THEATER OF BLOODY HORROR
by Vanessa Cortez, staff writer.
[October 24, 2003]
gouged out from screaming women! Legs and arms hacked off! Blood splashing into spectators' faces! And people paid to see
were the sicko fans of the Grand Guignol, a bizarre school of theater created
over 100 years ago in that capital of world culture -- France!
don't blame the French! Rich and famous from around the world came
to see it, according to Mel Gordon's Grand
Guignol: Theatre Of Fear And Terror, his stomach-churning history of
the twisted side of theater.
Oscar Méténier founded the Grand Guignol in gay Paris in
1897, Gordon reveals that sickos have always thrilled to gory theater.
Prehistoric shamans entertained the tribe by mutilating their own bodies! Ancient Egyptians and "Amerinds" (aka Indians, aka "Native Americans")
practiced both symbolic -- and real! -- ritual sacrifice on animals
and on live screaming humans! And medieval Europeans had their
own version of special effects -- bloody animal organs and limbs used as
stage props for human gore!
* Blame France
French inspired the Grand Guignol. During the French Revolution's
Reign of Terror, writes Gordon, "freshly-guillotined corpses were manipulated
like oversized puppets in grotesque comedies." Even more shockingly, Grand
Guignol means Big Puppet!!!
1810s, melodramas about and for Paris's working class opened at the rate
of 70 a month! These were vulgar, potty-mouthed plays with evil rich
villains oppressing the noble poor. But heart-warmingly, happy endings
were mandatory, making these the Harlequin romances of their day! But shockingly, the Grand Guignol would drop the happy endings -- but
keep the potty-mouthed vulgarity!
inspiration were faits divers, one-sheet newspapers about grisly
crimes. Grand Guignol plays would also dramatize sicko crimes -- making
the Guignol an early form of today's "true crime" genre!
too influenced the Grand Guignol -- through our very own Edgar Allen Poe!
-- who inspired a generation of French writers!
* Sicko Science
the Grand Guignol through Naturalism, which was an aesthetic movement advocating
"scientific" theater. Naturalists insisted that art, when depicting
people, must use the latest findings in genetics, psychology, and environment. Darwin, Freud, and Weber helped inspire Naturalism. (In addition
to the Guignol, Naturalism eventually inspired Stalislavsky's "Method acting"!)
Guignol founder Méténier had a morbidly depraved "interest"
in science. Gordon writes that Méténier "scoured Paris'
menacing red-light and working-class slum districts for over six years in a scientific search for naturalist material." [our italics]
opening his sickie Guignol, Méténier wrote for Théâtre
Libre, casting "real criminal types to play themselves in minor
parts."! [our italics]
twisted "research" let him write "authentic dialogue" for "lowlife play
figures, many of whom were based on real persons," says Gordon. "He
found their instinctive and savage actions superior to the vain pretensions
of Paris' bourgeois theatre-goers."
was a huge hypocrite! His Guignol claimed to be exploding bourgeois taboos, pretensions, and
hypocrisies, with the intent to offend middle and upper-class authority,
manners, and sensibilities -- but most Guignol fans were bourgeois and
blue-blood! Millionaires and aristocrats were regulars! Gordon
writes: "For premieres, audiences often attended in evening dresses and
tuxedos, bringing their own champagne and glasses."!!!
audiences, but the Guignol's creators were society's crème de
la crème. Méténier was a journalist and
police bureaucrat -- who enjoyed watching private state executions! He had to visit red-light districts to "study" the underclass
-- because there were no poor people where he lived!!!
the Guignol's most honored and prolific playwrights, André de Lorde,
was a physician's son! Even more shockingly, De Lorde was such a
sicko that his writing partner was also his therapist! -- Dr. Alfred
Binet of the Sorbonne!
the Guignol's high society success was due to Max Maurey, a sleazeball
showman who bought the Guignol from Méténier in 1898 and
ran it till 1915. Maurey ditched all pretense of a "scientific theatre"
for pure gore and potty-mouthing! -- creating a venue where, Gordon writes,
"every social taboo of good taste was cracked and shattered."!!!
looking to ca$h-in on his potty-mouthed shows, Maurey spread false reports
of patrons fainting from shock. Later Guignol producers advertised
the hiring of in-house physicians, presaging B-movie producer William
* Loved by Commies, Nazis, the
By 1910, the Grand
Guignol was a world-renowned tourist attraction, recommended in Parisian
guidebooks of every language! Sicko hordes from the leisure, professional,
and intellectual classes came to gawk at the "authentic" underclass types
on stage, thrilled by their own imagined wickedness at seeing the shattering
of their own "taboos."
rich weren't alone! One avid fan was a Vietnamese refugee working
in Paris as a noodle & pastry cook -- Ho Chi Minh! -- who later became
Commie boss of North Vietnam! Other fans included Nazi fatso Hermann
Goering, who often enjoyed Guignol shows during Germany's Occupation of
France. And shamefully, after the Liberation, the Guignol won over
fan -- U.S. General George Patton!
was an infamous potty-mouth in his own right -- once referring to the German's
private bodily parts as n*ts. [sic!!!!!]
book by saying we should study the Guignol because arts censorship
is a growing issue. He chides "otherwise liberal" people who want
government censorship of violence. But apart from his brief Conclusion,
Gordon almost never discusses censorship!
shockingly, while Gordon considers himself a liberal, when the does discuss
censorship, he makes a great case against government arts funding! Gordon writes: "Théâtre Libre was under immense pressure to
rid itself of both the naturalist mystery play and social documentary. Only because the Théâtre Libre ran itself as a private
enterprise limited to individual subscribers were local censors held at
bay." On the other hand, Méténier's In The Family was banned from public theaters.
shockingly of all, the Guignol met more censorship in liberal Britain than
fascist Italy! (Yes, there were Guignol copycats!) Britain's
SPCA tried to close a British Guignol, fearing (wrongly) that wolfhounds
were mistreated. But Italy's Guignol "performed uninterrupted from
1923 to 1928."
Italian Guignol finally close due to declining audiences or to Fascist
censors? Gordon doesn't say! -- although he says elsewhere that
by the 1930s the novelty had worn off, and the French Guignol audience
had declined to its regulars -- French university students necking in the
balconies and American tourists!
most shockingly of all, despite his anti-censorship drumbeat -- Gordon
never discusses censorship under Mussolini! Nor does he explain
why Mussolini permitted the Italian Guignol's uninterrupted five-year run.
sounds like Gordon tacked the censorship issue to the end of his book in
a lame attempt at closure!
* Does the Grand Guignol Exist?
the Grand Guignol still exist? Don't ask "theater professor" Mel
Gordon -- he may not know!
to Gordon, Paris's Grand Guignol was demolished "in March 1963, [when]
with much fanfare, the building that housed the Grand Guignol was totally
destroyed." He even offers a detailed and colorful account.
But in The
Monster Show (1993), horror scholar David J. Skal writes: "Contrary
to one recently published account, the Grand Guignol was not demolished
after its closing in 1964 [sic!], but still stands, now operating as a
theatre school. In October 1989, this author was given a tour of
right? Gordon or Skal? Gordon's Grand
Guignol was first released in 1988, a revised edition in 1997 -- four years after
Monster Show! But Gordon's revised edition neither corrects his
earlier edition, nor corrects Skal.
leaves the discrepancy unaddressed!
Copyright 2003 by WeeklyUniverse.com
|Vanessa Cortez is a Los Angeles based tabloid reporter who has investigated the occult underbelly of the entertainment industry. Read more about her journalism in Hollywood Witches.
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