by Georgina Oliver

From John Malkovich to Austin Powers...

You'll love it or hate it! Since it premiered at the Marigny/Robert Hossein theater just off the Champs-Elysées, John Malkovich's mise-en-scène of Brit playwright Terry Johnson's "Hysteria" has been "the talk of the town"... This pithy "psycho-dramedy" wrestles with issues like child abuse and the Holocaust, amid high-pitched histrionics à la théâtre de boulevard. Its protagonists? Sigmund Freud. And, Salvador Dali... Intriguing, to say the least!

Last month, members of Paris'Anglo-American Press Association thronged to meet John Malkovich at Maison France-Amériques, a stately building on avenue Franklin Roosevelt whose gilded interior happens to be familiar to the actor as this is where key scenes in Stephen Frears's screen adaptation of "Les Liaisons Dangereuses" were filmed. Malkovich's memorably Machiavellian performance as Valmont opposite Glenn Close, means it's hard not to find him disturbing in real-life...

On that evening, the "excitement" was definitely there. Not only was "Hysteria" in the news, but the France 2 television network had just started to broadcast a Napoleon series, with "Malko" in the role of Talleyrand... Plus — and, that’s vital to UK and transatlantic correspondents based here — there was a good reason to write about this American "Out of France." John Malkovich isn't "just any old" celeb on a whistle-stop tour of Europe. He has set up house here with his companion — whom he laughingly describes as an "typical sort of orthodox Italian Marxist" — and their children, in the Lubéron, a region of Provence favored by this country's intelligentsia and political elite. Why France? "I've never had a bad day here... I like the cultural crossover... The breadth of culture... In America we only have experts."

In his introductory speech, the Association's English President, Times Bureau Chief Charles Bremner, pointed out that John Malkovich had co-founded the ground-breaking Steppenwolf company as a student, in his native Illinois. Then, in 1984, he moved to New York City where he was cast alongside Dustin Hoffman, in a Broadway production of Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman." "More Jerry Lewis, I would say," quipped Malkovich, when Bremner remarked that the French press treats him with a degree reverence which it generally applies to Jerry Lewis or Woody Allen.

Though he doesn't see himself as a "Renaissance Man," John Malkovich has all kinds of projects "up his sleeve." He's launching a menswear line with "suits and things, classic but with 'tones' of late '50s, early '60s California," and recently directed a motion picture based on British author Nicholas Shakespeare's novel "The Dancer Upstairs" (out at the beginning of 2003). He's willing to talk about topics like French anti-Americanism as well as his own "critical attitude to Hollywood" quite freely, but such observations come with a word of caution: "My father was in the 82nd Airborne, my uncle fought in the Battle of the Bulge and my great-uncle died in the Somme. It was forbidden in my house, to talk about success, forbidden... You'd have the shit kicked out of you, if you dared open your mouth to talk about money... Now, we can say that's good or bad... But, that's the country I also was raised in."

Is he "drawn" to "amoral" roles? "You have to remember that as an actor you only choose from among the things you have been chosen for." He was born in 1953. So, he's about to hit "the big five, zero"... Is there some unexplored avenue he's saving for later, "like desert"? "Just trying to learn — more — until the end of my days. I wouldn't say trying to be a better person, because I'm not even really sure how to do that... Just to do what I do better than I do it at present." Could it be that there's a "humble side" to this devilish wit? Who knows? But when subjects like terrorism or reports of his own "violent" response to an attacker in Central Park are mentioned, he swipes back, with one of his hard-hitting "I want to shoot too" reactions... "I mean who threatens people? Have you ever threatened someone?"

...& beyond

Art Experience
An eerily organic exhibition/installation at Arc — the Musée d'art Moderne de la Ville de Paris' "contemporary" wing — is exercising a strange fascination on its many visitors. Curiously reminiscent of the screenplay of "Being John Malkovich" whose zany characters literally got to "tunnel" through Malkovich's "beautiful mind" and mysterious body, all the way to his sexual urges... American artist Matthew Barney's "Cremaster Cycle" expo — much publicized via enticilingly bizarre subway posters — offers the onlooker the archetypal Gesamtkunstwerk or total, primal artwork experience. Sculpture, photographs, drawings, XL video screens... (To Jan 5, 2003 — Tue-Fri 10am to 6pm, Sat & Sun 10am to 7pm, 11 av du Président Wilson, 16e, M° Iéna, tel: 01 53 67 40 00)

Electric Body
Meanwhile, on the other side of town... The Musée de la Musique (221 av Jean Jaurès, 19e, M° Porte de Pantin, tel: 01 44 84 45 01) inaugurates its Galerie contemporaine designed by Christian de Portzamparc with "Electric Body" a two-part multimedia scenography, linking "Le corps en scène" which documents references to the body in music and the visual arts since 1945, and "Jimi Hendrix backstage," a groovy yet intimate curatorial tribute to the emergence of The Jimi Hendrix Experience, complete with smashed guitar fragments, lyric manuscripts and original sketches. (To July 13, 2003)

Funky Movie
"Goldmember" — the latest edition of James Bond movie spoof "Austin Powers" — is "hysterically funky." Like its previous versions, it stars madcap Mike Myers in "multiple parts." From faux 007 hero to Dr No-like Dr Evil... However, it features cameo appearances by household names like Tom Cruise and Britney Spears, along with a surprise "walkin', talkin', dancin', singin'..." Bondgirl, Beyoncé Knowles of R&B threesome Destiny's Child. (Fashion victims take note: Beyoncé's various hairstyles — Afro or superslick — are totally in synch with the trends highlighted at Paris' recent Mondial Coiffure Beauté trade fair, where even established brands such as BaByliss went all out for crimped, rainbow-streaked effects and braids!)

Chic CDs
Sleek, sultry CDs conveying the atmosphere of this city's coolest DJ venues are madly successful. Last month, Hôtel Costes released its fifth such compilation. Did you say "compilation fever"? As it turns out, this "genre" ain't the prerogative of clubs. George V Records are bringing out a catchy electro-cocktail dubbed “Fashion Week” — music from the catwalk," on November 4... And, the Café de Flore has produced a savvy homage to Saint-Germain-des-Prés, whose tracklist surfs from Latin Quarter icons along the lines of Anna Karina to suave up-to-the-minute remixes, with surprise contributions from Diana Krall ("Besame mucho") and Eartha Kitt ("I want a man"– en français).

Senso Resto
Next on the list for an in-house compilation CD? British design tycoon Sir Terence Conran's new gastronomic venture — a "chic, modern, sensual..." 8th arrondissement bar/restaurant named Senso — will be open daily for breakfast (7-11am), lunch (noon to 3pm) and in the evening (7pm to 2am). (16 rue de la Trémoille, tel: 01 56 52 14 14)

Simulation Expo
On the look out for a late fall weekend outing — that's an exhilarating combo of "country walk in historic setting" and "mind-blowing cultural event"? If so, the Cistercian Abbaye de Maubuisson at Saint-Ouen-l'Aumône on RER C is "where it's at." Until December 1, it hosts "Exposition Simulation" an interactive arts and high tech project that targets all age groups. Among its star attractions — a machine designed to simulate an aurora borealis. Awesome! (Infoline: 01 34 64 36 10)

John Malkovich as Talleyrand, in French television series “Napoleon”

“Fashion Week” compilation
“Sigmund Freud,” top of the bill at the Théâtre Marigny...
Matthew Barney’s “The Cremaster Cycle”
“Jimi Hendrix backstage” invitation
“Goldmember” poster
Aurora borealis simulation