France Honors Howard Rodman

November 20, 2013 | By French Culture

Hollywood and France came together in one big celebration last October 31st ceremony honoring screenwriter and WGAW Vice President Howard A. Rodman with the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. Mr. Rodman’s unmatched, diverse contribution to the arts as well as his incalculable role in building strong bridges between French and American culture were highlighted by Cultural Counselor Antonin Baudry, who conferred the medal on Mr. Rodman at the French Consul General’s Residence in Beverly Hills. Rodman, who had discovered Paris through books and films long before he actually visited the city at 19, remarked at the curious reversal he experienced there when he discovered not only France but also his own country while in Paris. There were films of Sam Fuller and Nick Ray at the movie theaters, traces of Jefferson and James Baldwin in the streets and edifices, and bookstores where he found first editions of fine American authors. Rodman crossed a new personal threshold with that first visit and both countries have benefitted from his ensuing artistic journey.


Thank you dearest Axel for hosting this evening and for your constant support of culture, film, the arts and literature in LA.

Dear Howard Rodman,
Dear friends,

When you have the chance to represent your country, there is not a more delightful moment than when you have the opportunity to honor a real friend. Because, Howard Rodman, that’s precisely what you are: you are France’s beloved friend, and my friend. I am extremely proud to honor you tonight, surrounded by family, friends and our prestigious guests.

On this occasion when France says “thank you” for your contribution to art and culture, I would like us all to close our eyes and to take a little trip with Howard. Picture this: LA in the 1950s, two little kids sitting in their father’s Citroën DS, singing a song to start the car, to the tune of the Marseillaise.

I’ll spare you my poor singing! I just tell you the lines:

« On va, ma Citroen.  Commence votre engine.

Allons!  Allons!  Allons mon petit voiture »

These were your father’s magic words to get his French car to start and this was the song you sang with your brother Adam. « Allons, allons », I would like to borrow this magical and intimate version of La Marseillaise to take us on a trip through the real and superb Paris of Howard Rodman.

*

Howard, you are not just a Francophile, but you are a real honorary ambassador for France and un Parisien par excellence. Yes, you followed your father’s footstep, who was stationed in Lille during World War II and who first introduced you to French culture. Much later, as you walk through the streets of Paris with your family and friends, you transform the city into a landscape that becomes simultaneously more real and more extraordinary through your eyes – the eyes of someone who knows that the city’s roofs might hide Fantomas, its dark alleys might echo with battle cries between Inspector Juve and the arch-villain, and that Jules Verne’s fantastic flying machines may fly overhead. When you grew up, you passed on the family legacy of francophilia to your son, Tristan… and to such an extent that for him, Thomas the Tank Engine is nothing compared to the TGV.

*

It is striking that your relationship to France is marked by two remarkably cinematic universes: that of Fantomas and Jules Verne. Through these two French icons, we discover the multilayered dimensions of your career which is as much based on the written word as it is on the screen. It is this complete vision -- which your 1990 novel Destiny Express superbly showcases by blending cinematic and literary techniques on the page. Thomas Pynchon called it “daringly imagined, darkly romantic – a moral thriller.” And the New York Times Book Review highlighted your description of Fritz Lang as “sparely, deeply poignant.” This vision and clarity also magnificently appears in such films as Savage Grace and Joe Gould’s Secret.

*

Discovering Louis Feuillade’s Fantomas 32 years ago opened up modes of combining the cinematic and the real to make the city always dangerous and always beautiful. Many people have discovered the pure energy of New York or Los Angeles which is one of the prominent themes in American cinema, but you understood the pure energy of Paris where it all began. You brought this vision to American audiences through an incredibly varied array of events for the Fantomas centennial in 2011: from Yale University where you delivered a paper, to the New School in New York where you participated in a panel, to the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, where you showed one of Feuillade’s classic films, to the four-day celebration at the City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco. The events you participated in brought together the diversity of Fantomas’ character as both a popular entertainment icon and classic noir figure.

*

An exemplary anecdote about your relationship to France is the way you shared your passion for Jules Verne with M. Roethel, the owner of the small Paris bookshop L’Ile Mystérieuse. You shared many conversations about Captain Nemo and played many a chess game with him. And the beautiful text you wrote on this is my absolute reference for the French bookshop that we are opening in a few months in NYC. This text testifies to your love of books, but also more generally, to your love of passing on culture and knowledge. I do know the atmosphere and the style of Jules Verne’s novels was a huge source of inspiration for you and I bet the charismatic Captain Nemo will continue to influence your work in the future … Tell me if I’m wrong…

And your career reflects this desire to share your expertise and knowledge in diverse ways. From the time you were the editor-in-chief of the Cornell Daily Sun to subsequent work writing columns in the Village Voice and articles in the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, you have contributed vigorously and with passion to intellectual dialogue. And I am fortunate to say that your activism and energy have very often gone to France with your involvement in the Franco-American Cultural Fund and your dedication to bring to American audiences the “enfantomastic” universe of Fantomas.

Indeed, your involvement in the Franco-American Cultural Fund has to be underlined. This fund promotes film creativity on both sides of the Atlantic and fosters dialogue between professionals. Moreover, your advocacy of French films at the Colcoa French Film festival testifies to your role as one of our great ambassadors. As you have said,  “French cinema gloriously, stunningly, gorgeously, completely, deliriously, resourcefully, resolutely and absolutely refuses to die!” And I would like to go a bit further to say that -- it is thanks to people like you that French cinema - and French culture,- refuse to die and are very much alive! On another note, your support of Colcoa and its educational program is emblematic of your desire to share your understanding and taste for art with younger generations. This is evident as you are a committed professor of screenwriting at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts and former chair of the department. You are also the artistic director of, and creative advisor to, the Sundance Institute Screenwriting Labs which encourage creative risk-taking in young screenwriters.

You support students and also industry colleagues, as a member of the executive committee of the writers’ branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and as a trustee of the Writers Guild Foundation in addition to other non-profit boards. Most notably, I highlight your role as the founder and chair of the Writers Guild Independent Film Writers Committee. You have played a seminal role in the recognition of the independent field and gave direction to the 2007-2008 Guild strike which had a historic impact and achieved so much for the community of writers. As you have beautifully said, your work at the Writer’s Guild is, « to join together with our fellow writers and create, with purpose and imagination, the new world.  The alternative is unthinkable. The goal would be to allow our children to have the opportunity to make a living writing».  And honestly, I can’t help but also think that your involvement in the strike is another tribute to our culture!

*

Fantomas thought that mankind operates as a puppet show, when he said “L’humanité. Quel merveilleux spectacle de marionnettes ! Comment pourrais-je m'ennuyer ? “ (“What a wonderful puppet show mankind offers us! How can I ever get bored?” asks Fantomas in a question which I would like to twist a bit and apply to your career. You too are a puppet master, but far from leaving us feeling like puppets, at the end of your work you cut the strings, so to speak, and leave us feeling a little more liberated. I believe your work allows us the pleasure of entertainment, preventing us from boredom, very much like Fantomas, but your books, your screenplays and your action and commitment to the cause of art deepen our understanding. And I am sure that Adrien Sarre, our excellent Film Attaché in LA, whom I thank for organizing this beautiful event, agrees with me.

For all this, for your simplicity, elegance, generosity, and engagement, for keeping things “fantomatic,” the French nation honors your commitment to turning the 7ème Art into a bridge between our two cultures.

Dear Howard Rodman, au nom du Gouvernement français, je vous fais Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.


Remarks from Howard Rodman:

Monsieur le Consul Général de France, Madame Cruau, M. le Conseiller culturel, chers invités distingués, et chers amis. 

Je suis à la fois très heureux, et très honoré, d'être ici ce soir.  Merci.

J'aurai voulu faire mon discours uniquement en français –  mais j'ai trop de respect pour vous tous…  Et j'ai donc décidé de ne pas vous soumettre à ma boucherie de la langue française. 

Donc si vous me permettez je m'exprimerai en anglais.

I first went to France when I was fifteen years old.  I transported there by Julio Cortázar whose novel, Hopscotch told of Argentinian expatriates living a life of music, squalor, and wondrousness in late-50s Paris.  I read the book on the subways of New York City and was so engrossed I often missed my stop. 

My next voyage to France occurred in an art cinema on Fifth Avenue off 13th Street where I went with my uncle to see the Alain Renais/Jorge Semprun film La Guerre Est Finie.  In it Yves Montand, a weary veteran of the Spanish Civil War, plotted the overthrow of the Franco regime from his flat in the 5th Arrondissement.  Assisting him in this effort were Ingrid Thulin and Geneviève Bujold.  Paris never looked more gray, doomstruck, or enchanting.  And so I went to France again and again.  AlphavilleBreathless!  Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project.  But it never occurred to me to visit the real France.  Not the one found between book covers, or in darkened Greenwich Village movie theaters, but the other one.  The one over there.

I didn’t think that was possible.

And then one day, when I was 19, something changed.  I was thinking about the Horacio and La Maga, who could be found on the Pont des Arts in Hopscotch.  Yet they were both from Buenos Aires.  I was thinking about Yves Montand’s character in La Guerre Est Finie.  Spanish.  And Jean Seberg, the heroine of Breathless: American.  And Walter Benjamin: German.  And of Alphaville, written and directed by a Swiss doctor’s son, about an American man in love with a Danish woman—

And I began to realize, at first slowly and then with accumulating force, that France, the real France, was possible.   That when Jacques Rivette said Paris Nous Appartient – Paris belongs to us – that the ‘nous’ was large.  Was inclusive.  Was welcoming.  Was--  Beckoning.

I set foot in the real Paris before I turned 20.  I found there all that I had dreamed, and so much more.  Instead of having an imaginary Paris residing within my head.  There was now a real Paris (but my head seemed far more imaginary).  Underneath those paving stones was the beach: the glories of French literature, French cinema, French theory, French political thought, French cuisine, French wine, French comradeship—  These wonders were palpably offered up, and they were not lost on me. 

But in addition—  There were cinemas – showing the films of Nick Ray and Sam Fuller.  I walked down narrow streets, and came upon traces of Thomas Jefferson and James Baldwin (whom I think of as the fathers of my country).  There were bookstores, where I found first editions of Patricia Highsmith and Philip K. Dick.  It was as if France had collected for me the very best of my own land, and allowed me endlessly to rummage the stacks of a fine and infinite library.  And among those cobbled stacks I began to feel a sense of my own possibility.  That I became who I am.

M. le Consul et Mme Axel Cruau, M. le Conseiller Cultural: It was through your country that I discovered my own.  And for that gift, no thanks I might give would be sufficient.

Je tiens à vous remercier sincèrement de partager avec moi cette soirée hantée et rayonnante.

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