to watch over. They each had a mitrailleuse – machine gun – hung from a sling over the shoulder. You have not experienced the thrill of movie-making until you try to shoot a film with two machine guns pointed at you.
Anyway, I set up my tripod and camera and went to work. Looking through the viewfinder I saw a beautiful sunlit view of the entire Place de la Concorde. I got medium shots, wide angles, closeups, the works.
When I notified my two chaperons I was finished, I thought they seemed a bit disappointed that I hadn’t done anything unacceptable that would have allowed them to use their popguns.
The sequence later proved an important part of the finished film, a featurette titled “One Man’s Paris.” The movie was distributed by Universal-International and I was proud to invite the entire staff of the French Gov’t Tourist Office in New York to see it playing at the Palace Theater on Broadway.