Monday, 23 March 2009
Heaven and Hell
L’Enfer was a night club on the boulevard de Clichy where your drinks were served by staff dressed as devils. Next door (just visible on the left of this image) was a cabaret called Le Ciel where the waitresses were dressed as angels. Both businesses were operated by the same proprietor and were well calculated to cater to the appetite for novelty and decadence in fin-de-siècle Paris. Entrance to L’Enfer was by way of a monstrous gaping jaw and the facade was embellished with sculptural representations of devils and souls in torment. A fiery furnace glowed in the centre and an unfortunate sinner can be seen pitching headlong into an eternity of suffering. It can be assumed that the spectacle would have been intensely offensive to bourgeois sensibilities in the same way that the sex shops that have replaced them today continue to do so. Whether future generations will look back on today’s sex shops with a sigh of nostalgia remains to be seen.
The wonderfully sharp eyed observer of human folly, Edward Burra was an habitué of the boulevard de Clichy in 1931 where he found the subject for one of his finest paintings, Minuit Chanson. Cab Calloway was a special favourite of Burra and his recording of Minnie the Moocher was first released in 1931 so it’s just possible that it could have been heard playing in the hallowed precincts of Minuit Chanson. All of which brings us to the singular figure of Betty Boop who memorably shared the screen with Calloway in a Max Fleischer animated film that can be seen here. Note how the sequence in the spirit world features a landscape populated with vast sets of Satanic jaws just like those that decorated L’Enfer.