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From the Archives: John McPhee Chronicles Human Attempts to Control Nature.

Writer John McPhee has won this year's Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction for his book "Annals of the Former World." (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) Some of his best-known books include A Sense of Where You Are, about Rhodes Scholar and basketball star Bill Bradley, Coming into the Country, about Alaska, and Pieces of the Frame," about curator Thomas Hoving and the world of high art. This originally aired 8/11/89.

16:48

Other segments from the episode on April 16, 1999

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, April 16, 1999: Interview with A. Scott Berg; Review of James Cunnigham's novel "The Hours"; Interview with John McPhee; Review of the films "La vie révée des anges" and …

Transcript

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: APRIL 16, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 041601np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: A. Scott Berg
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:06

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

This week Scott Berg won a Pulitzer Prize for his biography of Charles Lindbergh. On this archive edition, we have an interview with Berg recorded last September just after the book's publication.

He describes Lindbergh as the first modern media superstar. Lindbergh is most famous for two things: he became a hero in 1927 when he made the first successful flight across the Atlantic. And he became a victim in 1932 after his infant son was kidnapped and killed in what was called the "crime of the century."

Over the years, Lindbergh and his family worked hard to protect their privacy. Before his death in 1973, he stipulated that his papers should remain private until 50 years after the death of his widow, Anne Morrow Lindbergh.

But she was so impressed with Scott Berg she gave him access to her husband's papers and her own.

I asked Scott Berg to describe why Lindbergh's transatlantic flight was so remarkable in 1927.

A. SCOTT BERG, AUTHOR, "LINDBERGH": This was -- not only was it a fantastically long way to go in a short time. I mean, not only was this the greatest demonstration to date of what aviation could do, but this was really the first moment in which a single human being left the Earth. There was no contact with this one human being.

Again, Columbus, many thought, was going to just float off the edges of the earth, but he was not alone. Lindbergh was out there alone. And there was that period where he had flown up from -- he left from Roosevelt field in Long Island, he went up the coast of Canada. And then for about 15 hours he was flying into just black night, terrible weather, and he was out of visual and audio contact with every human being on Earth.

So this, in that moment, he was suddenly elevated to God-like status. And then, 15 hours later, he is spotted for the first time coming over Ireland and rejoining the human race. And of course by the time he did actually land at Le Bourget in Paris he did become a god in that instant.

So it was an act of great, great heroism. It was death-defying. And he pulled it off. And above and beyond that, it was scientifically a wonder in that he who had lost his bearings several times through the flight, his compasses went out because he flew through magnetic storms and so forth. When he finally hit the other side, he was three miles off course. So this was just astounding that this could be done.

And of course in the historical sense he, in that one instant, in that 33-1/2 hour flight, shrunk the world.

GROSS: Now, he became quite a celebrity after the flight, and from the way you describe it in your book it was a combination of things. It was the importance of the feat that he had just accomplished, and it was also the place that he held within the rise of mass media.

BERG: Yes, I think that there's no doubt about that. I mean the accomplishment was fantastic in and of itself, but it was that moment too, where radio had really -- really reached its maturity. Where we had all sorts of processes for sending photographs through cables and so forth. We had motion pictures.

And in fact for the first time, 1927, they were synchronizing sound with film. And in fact, the first sound newsreel was of Lindbergh taking off at Roosevelt Field. So within two days, films could be sent around the world and everybody instantaneously, simultaneously could share in that experience. They could actually see and hear Lindbergh's plane taking off.

Now, on top of that, he was one of the most photogenic men who ever lived. I mean he was just impossibly handsome, and he was young. He was 25, and it was at a moment when America was really hitting its stride. So here was this fantastic embodiment of America, of youth, and of all the possibilities of aviation.

GROSS: The media attention, the celebrity, enormously changed Lindbergh's life. And now, I mean, for people who are always in the public eye one of the questions is where is that dividing line between private life and public life.

And that was an issue for the Lindberghs, too. When Charles Lindbergh met Anne Morrow and they became a couple there was an enormous amount of public interest in them. Why was there so much interest in them as a couple and how did they deal with that?

BERG: Well, and again, you've really hit on something extremely important, which because of all this frenzy after Lindbergh's flight he really did become the first human quarry for the press. We didn't have the phrase "paparazzi" then, but it was the first time the paparazzi did cross that line.

Even movie stars, who existed before that, they were protected by studios and there was a certain code of ethics. And also people knew the movie stars weren't really the people they portrayed on the screen. Lindbergh was the real thing. So, indeed, from that night he landed in Paris all rules were broken, all rules were thrown out the window in fact. And he was literally stalked from that day forward.

So, suddenly, here's this handsome young bachelor who loves his mother, and ultimately he falls in love. It was a kind of storybook meeting with one of the daughters of the American ambassador to Mexico, Dwight Morrow, and this great story unfolded in the press. Everybody loved it.

Lindy was falling in love. And he fell in love with a very attractive woman and she was a poetic woman, I mean she was really good copy. They looked good together. He was a foot taller than she. He came from the world of science and aviation and machines and she was this lovely poet.

So everything just sort of worked for them. So, indeed, the media went crazy for that. It was another thing to sell papers with.

GROSS: Let's get to the kidnapping. What did you learn from the Lindbergh papers about what went through Charles and Anne Morrow Lindberghs' minds during the period when their child was missing and the hunt was on?

BERG: Yes. For me the most interesting aspect of that period, going through their papers, was to see how it affected the marriage. And I've been told by people who have been through tragedies that it either brings the married couple closer together or it tears them apart.

I think in the case of the Lindbergh kidnapping it did both, actually. During the period while the baby was missing and for the next year or two after that there was a great kind of foxhole mentality between Charles and Anne that really did bring them together.

But after the kidnapping, it was something Lindbergh never wanted to deal with, never talk about. And it always plagued Anne Lindbergh that she never saw her husband cry, that she felt he never properly mourned over this tragedy that had, well, had struck both of them certainly.

And as a result of that she always felt, and in fact, a psychiatrist she later saw always felt, that there was this buried trauma there. And it became a kind of wedge, or more than that it became almost a cancerous growth that got bigger and bigger.

And in the later years of the Lindbergh marriage they were separated for weeks, sometimes months at a time and never really talked about it. And I think, and I think she thinks, that a lot of it goes back to 1932 when this tragedy was never properly dealt with.

GROSS: Bruno Hauptmann was convicted of the Lindbergh kidnapping. His widow maintained his innocence to the last. And she spent a lot of time trying to convince journalists, often successfully, to reinvestigate, to write stories and so on. I'm sure you did a little bit of reinvestigating yourself. What did you walk away thinking?

BERG: I did, and indeed I spent an afternoon with Mrs. Hauptmann herself. And she agreed to the interview, I think for the reason that she hoped I would join her cause. And in fact she asked me point-blank if I would go to the governor of New Jersey to get him to reopen the case. And indeed when I met her and when I started this project it was a fervent hope of mine that I would find enough evidence to clear Bruno Richard Hauptmann.

And I really poured over everything I could find with that hope. Unfortunately, the deeper I got into the case, and the more I studied the evidence, and the more I read the transcripts and everyone's statements and so forth -- and I really spent a lot of time on all the evidence -- the guiltier he came up in my mind.

GROSS: What did you think his motive was?

BERG: I think his motive was money. I don't think he intended to kill the baby, I think that was an accident. I think that happened when he was leaving the child's nursery on the second floor, coming down a ladder. There was a bit of a gap between the window and the ladder.

I think he put too much weight on the ladder. He also had the added weight of the baby. The ladder did break; we know that. You can see that it is split. And I think the baby either cracked his head against the wall of the house or actually fell to the ground -- was dropped to the ground -- and his skull was smashed then. So that part was an accident.

But I think what he hoped to gain was $50,000 in ransom. And it would have been neat and clean and he would have returned the baby right away.

GROSS: We'll talk more with Lindbergh's biographer, Scott Berg, after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

BREAK

GROSS: Let's get back to our 1998 interview with Scott Berg. His biography of Charles Lindbergh just won a Pulitzer Prize.

Now, you and I were both warned about protecting ourselves against kidnapping as children, largely because of the Lindbergh kidnapping. What impact did the Lindbergh kidnapping have on Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh's approach to protecting their children? What did you get from that from the papers that you had access to?

BERG: Yes. I mean, the papers were very revealing in that regard because Lindbergh was of two minds. On one hand, he was extremely protective, and in fact he was protective of his family his entire life. It was part of the reason I think he wanted the papers, his own papers, locked up so that nobody could bother his family for 50 years after his death and so forth.

But the interesting thing, the flip side, is he was not going to become paranoid about it. And it was as though he was not going to become a victim of the crime twice. And what amazed me is when the second child was born, which was just a few months after the kidnapping, shortly after that he suddenly took Anne on a trip -- a flying trip around the world that lasted for months.

So for months at a time he and Anne suddenly left their baby alone with a nurse or with her mother, sometimes with his mother. But off they went.

And it was almost as though he were saying to his wife -- this is what I felt rather strongly -- we are not going to become paranoid here and we've got to get on with our lives. And we must just assume this will not happen again, we must protect ourselves as best we can, but that must not change the way we live in a basic way. And off they went. And it was amazing to me that after the birth of each child Lindbergh did that same drill.

GROSS: It was almost as if -- excuse me for the cheap psychoanalysis here -- but it's almost as if what he really was saying was this time around we're not going to allow ourselves to become very attached to the infant. We're going to get away and not have this emotional attachment.

BERG: I think there's some truth to that, I definitely do. And the Lindbergh children all grew up feeling very loved, but never cosseted by any means. And I think there was always some detachment between parents and children.

GROSS: You write that your mother didn't want you to write this book about Charles Lindbergh because she thought of Lindbergh as an anti-Semite. And...

BERG: ... actually it was my grandmother.

GROSS: Your grandmother, excuse me. And therefore Lindbergh was not worth the attention, he was a scoundrel, an anti-semite. What did you find about his degree of anti-Semitism?

BERG: What I found was more and less than I expected. And it really became a great exploration for me of what is anti-Semitism. What I learned was that Charles Lindbergh was not an active anti-Semite. He did not hate Jews, if that is your definition of what an anti-Semite is. Some of his best friends were Jewish, as the phrase goes, which is an immediate tip off to most Jews that he probably is anti-Semitic.

But the truth of the matter is, Charles Lindbergh, who didn't have many friends in the world, did have several Jewish friends. He consorted with them, he worked with them, he was friends with them.

Now, at the same time, that makes the very point. He did segregate them in his mind. Jews were different. And, indeed, during the America First period, which was an extremely controversial period in this country's life -- and it was in Lindbergh's life. He did make some references in his writings and in a speech he delivered in which he talked about the Jews as being other than Americans. As being different, as being another category of people.

And in saying that, he really went against the grain of the Founding Fathers who really defined what this country is about, which is the great melting pot.

GROSS: And adding to his reputation for anti-Semitism, in 1937 he described Hitler as a great man. He said, "I believe Hitler has done much for the German people." And shortly before Kristallnacht, he received a medal from Germany which he never gave back in protest after the war started and after he realized what was actually going on there.

Did he ever change his mind about Hitler after the revelations about the concentration camps and the death camps?

BERG: He really didn't. And this is -- this is one of -- this is one of the great downfalls, one of the reasons for the downfall of Charles Lindbergh too. He stubbornly adhered to everything he ever thought, said or did. And it was admirable on one hand that he stood by his actions and record.

On the other hand, he never came around. His wife did recant. She wrote -- I found several things in her diaries that were never published that were indeed praising Hitler, praising Nazi Germany and so forth. And she did retract them and say I was really naive or I didn't want to know better.

Lindbergh really was infatuated with Germany. One can understand why, and my job is never to excuse him, it's really to explain him. And I tried to take you on Lindbergh's journey so that you can see what it is he fell in love with, which was this amazing technological society that was springing forward in the '30s. That had the greatest Air Force in the world, that seemed to be an anti-crime country and so forth. But of course he was closing his eyes to the most horrible crimes going on of all.

Now, in his defense, there was a lot we did not know about Nazi crimes then. On the other hand, there was plenty we did know. And indeed he was given this medal and indeed he chose never to give it back.

GROSS: In spite of Lindbergh's many aviation talents and all that he could've offered to the aviation industry during World War II, FDR banned him from participating in any of the government's war efforts. Why?

BERG: It's really one of the most interesting things to me, because I grew up a great Roosevelt lover and I still am. I think he was a fantastic president. But what I learned putting this book together was really what a petty and manipulative and powerful politician he was at the same time.

Lindbergh and Roosevelt became the two great antagonists during the two years before Pearl Harbor -- 1940, 1941. During that period Roosevelt very much wanted this country to get into the war, Lindbergh was the primary spokesman to keep us out of the war.

And they would give dueling speeches. Roosevelt would give a fireside chat and some of the country would come over to him. Then Lindbergh would go out and give an address on behalf of America First and the country would trot toward him.

And, indeed, as late as the spring and into the summer of 1941 -- this is now six months -- really up until three months before Pearl Harbor -- most of the country backed Lindbergh and his position. They believed this was a European war.

GROSS: America First was an isolationist group.

BERG: It was an isolationist organization. When I started the book, in fact -- this was one of the great surprises for me. I thought America First was started by a bunch of middle-age, Midwestern, very Republican senators.

What I learned, in fact, was that America First began as a kind of youth movement. It was an organization started by a few students at Yale Law School and Yale University undergraduates. A strange conglomeration of kids basically who were Gerald Ford, Sargeant Shriver, Potter Stewart, who of course ended up on the U.S. Supreme Court. Kingman Brewster, who became president of Yale University.

So these were not rabid right-wingers, these were rather idealistic young men who believed, as Lindbergh did, that this was not an American war. Of course everything changed with Pearl Harbor, and at that moment Lindbergh tried to get into the war.

GROSS: So was this FDR's problem with Lindbergh, an ideological one, a political one?

BERG: Yes, it -- it was a political problem and ideological. And indeed they had had a skirmish about seven years earlier over the air mail, and it was a fight over canceling some air mail contracts.

And it was a very public fight, and it was one that Lindbergh won. And Franklin Roosevelt had made a mistake, it was his first big public goof in the New Deal -- it was in 1934. And as a result of that he always sort of had it in for Lindbergh.

GROSS: Now, Lindbergh went on to other technical accomplishments in the latter part of his life. Maybe you can briefly sum up what they were.

BERG: Well, actually his accomplishments were really all across the board for the last 33 years of his life, most interesting of which I think was actually anti-technology. Which is he became extremely interested in the environment and conservation. And it was quite ironic because Lindbergh himself realized that he was responsible for a lot of the problems in the environment. He having been the great romantic symbol of aviation which shrank the world.

It occurred to him that he was responsible for a lot of the encroaching of civilization in areas where it shouldn't be encroached upon. As a result of that, animals were becoming extinct, some remote tribes were becoming extinct -- tribes of human beings -- the flora, the fauna.

And so he really spent the last 25 years of his life as a very active crusader trying to save the planet. He was very big on saving the whales, saving the trees. He said at one point toward the end of his life, "if I had to choose between airplanes and birds, I would choose birds."

And it was interesting to me -- he was on the Pan Am board, and when the supersonic transport was being developed he vocally and publicly came out against the SST. He just thought it was ecologically unsound and that it was unnecessary. And, in fact, he wrote a big op-ed piece in "The New York Times" on the very subject.

And all Lindbergh's life he always maintained an interest in archaeology and in anthropology. So there were always -- whenever I thought I could pin a label on Lindbergh, or whenever I thought I knew where he was going, he would fool me. He would make a right hand turn and go in an entirely different direction.

GROSS: Scott Berg, recorded last September after the publication of his biography of Charles Lindbergh. This week the book won a Pulitzer Prize.

I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 877-21FRESH
Dateline: Terry Gross, Washington, DC
Guest: A. Scott Berg
High: This week winners of the Pulitzer Prize were announced. Among them, A. Scott Berg for his biography "Lindbergh." Berg was the first and only writer to be given unrestricted access to the Lindbergh archives. Charles Lindbergh broke records with the first transatlantic flight from New York to Paris in 1927. In 1932, his 20-month old son was kidnapped and later found dead. The resulting hysteria sent the Lindberghs into exile. Berg opens up the files of this private time, discovering Lindbergh's medical work developing the precursor to the artificial heart and his fight to save the whales off the coasts of Japan and Peru.
Spec: Profiles; Lifestyle; Culture; Aviation; Awards; Pulitzer Prize; Charles Lindbergh; A. Scott Berg

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1999 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1999 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: A. Scott Berg

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: APRIL 16, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 041602NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Maureen Corrigan
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:30

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

This week the Pulitzer Prize for fiction was awarded to Michael Cunningham for his novel "The Hours." Michael Cunningham's early novels, "A Home at the End of the World" and "Flesh and Blood" were praised for the deft way in which they captured small details that betrayed larger emotional truths.

One reviewer even compared him to Virginia Woolf. Cunningham steps into Woolf's shoes and her consciousness in his novel "The Hours." Our book critic Maureen Corrigan loves the book.

Let's listen back to the review she recorded after it was published.

MAUREEN CORRIGAN, BOOK CRITIC: Who's amazed by Virginia Woolf? Not me. Not quite yet. Oh, I know I'm the problem not Woolf. I want to like her more than I do. I keep reading her books and even teaching and learning about her life, waiting for that "ah-ha" moment to happen.

Part of my trouble stems from what most critics hail as Woolf's greatest achievement, that luminous shimmering prose style of hers. It calls such attention to itself. I often feel when reading Woolf that she's tapping me hautily (ph) on the shoulder and saying, "look at that sentence I just rounded off, isn't it elegant?"

The other problem I have is with Woolf's wispy plots. Gertrude Stein once declared, dismissively, that "the 19th-century had invented explanation." I guess I'm more of a 19th-century kind of gal. I can't help wanting Woolf to spell out more of what's happening in her books.

Given that I'm not a Woolf worshiper, it's all the more a testament to Michael Cunningham's power as a writer that I was captivated by "The Hours," his retelling times three of "Mrs. Dalloway," Woolf's novel about a day in the life of a middle-aged society woman throwing a party.

Cunningham clearly appreciates that novel with all the fervor I've not yet been able to muster. The prologue of "The Hours" announces that all intellectual irony is to be banished from this updating of "Dalloway."

Cunningham begins by imagining his way into Woolf's suicide on that afternoon in 1941 when Woolf, sensing herself to be sliding into another bout of madness, stuffed her coat pocket with a stone and walked into the river beyond her house.

It's a well worn image. Even those people who know nothing else about Woolf know the dramatic manner in which she died. But Cunningham, with the delicate ruthlessness of a true devotee, takes us into Woolf's thoughts and sensations at the final moment of being.

"The current wraps itself around her," he writes, "and takes her with such sudden muscular force it feels as if a strongman has risen from the bottom, grabbed her legs and held them to his chest." It feels personal.

By opening with Woolf's suicide, Cunningham underscores just how much the themes that preoccupied Woolf in her fiction mattered personally to her. Madness, the limited saving force of human love, the role of women in marriage and the tension between rebellion and conformity. Those are the themes in particular that animate "Mrs. Dalloway," and they reverberate throughout all three of Cunningham's "Dalloway"-like story lines.

In one strand he pictures another day in Woolf's life, this time in 1923 when she is preparing for a tea party with her sister Vanessa. A second narrative follows Laura Brown, a young mother in 1940s L.A. who is beset by forbidden longings. Among them, the longing for free time to read "Mrs. Dalloway" even as she's making a cake for husband's birthday.

And the third story concerns Clarissa Vaughan, a 50-ish Greenwich Village lesbian matron who is preparing a party to celebrate an award won by her friend Richard, a poet who is dying of AIDS.

Cunningham has thoroughly internalized the lessons of his mentor. Like Wolf, he captures and exults stray moments of consciousness in acrobatic prose that makes their meaning manifest. In his poignant rendering of the inner lives of three female characters, Cunningham also shows that he's cultivated the androgyny of the imagination Woolf celebrated in her famous essay, "A Room of One's Own."

And yes, I know it's blasphemy, but I think Cunningham has gone Woolf one better in "The Hours" by tying up his three plot lines in a self-consciously "O. Henry"-type twist that's as ingenious as it is affecting. That's the most striking aspect of "The Hours," its emotional force.

Literary remakes are usually more clever than they are moving, but Cunningham's tribute to Woolf in "The Hours" is so touching I have hopes that his feeling for her may be contagious.

GROSS: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. "The Hours" by Michael Cunningham just won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 877-21FRESH
Dateline: Terry Gross, Washington, DC
Guest: Maureen Corrigan
High: Critic Maureen Corrigan reviews "The Hours," Michael Cunninghanm's literary tribute to Virginia Woolf.
Spec: Entertainment; Lifestyle; Culture; Pulitzer Prize; Awards; Michael Cunningham; Maureen Corrigan

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1999 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1999 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Maureen Corrigan

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: APRIL 16, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 041603NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: John Powers
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:50

TERRY GROSS, HOST: Two new French films hot off the film festival circuit are opening in theaters around the country. Both are first features by new directors and won prizes at Cannes.

Our film critic John Powers says they're among the best films to be released this year.

JOHN POWERS, FILM CRITIC: There's a kind of movie the French make better than anyone else: sharply observed character studies that suggest large truths about human nature. In "The Dreamlife of Angels" Erick Zonca tells the story of two charismatic women struggling against the drab fate that society has assigned them.

Elodie Bouchez plays Isa, a 20-year-old who wanders through provincial France with her life in a tattered backpack. Unsure of where she's heading, she remains unfailingly optimistic, even when selling handmade postcards on the street.

In the northern city of Lille she befriends Marie, played by Natacha Regnier, a morose withdrawn loner who shares her sense of being an outsider. But while the sunny Isa will stoically do whatever it takes to survive, Marie yearns to escape the working class and her own bottled up nature.

She throws herself into a hopeless affair with Chris, a cocksure night club owner who looks like a Tibetan body builder. When "The Dreamlife of Angels" premiered at Cannes last year it was hailed as a revelation. In fact, the movie travels ground familiar from Agnes Varda's "Vagabond" and Claude Goretta's "The Lacemaker."

Yet that doesn't stop it from being miles better than any of the much publicized American indies that show at Sundance. Zonca captures the scruffy poetry of blue collar Lille, showing us the lonely world of the disenfranchised where solidarity is forever at war with self-preservation.

And though his star-crossed finale tries too hard to make a big social statement, everything else is rooted in a complex sense of character -- even the love scenes. Marie is drawn to rough sex with Chris because his bedroom violence breaks through the wall she erects against the world.

For all its handheld grittiness, the movie has a strange glamour. Cinematographer Agnes Godard bathed the stars in tender light, and Zonca observes even their smallest gestures with an adoring eye.

The bubbly dark Bouchez steals our hearts as Isa -- she's the French actress of the moment. While the tense blonde Regnier gives the exasperating Marie a riveting self-absorption. The two make an enthralling pair of street angels and their chemistry led them to share the Best Actress prize at both Cannes and at the European Film Awards.

Few movies so realistically convey the ebb and flow of women's friendship; how it's often borne of shared alienation, how it can rise to the intensity of romantic love. And how painfully it can melt away when a man comes on the scene.

As honest as it is, "The Dreamlife of Angels" looks positively sentimental next to Gaspar Noe's "I Stand Alone," a savagely brilliant character study that's definitely not for the faint of heart. It's like a French version of "Taxi Driver," but far more honest and incomparably blacker.

It takes us inside the mind of an unemployed minute middle-aged butcher, ferociously acted by Philippe Nahon, who hates foreigners, women, homosexuals and France itself. Which he terms a land of cheese and Nazi lovers.

The butcher's whole life is an inner monologue of hatred that recalls the scabrous nihilism of Celine. I would be remiss if I didn't warn you that the movie is profoundly disturbing. It contains a glimpse of hard-core sex. Some genuinely harrowing violence. And comes punctuated with the random bang of gunfire.

At one point there's even a flashing sign that warns, "you have 30 seconds to leave the cinema." Noe's use of such a technique isn't simply a trick or evil joke, rather his confrontational style is designed to shake us out of our spectatorial detachment. To make us feel what it's like to be trapped inside a mind whirring with the vial thoughts and emotions that most of us have learned to overcome or at least suppress.

The movie succeeds triumphantly in capturing the anger, disgust, resentment and even the misanthropy that boil inside this butcher. That drive him to pack a gun, yet have odd pangs of love for his mentally ill daughter.

Last summer, a friend and I saw "I Stand Alone" and then headed straight to a screening of "Saving Private Ryan." As we left the theater after watching all that World War II bloodshed, a Hollywood guy in front of us enthused, "that's the most powerful movie I've ever seen."

"That's funny," my friend said, "it's not even the most powerful movie I've seen in the last four hours."

GROSS: John Powers is film critic for "Vogue" and FRESH AIR.

I'm Terry Gross.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 877-21FRESH
Dateline: Terry Gross, Washington, DC
Guest: John Powers
High: Film critic John Powers reviews two new French films, "The Dreamlife of Angels" and "I Stand Alone." Both films take place in the city of Lille, France. "The Dreamlife of Angels" received Best Actress for both Elodie Bouchez and Natacha Regnier at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival.
Spec: Entertainment; Movie Industry; Lifestyle; Culture; John Powers

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1999 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1999 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: John Powers
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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In his new book, Mercury Rising, Jeff Shesol writes about Friendship 7, the United States' first mission to put an astronaut in orbit around the Earth and, more broadly, about how Cold War fears fueled the early days of the space program.

08:58

Time-Traveling TV Romp 'Loki' Satirizes Comic-Book Conventions

The new Disney+ series takes one of the most charismatic actors and characters in the entire Marvel Universe — Tom Hiddleston as Loki — and puts him in a show that's lots of fun.

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