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TINA AUMONT: A LIFE LESS ORDINARY BY HELEN DONLON

 
Hollywood, 1946. Future cult screen goddess Maria Christina Aumont is born to actress Maria Montez, the Dominican-American “Queen of Technicolour” whose own position as the colourful Latin siren of such ostentatious and camp classics as Arabian Nights (1942), Cobra Woman (1944) and Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves (1944) later inspired Jack’s Smith’s magnificent homage, Flaming Creatures (1963). Tina’s father was the equally illustrious Jean-Pierre Aumont, the French actor and pin-up, whose film credits included Heartbeat (1946) with Ginger Rogers and Lili (1953) with Leslie Caron. This promising childhood picture was ripped apart when at the age of only five Tina suddenly lost her mother, who died of a reported heart attack in the bath at their family home in France. When her father remarried (actress Maria Pavan, eventually twice over) Tina was sent off to school in Switzerland. She re-emerged a few years later into a Paris of the early 60s where she soon set about finding congruous souls to soothe the cravings of her tearaway heart. Photo: Jean Pierre Aumont / Maria Montez with daughter Tina 17/08/48 ©Rue des Archives/AGIP

Christian Marquand was a fearless young actor whose coterie included Roman Polanski, Roger Vadim, Donald Cammell, Marlon Brando (both Brando and Vadim named their sons Christian after him) and the Rolling Stones. Marquand had introduced Cammell to Brando after the latter had scalded his testicles following an incident with a hot cup of coffee and was languishing in hospital, and their friendship once sealed led to Brando being initially offered a role in Cammell’s Performance, as well as to a lifelong tempestuous friendship between them.

Photo: September 1963 Paris Match magazine featuring Tina Aumont cover (GRAGNON/PARISMATCH/SCOOP)

An olympian libertine, Marquand had met Tina through Roger Vadim and, encouraged by her father who was concerned for his daughter’s new lifestyle, married her in 1963 when she was only 17, at a family residence in Provence. Tina was on the cover of Paris-Match. Their wedding guest list read like a who’s who of ‘the scene’. The more well-known faces like Brando had to shuffle around in heavy disguise to avoid the French tabloid menagerie that had crawled in. Mick and Keith were kept in a neighbouring village.

Meanwhile Jean-Pierre Aumont had already taken care of acting lessons for Tina in New York with Stella Adler. Fresh from her training Tina scored a role in Joseph Losey’s Modesty Blaise in 1966, which led her and Christian to London where they took a flat which soon acquired the same party central status as their place in Paris. Marquand had acquired the rights for his friend, the American writer Terry Southern’s novel Candy, and had started working on the film adaptation he was to direct. While in London, Marquand threw a swanky party for Bob Dylan when he arrived in town. Tina was hanging out with Anita Pallenberg, Brian Jones, Deborah Dixon, Robert Fraser and Marianne Faithfull. Nights were spent at the Ad Lib club and days out included visits to crumbling palaces, and drinking wine with her gang in England’s ancient hostelries. Her favourite concert experience was seeing The Who throw their destructive stage power around.

For Tina, Brian Jones’s death marked the close of the London sixties. She’d been very fond of him and like many others in their circle felt that something important about the period had died with Brian. During one of the more intense patches in Jones and Pallenberg’s feisty relationship, Jones turned up at Tina and Christian’s flat convinced that Anita was taking refuge in one of the closets, and woudn’t leave till he had searched the entire place for her.

With Modesty Blaise in the can, Tina went on to film Texas Across The River (1966) with Dean Martin and Alain Delon, but her private life was not so rosy. It was around this time that her marriage to Christian began to show cracks. She had a miscarriage which he seemed to blame her for, and within weeks their three year marriage was over.  But before long she had fallen for and moved in with the heavenly psychedelic dandy painter Frédéric Pardo. Pardo had an interesting artistic pedigree; his father ran an art gallery, his mother was a close friend of Simone de Beauvoir and his godparents were Jean-Paul Sartre and Madeleine Malraux. Pardo’s best friend was the fascinating young underground filmmaker Philippe Garrel (son of Maurice Garrel). And Tina was smitten with her elegant unusually talented beau.

With Frédéric Pardo many friends believed Tina had found her spiritual soulmate and their relationship was often remarked upon as one of intense closeness, characterised by private jokes, shared interests and grand passion. Their apartment in Paris was widely adored, both for its highly unusual décor (a combination of their exotic tastes) and for the like-minded people they drew to them. Pardo was heavily influenced by Medieval painting, the Pre-Raphaelites and Eastern art, and he used tempera in his paintings. These images influenced Philippe Garrel’s filmmaking, and set the painter apart from the other young artists of the scene due to his being highly influenced by former periods, unlike most of his modernism-obsessed pop art contemporaries. Photo: Tina & Frédéric by Angelo Frontoni www.internetculturale.it

The circle that gravitated to Tina and Frédéric’s Paris apartment included visitors from Warhol’s Factory, London friends and the rebel caravan of Parisian actors and musicians known as La Bande de la Coupole.  Evenings at the apartment would often include visits from Pierre Clémenti, Zouzou, Anita Pallenerg, Stash Klossowski, Jean-Pierre Kalfon and Bulle Ogier. Deborah Dixon described Tina during this period as “splendid, but already a little lost..” Musician Valérie Lagrange said “She was sublime, majestic. They lived in the first psychedelic apartment I’d ever seen, with black lights, Moroccan fabrics and cushions. They lived on the carpets: no table or chairs, Oriental-style. And Tina made some excellent Tagines!..Tina and Frédéric lived the life of a couple who were really together as one.” Tina later introduced Valérie to Jimi Hendrix in Rome.

By 1967 Tina had started to appear in more underground films, like her friend Pierre Clémenti’s 16mm Visa de Censure No. X. The following year she featured in Clémenti’s La Revolution n’est qu’un Debut, as well as playing opposite him in Bertolucci’s Partner, fake eyes painted on her eyelids, and reciting Roland Barthes in a study of robotic absence. By now she and Pardo had left France for Italy, where they had temporarily settled in Campo di Fiori in Rome. Following the Paris uprising of 1968, many of their Parisian friends joined them (some fearing arrest in France where they had been actively involved in the riots, others just ready to flee from the rigid heavy-handedness of French politics and social unrest).

Tina’s years in Italy were probably the happiest of her life. Cinecittà, the cinematic nerve centre was on fire with creativity, and Tina was one of its burning torches. Her film appearances including a starring role in Pride and Vengeance (1968) with Franco Nero and Klaus Kinski, avant-garde erotic filmmaker Tinto Brass’s The Howl (1968), Polidoro’s Satyricon (1969) and Brocani’s Necropolis (1970, again with Clémenti). She was also working on Garrel’s cryptic Le Lit de la Vierge.

 

1968 - Shot by Angelo Frontoni From: http://www.internetculturale.it

Garrel was now looking for a soundtrack for Le Lit. Tina’s friend Nico had just made her beautiful album The Marble Index, and her arrival at that moment in Italy, along with Viva from The Factory, was to prove timely. At Tina’s home in Grottaferrata, where Garrel had been working on Le Lit, Nico and the young director were first introduced. Nico, Viva and Tina went off briefly to Rome to visit Clémenti who was being treated for a breakdown – allegedly after discovering that his wife had had an affair with Garrel during filming of Le Lit. Tina suggested that they all go together to Positano where she had rented a villa. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards had just finished writing some of the songs for Let It Bleed, notably Midnight Rambler and Monkey Man down there, and this Mediterranean beauty spot seemed to be a magnet for all sorts of creative mergings that year.

The Positano party included Nico, Garrel, J-P Kalfon, Valérie Lagrange Margareth Clémenti, Tina and Frédéric. They stayed for nearly a year just off the coast on the tiny islands of I Galli. For most of them it was a magical time, and one in which no small of amount of hallucinogenics were consumed. Valérie Lagrange recalls how they sat around watching TV the night of the first moon landing, with a full moon outside and many a spliff passed around.  

During the filming of Le Lit de la Vierge, Pardo had shot his own super-8 and called it Home Movie, a beautiful record of the behind the scenes of the shoot, with some extraordinary moments in the stunning architecture of Morocco and in a late 60s London. The star of the film is undoubtedly Tina and the way in which Pardo captures her speaks absolute volumes about their relationship, which clearly at that moment was at its most complicit and intuitive.

Over the next few years Tina appeared in several more films including Master of Love (Rondi, 1972), Torso (Martino, 1973), Les hautes solitudes (Garrel, 1874), Casanova (Fellini 1976), Salon Kitty (Tinto Brass, 1976), Exquisite Corpses (Rosi, 1976), The Nude Princess (Canevari, 1976) and Lifespan (Whitelaw, 1975). Her circles were widening again and her reputation for good times (and increasingly, fierce independence) had by now crossed the safety line. Although she always turned up for work on time, drugs and partying had taken over. By 1972 she had split with Pardo after leaving him to do a trip to Bali on his own. He waited for her to turn up there and join him, and she never did, which for him marked the end of the trust they had shared. Tina continued to live from day to day.

 1976 - Tina Aumont as Henriette in Fellini's Casanova.

Then in 1978 she was arrested in Italy, and charged with illegal importation of 400 grams of opium which she’d smuggled in from Thailand, hidden in little Buddas. She was eventually sentenced to three years imprisonment, which she managed to reduce on appeal to nine months. But the love affair between the Italian cinema industry and Tina Aumont was over, and she was asked to leave the country. She moved back to France.

By the late seventies a new scene had emerged in the Paris nightscape. The Disco, Punk and New Wave movements had taken over clubs like Le Palace and Les Bains-Douches, where artists and celebrities formed nightly heaps of debris at the end of long evenings of coke, champagne and the rest. It was hand in glove for Tina, who quickly hooked up with “la bande du Palace” of which Alain Pacadis – whose Nightclubbing column for Libération chronicled the excesses of this period  – became her partner in crime. The pair of them led a riotous nocturnal existance, and cooled out (in a sense) when they’d then spend days on end at Nico and Philippe Garrel’s flat immersed in Class A tranquillity. Pacadis noted how Garrel’s apartment had the air of not having changed for a decade (and the electricity had been cut off by now). Meanwhile Tina was selling stories of her illustrious rise and fall to magazines like France Soir. In 1981 Pacadis tried to commit suicide in Tina’s apartment.

The esteemed Gérard Courant, whose Cinématons are, like Warhol’s Screen Tests, short silent close-up studies of his subjects filmed one of Tina in 1985. It’s a beautiful capture, and her free spirit shows in her insouciant and charismatic body language throughout. The same year, after a night of clubbing at Le Palace, where Pacadis had crowned her Reine de la Plage and presented her with an electric cafetiere, he and Tina went on a now fabled Hunter S. Thompson-worthy several week journey by car to Saint Tropez, with actor Jean-Francois Ferriol. In an interview with Catherine Ringer of Les Rita Mitsouko done on his return, Pacadis states “The luxury hotels in Cannes threw us out, we were prosecuted on the road by cops from Saint Tropez, threatened with internment in a psychiatric hospital in St Raphael, until finally we managed to get repatriated to Paris by Europe-Assistance, first class!”

Despite a few more roles including Les Frères Petard (1986), a story set within the crepuscular world of Parisian nightlife (and in which Pacadis also featured) Tina’s health was failing. She eventually cut loose from the metropolis and settled in Port-Vendres near the Catalunyan border. After a quiet couple of years she died, following the death of Frédéric Pardo less than a year earlier, in her sleep in late 2006. She was buried beside her mother in the Cimetière de Montparnasse in Paris.

“She was magnificent! You cannot imagine the beauty of that girl! Tina had everything going for her, but unfortunately she had one of those destinies...The real descent into hell.  At the start of all that, there was this childhood trauma, her father had hidden her mother, the actress Maria Montez's death from her for a long time. When she found out, Tina set up spiritual seances to contact her mother…who had left a very peculiar will. She revealed in it that she had spent time with the devil, as a voodoo practitioner. Tina quickly followed her onto the slippery self-destructive slope…” - Frédéric Pardo

Biblio/sources/further reading:

Bernardo Bertolucci: Interviews. Eds: Gerard, Kline and Sklarew (University Press of Mississippi)
Nightclubbing by Alain Pacadis (DeNoel)
Vingt ans sans dormir by Paquita Paquin (DeNoel)
Le roman de ma vie by Bernadette Lafont (Flammarion)
Nico: The Life and Lies of an Icon by Richard Witts (Virgin)
Mémoires d’un temps ou l’on s’aimait by Valérie Lagrange (Le pre aux clercs)
Egéries Sixties by Fabrice Gaignault (Fayard)
Zanzibar: Les films Zanzibar et les dandys de mai 1968 by Sally Shafto (Paris Experimental)

Please check out the tribute facebook page:  www.facebook.com/Tina.Aumont