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Wednesday, 4 February 1998, Brussels, Belgium: Bill Gates encaked by Noel Godin
Noël Godin is a Belgian humorist and notorious cream pie flinger or ‘entarteur’. Godin gained global attention in 1998 when his gang ambushed Microsoft CEO Bill Gates in Brussels, pelting the computer magnate with pies.
Godin claims his goal has long been to ‘entarte’ as many people like Gates as possible - people he feels are particularly self-important and lacking a sense of humor. Godin told the New York Times he chooses “to function in the service of the capitalist status quo, without really using his intelligence or his imagination.” He says his sworn enemies are "authority, depressing laws, the return of the moral order, nuclear power, any form of political power."
Since 1969, when Godin planted a cream pie on the face of the French novelist Marguerite Duras, he has successfully creamed dozens, including choreographer Maurice Bejart, France's best-known television anchorman Patrick Poivre d'Arvor, ambitious French politician Nicolas Sarkozy, and film maker Jean-Luc Godard.
A regular target is French philosopher and writer Bernard-Henri Lévy, perhaps an inevitable choice as a handsome, wealthy and successful media darling. Levy, married to the beautiful actress Arielle Dombasle, likes to wear white shirts unbuttoned almost to his navel and to hold forth on political issues with intense gravitas. After one attack, in 1994, an enraged Levy was filmed standing over Godin snarling "Get up, or I'll kick your head in”.
Godin, who uses the pseudonym ‘Georges Le Gloupier’ has also inspired an unknown number of followers around the world, who now regularly provide him with details about the whereabouts of various important potential targets. It took 32 people to conduct the Bill Gates operation. His followers take care to look as ridiculous as possible as they throw their tarts, smiling broadly, spouting anti-pretentious poetry and repeating "gloup, gloup, gloup."
Godin insists his group is non-violent and is careful to use only what he calls a "tarte classique," filled with whipped cream and perhaps a little chocolate in soft sponge cake. He says his humor can be traced back through Jerry Lewis, Wile E. Coyote, the Marx Brothers, and yippies like Abbie Hoffman.
Godin is also a writer, critic and actor. He has appeared in many films directed by his friend Jan Bucquoy including the acclaimed La Vie Sexuelle des Belges 1950-78, Camping Cosmos Opus IV: La Jouissances Des Hystériques, and Tart or Vivant, Tarte ou Vivant. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No%EBl_Godin [Jan 2005]
Noel Godin in The ObserverThe Observer Magazine - Life (2:7:95)
Article by Robert Chalmers
Transcribed by Pete Hipwell
"Permit me to recommend the bomb threat," Noel Godin said, pouring China tea from a delicate pot. "One little phone call, and it never fails. There are," he went on, "a thousand forms of subversion, all of them interesting. But few, in my opinion, can equal the convenience and immediacy of the cream pie."
A passer-by, glancing through the window of Godin's living room, might take him for a tutor explaining some arcane point of literary history. Every room of his house in Brussels is lined with books and the whole place is kept in the kind of aimiable disorder associated with the academic. After a few minutes I noticed that our conversation was punctuated by a feeble mewing. A few feet away, huddled between the complete works of Jules Verne and a sheet of hardboard, a family of kittens had just been born.
On the table in front of Godin was a first edition of his 800-page "Anthology of Radical Subversion"; behind him, an immense picture of Norman Wisdom. Both are items deeply cherished by Godin, a man of principle who likes to have fun. Fifty in September, he arrived late and dishevelled for our lunchtime appointment, straight off the morning express from Paris, weak from partying. The night before, he explained, he had missed the last train back, adjourned to "a number of nightclubs in the Bastille area" and had not been to bed.
Though he may look capable of no more aberrant an act than the drilling of irregular verbs at a minor public school, the author and provocateur is widely feared in France and Belgium where, under the synonym of Georges Le Gloupier, he has taken to assaulting prestigious thinkers, media figures and politicians with cream cakes. When Godin speaks, hardly a minute passes without the use of the verb entarter, which roughly translates as "to flan". "Over the past 20 years," he boasts in the introduction to his recent autobiography "Cream And Punishment", "Le Gloupier has sent the best outfits of France's self-styled intellectuals to the dry cleaners".
Recipients have included Jean-Luc Godard, the film director, and Marguerite Duras, the novelist. In VIP lounges at Cannes Film Festival, what Godin calls "cream psychosis" has become so widespread that even Gerard Depardieu is reported to have developed a preference for hotels' rear entrances. At last months festival, victims included the new French minister of culture, who is unlikely to forget his first public engagement, and the philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy, hit for the fifth time.
Godin showed me a video of this last operation, which shows Levy - as famous for his chest hair, silk blousons and Christian Dior shirts as for his philosophy - arriving at Nice airport with his third wife, the actress Arielle Dombasle. As they check in, shadowy figures can be seen in the background, ladling cream.
"They pick up their boarding cards, as you can see," said Godin, who has clearly watched this shaky footage hundreds of times but, like a footballer reviewing the goal of his career, seems unlikely to tire of it - "then three entarteurs fall on them, with me leading the charge. They shout: "Oh no. Oh not again." I deliver my cake, and he responds with punches. One of my young female comrades flans him again, point blank, while a second woman crushes alayered chocolate gateau topped with creme chantilly over the head of Arielle Dombasle. It was at that point", he added, "that things got out of hand."
His recent operations have been heavily covered in mainstream periodicals such as Paris Match, and even the most responsibly- minded publications have reported his unusual campaign sympathetically. When he arrived at Cannes last month, Godin recalled: "I was greeted with cheerful cries of "Bonjour Monsieur L'Entarteur", "Who is it this year?" and "Give my regards to Bernard-Henri Levy"." His surprising popularity, Godin says, is the result of his careful vetting of targets, who tend to be figures with a limited sense of irony at their own expense. "I flan people in the spirit of the abusive letters the Dadaists sent to worthless celebrities," he said. "The aim is always to denounce them in some way. I do not want to slide into facile sensationalism. Every victim has to be thoroughly justified."
Few have been more outstanding flanees that Bernard-Henri Levy, a man so sensitive that he was once credibly reported as observing that "when I find a new shade of grey, I feel ecstatic". He has also famously remarked that he dislikes seeing a woman pay in a restaurant. "I think," Levy explained, "that money does not suit a woman; or rather that I would not fall in love with such a woman." His own varied talents constitute, by his own account, "a landscape which does not have a fixed place in the classic topography of culture."
These are the kind of observations that guarantee the philosopher express deliveries of creme chantilly for years to come. "He is the worst," says Godin, who, on the subject of Bernard-Henri Levy, tends to sound like Herbert Lom on Inspector Clouseau. "He is the worst this decade." He is especially critical of Levy's consistent urging of armed intervention against the Bosnian Serbs, given that the philosopher, unlike other intellectual militants such as Andre Malraux or George Orwell, has shown no inclination to enlist himself.
But if a taste for personal involvement has not been a feature of Levy's contribution to the Bosnia debate, he cannot be accused of having shrunk from unarmed combat once the pies have started flying. At Levy's baptismal flanning, in Liege 10 years ago, the author of "Testament of God" delivered an unambiguous response. "I didn't even feel the uppercut," Godin told me, "because I was so happy to gaze up from the floor and see the peak of French intellectual thought so thoroughly snowbound." Levy, who emerges from his books as a reflective man unshakably committed to qualities such as reasonableness and tolerance, was dismayed to find that footage of the incident, which shows him shouting to his prone assailant: "Get up, or I'll kick your head in," was repeatedly broadcast on French television.
On their second encounter, at a Brussels bookshop where a gathering of what Godin describes as "100 painted old trout" had come to hear the thinker, and pugilist read from his work "The Last Days of Baudelaire", Godin was laid out on a table and subjected to further blows. The film of ther latest incident, which shows Arielle Dombasle scratching and lashing out at the entarteur's woman companions, ends with an abrupt thump. "Levy broke the camera," says Godin, "then punched the cameraman on the nose. A few minutes later he had his hands round my neck while Arielle Dombasle thrashed at me with her handbag. The police got me out of there."
Such episodes have done little to enhance Levy's profile. His puppet on the French equivalent of Spitting Image steuggles to advocate a military solution in the former Yugoslavia through a hail of dairy products. In Japan, Godin claims, footage of the French philosopher's viscous misfortune has proved so popular with game-show viewers that Godin is known as "a kind of Belgian Jerry Lewis". "Levy was flanned in Reims by a mysterious splinter group," said Godin, "and recently I heard that he also ran into difficulties in a bakery at Montpellier. If those reports are true, he is under fire from all sides."
The first five seconds after the delivery of a flan, Noel Godin believes, offer a stark revelation of a victim's real character. Jean-Luc Godard, for instance, accepted his projectile with good grace and later intervened to stop his assailant being banned for life from the Cannes festival. "Accurately delivered, a cream pie is an uncannily precise barometer of human nature," Godin argued. "If Levy, for example, could once respond with humour or self- deprecation, he would immediately defuse the process and turn the whole business in his favour."
The phone rang. Godin answered it, then started to speak in a series of code words. "Geneva," he explained to me, conspiratorially. "An operation."
Noel Godin earns a living as an author and cinema historian, but makes an occasional appearance as an actor: his brief appearance in the role of the Belgian writer Pierre Mertens is the highlight of the otherwise uneven film "The Sexual Life Of The Belgians", directed by his friend Jan Bucquoy, which opened in London last month.
Increasingly, however, Godin's time is given over to les tartes. Attacks are meticulously planned and require a minimum of four people, including a camera operator, a stills photographer and an assistant to hold the pastry. "The crucial thing is not to throw the flan, but place it and, most importantly, not to give a damn about finding a safe escape route, even if that means being beaten senseless by dreary security guards. We only use the finest patisserie," he added, "ordered at the last minute from small local bakers. Quality is everything. If things go wrong, we eat them."
Sometimes, Noel Godin told me, his team can be 18 strong, with several members dressed in the official costume of Georges Le Gloupier: a preposterous outfit consisting of a false beard, reading glasses and a bow tie. Entarteurs are strictly forbidden from responding physically to attacks, however violent. As yet, none of his victims has pressed charges. "They would love to," Godin said, "but it would be disastrous for what they hold most dear - their public reputation. When I have been detained in custody, my arresting officers have usually been weak with laughter, and several have offered me their own list of future candidates."
The history of the flans is a bizarre and perverse one. Born and educated in Liege, Noel Godin abandoned his law studies when he got caught up in the student demonstations of May 1968. The following year, fired with enthusiasm for the anarchist principles he has never forsaken, he was hired to write the news column for Friends of Film, a magazine published by the Belgian Catholic League.
"I started to print complete falsehoods - gradually at first, then routinely," he recalled. "I invented non-existant films that I illustrated with snapshots of my relatives. I worte face-to-face interviews with hundreds of artists, including Frank Capra and Robert Mitchum, without ever leaving my bedroom."
Readers of Friends of Film were introduced to the work of imaginary geniuses such as Sergio Rossi, Aristide Beck and Viviane Pei, the Thai director of such films as "The Lotus Flower Will No Longer Grow On The Shores Of Your Island". Pei's acheivements, ceaselessly lauded in Godin's column, were the more remarkable, he reported, in that she was "the only blind director in the history of cinema". He enthused over "Vegetables of Good Will" (1970, Jean Clabau), in which Claudia Cardinale played an endive, and "Germinal II", a Maoist cartoon featuring Jean-Louis Barrault as the voice of a cold chisel.
When I voiced my scepticism of these stories, Godin produced a complete run of the magazine, carefully preserved in chronological order, and clearly authentic. In the first column I saw, Jeanne Moreau revealed Roger Vadim, former husband of Brigette Bardot, to be "a DIY fanatic secretly obsessed with small balsawood aircraft". Elsewhere, subscribers to Friends of Film learnt that Marlene Dietrich led expeditions to hunt down the Loch Ness monster, that Michael Caine had a motor that ran on yoghurt, and that Marcel Pagnol had crossed the Channel on a four-poster bed fitted with an outboard motor.
Godin's celebrity "interviews" often found his subject in unusually candid moods. "I am a cretin," confessed Richard Brooks, director of "Cat On A Hot Tin Roof". "My films are mere wind." Robert Ryan, who player Deke Thorton in "The Wild Bunch" argued that "herbivorism could make work a thing of the past". Mindful of his devout readership, Godin announced a conversion every three months, and reported the induction into the faith of such improbable penitents as Luis Bunuel and Tennessee Williams. "I got away with it purely because I had a credulous editor and the magazine was not distributed outside Belgium," said Godin.
His interest in flans began when he wrote a report stating that one of his fictional film-makers, Georges Le Gloupier, had assaulted the director Robert Bresson with a cream pie. In the next issue, he alleged that Marguerite Duras, a friend of Bresson, had launched a revenge attack on Le Gloupier with a kirsch gateau at a cafe in Saint-Germain-des-Pres.
"A few days later," Godin continued, "I heard that Duras was really coming to Belgium. With the help of a few Oud Zottegem - our explosive bedside beer - the plan was hatched." Godin attended the function and pressed a large cream cake into Duras's face as she elucidated the theme of her second film, "Destroy, She Says". In the next issue of Friends of Film, he reported the incident as a revenge attack by Le Gloupier.
Before I met Godin, I had expected his activities to be some kind of contrived form of performance art. Little could be further from the truth. A kind of earnest joy radiates from him when he talks about what he calls his "cream crusade". He sometimes raises his hand to his mouth, like a child, in a vain attempt to stop himself smiling at the pleasure of it. While most of the volumes in his vast library are fomidable-looking anarchist texts, a high percentage of his 10,000 videos are slapstick films. He owns the complete works of the Three Stooges and Will Hay and - worryingly, for a man who speaks no English - 14 films by George Formby. When that first tarte a la creme was lauched, you feel, his disparate interests instantly cohered. Suddenly, it all made sense.
As a young man, Godin disseminated tracts urging workers to minor acts of sabotage. "A match jammed in a Yale lock," he suggested. "An error in the accounts, a bomb threat, a drop of tar in a surveillance camera." His principles have barely altered. "I was never cured," he says, "of the fever of May 1968." He has lived with his girlfriend Sylvie for 17 years, but remains opposed to the institution of family and will not have children "because it would be irresponsible to bring them into this bleak and tragic world".
His genial, bookish demeanour and mischevious good humour - in an ideal world Noel Godin might easily be played by one of his favourite actors, Alistair Sim - somehow allows him to sound endearingly innocent even when pleading the most controversial of causes. "I cannot help admiring irregular combatants," Godin told me. "I have a powerful sympathy for the Baader gang, for instance. They gambled their lives, and it was an adventure that could only end one way. Their committment reminds me of the flame that burns in the novels of Dumas or the films of Howard Hawks: unbridled friendship, reckless joie de vivre, the love of risk, the refusal to accept any limits."
Few could accuse Godin of less than total commitment to his own surreal struggle against self-importance and conformity. Take his own career as a director, which produced three bizarre shorts. The first was a military training film stolen from the Belgian army, which Godin released unaltered except for a new and unorthodox set of credits. His second, "Trump Trump Trala", is the story of a woman OAP suddenly seized with the desire to revolt against her oppressed condition. "To sum up," says Godin, "she fires on soldiers with a catapault, flans repressive parents, flagellates bailiffs, urinates in the street, blows up police stations, and incites the pillage of the supermarket Monoprix."
The merit of these works, like his frankly deranged last effort "Strike and Farts", eluded the average Belgian cineam-goer, although Godin's second picture, to its creator's surprise, won a national competition for Best Short Film.
"I had a dilemma there," he recalled. "The award was presented by a mayor - the personification of every value I found most distasteful. But the prize was two movie cameras. In the end I went up on the podium and threw my arms round him. I said "Thank you thank you tank you my mayor" and kissed him and licked him all over. I pushed him over and with our limbs intertwined, we rolled around on the stage while I covered him with kisses. This went on for quite a while. "Thank you my mayor, thank you." Every time he tried to get up, I hauled him back by the buttocks."
You could hardly accuse Godin of having mellowed with age. If anything, his appetite for shameless exuberance seems to have increased. In the past five years he has been responsible for closing down two major chat shows, one in Belgium and one in France. Before he agreed to appear on the French programme, "Durand La Nuit", Godin admits having signed a no-flan pledge. "But then," he told me, "my fellow guest, the playwright Vladimir Volkoff, started to complain that, when he was in his local cake shop, he had to suffer the presence of ill-mannered and ungrammatical proletarians who said: "What do I owe you?" instead of "How much?". When I heard that I was straight off into the wings. I came back armed."
Godin recalls that, after he appeared on the prestigious talk show "Entre Nous" (now defunct), the presenter, then one of Belgium's leading broadcasters, "was fired immediately". On another domestic show, when the conversation turned to the late King Baudouin of Belgium, Godin invited the sovereign to "indulge his sodomitical passions with the active support of all his loyal citizens". A more patriotically-minded guest threatened to knife him with a blade he produced from his pocket. "The whole country turned its back on me," Godin recalled. "I was pelted with tins and bottles in a Brussels shopping centre. People called me homophobic," he added, "which could not be more wrong."
Far from fading away as its novelty wears off, Godin's extraordinary campaign appears to be gathering momentum. He is in regular contact with groups in Paris, Canada and Switzerland, where five cabinet ministers were recently entarte simultaneously.
Did Noel Godin and his co-conspirators not consider that they had already made their point? "On the contrary," he said, "we are just beginning. We feel ready now. Ready to attack another sort of target. A genuine International Brigade Patisserie has been born. We believe that we are capable of acheiving great things in the near future. For instance," he went on, "I firmly believe that we can flan the Pope. We were waiting for him om 13 May 1994 in Brussels with some delicately-flavoured surprises, but as you know he providentially slipped on a bar of soap."
Noel Godin recently promised to flan the new French President Jacques Chirac within the next six months. Both his girlfriend and his father, a retired lawyer who urged Noel to follow him into the profession, are advocating caution, especially now that he is aiming at such highly-protected targets. It does seem possible that Godin's own enthusiasm, combined with the youthful zeal of his new recruits, may prove difficult to check, and that his campaign - like one of those beserk final reels from the low comedies he so admires - may get carried away by its own hysterical momentum.
"Sylvie is worried that I might end up getting shot," said Godin. "Personally, I have considerable faith in the professionalism of elite bodyguards, who are, on the whole, reasonably alert. Alert enough, that is, to recognize a cream cake if they have had advance warning about it. But that is a risk that will not enter into our calculations for one moment. So great is the ardour that has seized us - not just me, but the basic combat group - that we will go all the way."
Noel Godin's interest in new and more prestigious victims must, I supposed, have taken the heat off his old enemy Bernard-Henri Levy. "Sadly not," said Godin. "I offered my terms for a ceasefire several months ago. Hostilities will end when he and his wife appear in public and sing, as a duet, the popular French comic song "Avez-Vous Vu Le Beau Chapeau De Zozo?". So far he has shown no sign of complying. Consequently his astrologers, if they are to be trusted, will have been warning of a high-calorie disaster which awaits him at the beginning of next year. This is something of a break with tradition; he is accustomed to having a year's respite between helpings."
On a recent operation involving Levy, Godin claims, the cream pies were carried through a security barrier strapped to Alfred, a performing dog. "Alfred is a pedigree," said Godin, "but I refuse to reveal the breed. I like the thought of Levy experiencing a feeling of slight unease every time he sees a dog at a public function."
A keen Anglophile, Godin says he is planning to visit London, in a preofessional capacity. "I would like to appeal to like-minded people in the United Kingdom," Godin said. "Invite me over. Propose a plan of action." He opened the small notebook which contains his hit lists, and showed me the beginnings of his British section. First on the list, he explained are "two targets suggested to me by the Paris diarist of the Daily Telegraph, who spoke to me on the phone the other day. The first name is Martin Amis. The second name is Michael..." He paused, unable to decipher his own handwriting. "Does that say Protillo? Who is he?"
In any case, Godin says, he is already investigating the movements of two other figures from what he considers to be an abundant supply of potential British targets. "The escalation in the international flan war," he told me, "has already begun. No obstacle can stand in our way. Like Errol Flynn, Clark Gable, Gene Tierney and Barbara Stanwyck in the old Hollywood films, we have a crazed belief in ourselves. We pose a direct threat to everything that is most pompous, from Margaret Thatcher to the Pope."
Noel Godin hopes to be over "to brighten the lives of my British friends" some time towards the end of the year. Could he be more precise? "Tell them to expect me," he said, "when they see a cream-coloured shooting star traverse their cheerless skies."
LinksMarguerite Duras (nouveau roman), Jean-Luc Godard (nouvelle vague), Bernard-Henri Lévy (nouveau philosophe) and Bill Gates (nouveau riche) have one thing in common, besides their former novelty value. They have all ended up with egg on their faces after falling foul of Noël Godin (nouvelle cuisine), a colourful, cream-tart-toting terrorist, given to fits of Falstaffian histrionics. Since 1969, this boisterous Belgian has stalked some of the most prominent members of the literati, glitterati and politi - Europe's crème de la crème - intent on giving them a taste of his anger : now he is going global. As reference points, imagine Nechayev starring in one of Mack Sennett's commotion pictures, Ravachol sparking off a custard-pie free-for-all, or Delia Smith advocating gâteau guerilla warfare at a chimpanzees' tea party. These oft-fêted, sometimes ill-fated, culinary crimes are chronicled in Godin's toothsomely-titled memoirs, Crème et châtiment ("Cream and Punishment"). Even in print, revenge has never been so sweet. http://www.3ammagazine.com/magazine/issue_1/articles/custard_pie_1.html
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