Love in the Afternoon Crowd

A couple of weeks ago I saw St. Vincent perform at Café de la Danse. Before playing the opening track from her most recent album, Strange Mercy, she described the film that the song title was taken from: Chloe in the Afternoon, by Eric Roehmer.

(You can watch her do that here if interested: )

So I went home and I watched Chloe in the Afternoon or L’Amour l’après-midi and was pleasantly surprised to find the spirit of both the flâneur and the crowd alive and well in the main character Frédéric.

If you watch a clip from the very beginning of the film, (specifically from 1:10-3:37 ) you will hear Frédéric extol life in cities. Frédéric feels a certain obsession and intoxication particularly with the crowds he finds in cities. He says:

“I love the city. The suburbs are oppressive. And despite the crush and the noise, I don’t mind diving into the crowd. I love the crowd as I love the sea. Not to be engulfed by or lost in it, but to sail it like a solitary pirate, seeming to follow its rhythm, but finding my own when the current breaks or dissipates. Like the sea, a crowd is invigorating. My thoughts come to me in the street, even those that concern my work…

And when I see lovers, I think less of me and what I was, than of them, and what they will become. That’s why I love the city. People pass by, and vanish. You don’t see them grow old.”

While we did not read Baudelaire’s “Crowds” in class, Frédéric is almost a literal incarnation of the man Baudelaire describes, especially if that man happened to wear a red turtleneck and was alive during the 1970s.

Baudelaire says,

“It is not given to every man to take a bath of multitude; enjoying a crowd is an art; and only he can relish a debauch of vitality at the expense of the human species, on whom, in his cradle, a fairy has bestowed the love of masks and masquerading, the hate of home, and the passion for roaming. 

Multitude, solitude: identical terms, and interchangeable by the active and fertile poet. The man who is unable to people his solitude is equally unable to be alone in a bustling crowd. 

The poet enjoys the incomparable privilege of being able to be himself of someone else, as he chooses. Like those wandering souls who go looking for a body, he enters as he likes into each man’s personality. For him alone everything is vacant; and if certain places seem closed to him, it is only because in his eyes they are not worth visiting. 

The solitary and thoughtful stroller finds a singular intoxication in this universal communion. The man who loves to lose himself in a crowd enjoys feverish delights that the egoist locked up in himself as in a box, and the slothful man like a mollusk in his shell, will be eternally deprived of. He adopts as his own all the occupations, all the joys and all the sorrows that chance offers. What men call love is a very small, restricted, feeble thing compared with this ineffable orgy, this divine prostitution of the soul giving itself entire, all it poetry and all its charity, to the unexpected as it comes along, to the stranger as he passes. It is a good thing sometimes to teach the fortunate of this world, if only to humble for an instant their foolish pride, that there are higher joys than theirs, finer and more uncircumscribed.”

Between Baudelaire and Eric Roehmer, there is a power in anonymity that is worth being discussed. On a personally level, it can be fulfilling in a world full of human relationships that are disappointing or restricting. Being one of many, one of the crowd, is the ultimate escape.

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