The Filmmakers Café

There is a café, left bank, on the Rhône near the Pont Morand looking across the river to the older quarters of the city. It's a little known spot and like many cafés in France, it's more than a little standoffish. Part of that has to do with the clientele, but, as with most things French, it has to do with the language as well. If you can't talk the talk you really can't sit here very long. The brothers who own the café aren't particular, it's just the way of things.

So this café is empty of tourists and is really maintained by a collection of regulars who come and go as they please. These are people who speak the language. They've developed a rapport among each other. They have regular habits and their eccentricities are well known to friends. Even guarded, it's a site of interest because of the patrons who dine here. All of the best known names in film have passed through entry way, and many still stop by on their daily routine.

Fritz Lang reads a newspaper in just in view of the street. F.W. Murnau stops by and distracts him with some literary journal. They talk about the American way of making movies, how it limits their creativity but it's safe. They're talking about Chaplin and how well he's done in America.

Towards the back is Ingmar Bergman frowning over chess board. He's playing Ridley Scott--a worthy opponent. It's a frown meets scowl face off. This is a game which has been going on for days if not years. Each director has walked away from the table. Some times for a lonely cigarette to think about the next move--sometimes to get started on a totally different project.

When Jean-Luc Goddard buys a round for François Truffaut, Frederico Fellini, and a group of promising, raptured, but ultimately forgettable students there's a loud cheer. It's distracting to the more thoughtful types. But John Huston won't look up from his crime novel.

John Ford and Howard Hawks sit at the bar. Hawks has to simplify everything for Ford, but enjoys his personality. Hitchcock ribs Ford for his weird glasses, orders a brandy, and heads outside.

Sitting on a bench just outside the café Hitchcock can feed the birds and watch passersby. He's a dirty old man who gives a smile to attractive families and attractive blondes alike. He can't help it, but Hitchcock points out one of the many problems with having a sort of unspoken membership here.

That's precisely what Spike Lee comes in to yell at the owners about, "why aren't there more brothers in here!" He's organizing a boycott of the café and when he walks out he blows right past a new crowd who're on their way in later--Jordan Peele and F. Gary Gary rolling a joint just around the corner. But Lee is only thinking of half the problem:

There aren't many women who are regulars here either. There are editors, screenwriters, and costume designers living in the apartments above who come through. All great filmmakers, but the unspoken barrier of language is difficult to overcome. Some would say it's in tone, it's in vocabulary. Even when you're well spoken, there are glances and raised eyebrows over dialect, accents, or vocabulary. It's hard to brush off and it's not the way things should be.

There's maybe one option to being less well spoken, David Lynch is a master of laughing off the barbs thrown his way by people who just don't get what he's up to. He can sit by a window and eat pie. If he's in late at night he'll order a PBR in a joint where they'll serve you absinthe with a sugar cube and the rest.

Martin Scorsese leads a tour group by. He's proud to dine there regularly, but he never really strikes up a conversation with anyone here, what he has to say just isn't interesting enough.

But there's a deeper secret to the filmmaker's café--nobody here is a native speaker of the language. All this judgement, these weird alliances, all of this is acquired pronunciation of the language. It's something everyone here has learned and refined by coming back. It's something that varies from where you're from. There are only two exceptions.

There's a table on the street sort of reserved for the two native speakers of the language of film. Stanley Kubrick walks up to his regular seat. He's exactly on time and looks at his table for his regular lunch meeting like he expects his partner to be late. He laughs to himself and takes a seat. But that's when he sees a water color kit on the seat across from him, it's unlikely but Akira Kurosawa got there early.

Even surrounded by all these accomplished filmmakers, everyone holds a little reverence for these two. "What do they talk about?" Or "I don't care what they're up to?" Whatever the patrons are thinking they have an opinion on these two even when they ignore them. There's just a different sound in their voice, different but so fluid. It's like poetry. These are two different men, but speaking the same language perfectly well and noticeably differently.

But suddenly a young man comes over and asks if he can take a seat with them. He's wearing a baseball cap, jeans, an Army surplus jacket. From all appearances this is a tourist off the street. But he speaks so well. And everyone watches this newcomer like who does he think he is.

But then he sits there with Kubrick and Kurosawa for an hour, tossing around complex sentences and keeping up with what seem like in-jokes and idioms. And he's so polite. Finally after a long conversation he stands up, thanks Kubrick and Kurosawa for their time and leaves.

"He spoke almost perfect, don't you think?" asks Kubrick.

"Absolutely. Very well spoken, practiced. I've never heard anything like it. And so polite," Kurosawa says.

"What'd he say his name was?"

"Steven Spielberg."