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« Elsewhere | Main | Pop Quiz o' the Day »

December 08, 2004

The Fartiste

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Have you ever run across the 19th century French music-hall star Joseph Pujol? He was quite a phenonemon, a huge star who was known as "le petomane," or "the fartiste." That's right: Pujol was a specialty act, and virtuoso farting was his specialty. He had a long and busy career, and performed his act all over France. He had his greatest success at the Moulin Rouge, where he outgrossed (if that's the right word) the legendary actress Sarah Bernhardt.

Here's a description of Pujol's opening night at the Moulin Rouge:

Then Le Petomane performed some imitations, using the simple, honest format of announcing and then demonstrating. He displayed his wide sonic range with tenor, baritone, and bass fart sounds. He imitated the farts of a little girl, a mother-in-law, a bride on her wedding night (tiny), the same bride the day after (loud), and a mason (dry-- "no cement"). He imitated thunder, cannons ("Gunners stand by your guns! Ready-- fire!!"), and even the sound of a dressmaker tearing two yards of calico (a full 10-second rip). After the imitations, Le Petomane popped backstage to put one end of a yard-long rubber tube into his anus. He returned and smoked a cigarette from this tube, after which he used it to play a couple of tunes on a song flute. For his finale he removed the rubber tube, blew out some of the gas-jet footlights from a safe distance away, and then led the audience in a rousing sing- along.

Here's one account of Pujol; here's another; here's a third. Those funky Frenchies: Marseilles even commemorates its native son with a "Rue Pujol."

All this reminds me of a passage in Jean Renoir's biography of his painter father. (A wonderful book, by the way.) Jean, who spent many childhood hours hanging around his father's bohemian models -- lucky boy -- wrote that one thing he recalled about the bedrooms of these legendary 19th century love goddesses was that they often smelled of full chamber pots.



posted by Michael at December 8, 2004


Something must be in the air (sorry!). Just this morning in my art theory class, we discussed Keith Broadwee's anus paintings where he... enema'd a bunch of egg tempera and then shot (shat?) it out of his anus onto a cheap canvas. The paintings aren't very interesting, but the video of his process sure was. Guess we haven't come too far from the Moulin Rouge days.

Posted by: Megan on December 8, 2004 05:04 PM

Any Howard Stern fans out there? One of his regulars is an English guy, can't think of his name, who is a fartist.
Farts renditions of The National Anthem (God Save The Queen) among others. T'rifficcc sphincter control.

Posted by: ricpic on December 8, 2004 06:23 PM

These are the same French whom Americans think are so much more sophisticated than us? I think movies have done a tres bon marketing job on us.

Posted by: annette on December 8, 2004 07:06 PM

Renoir book: Disliked. Family of pompous mediocrities. Book proof.

Annette, we wouldn't want to dredge up nadirs of American taste, now, would we?

Posted by: Toby on December 8, 2004 08:10 PM

You will recall of course that the governor in Blazing Saddles was named The Honorable William J. LaPetomane.

Blazing saddles indeed.

Posted by: Brian on December 8, 2004 11:02 PM

Megan -- What was once music-hall is now gallery art!

Ricpic -- I had no idea. Whenever I surfed through Stern, all I ever ran across was some siliconed porn girl with those square pixillation boxes blurring her boobies out.

Annette -- Well, it's a very earthy kind of sophistication the French peddle. The most exalted kinds of refinement, but with roots going deep into the soil. Maybe a little too earthy for a lot of Americans? I remember that there was a kind of funky cheese the French were wild about -- I could barely stand to be in the same room. They called it "the toes of God," ate it with relish, and rolled their eyes in utter ecstasy. Yikes. Made me feel very whitebread and bland.

Toby -- Unimpressed by "Rules of the Game" and "Apres le Bain"? I guess I can understand that. But I'm surprised that you find father and son pompous. They seem to me two of the least pompous artists ever. But maybe I'm missing something you're seeing.

Brian -- Damn, I still need to catch up with "Blazing Saddles." I don't know how I dare call myself an American without having seen it ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on December 9, 2004 11:34 AM

Ah, you saw the History of the Toilet special on the Discovery Channel last night too?

Posted by: Cryptic Ned on December 9, 2004 05:03 PM

I did, although a while back. Or maybe it was some other history of the bathroom. I found it well-done and very interesting, didn't you? Certainly made me appreciate modern plumbing a lot more than I ever did before.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on December 9, 2004 06:19 PM

Re. History of the French:
Didn't the Pythons suggest in the "Holy Grail" that the French were already farting in our general direction since the days of King Arthur and the Proleteriat Oppressors? From that age on, they simply refined it to where it did not seem to be in poor taste to present it on stage.

Posted by: DarkoV on December 9, 2004 07:25 PM

The Fartiste is making me laugh as I recall my years in a very strict Catholic girls’ school. For entertainment, we used to sneak down to the “smoker” in the basement and light farts. And I’m French. It must be genetic.

Posted by: Maureen on December 9, 2004 09:41 PM

Michael Blowhard:

You've never seen "Blazing Saddles" and you call yourself a lover of film? A cinemaphile? Go, rent it instantly and sin no more.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on December 10, 2004 01:17 PM

You know, I was wondering just this morning why blogging seems limited to political ranting and raving.

"Surely, there must be something else," I thought.

And, voila! There it is.

Posted by: Stephen on December 10, 2004 01:22 PM

A little known, yet "movementous", tale of The Fartiste follows:

At the height of his fame, The Fartiste performed with theater orchestra, trouser trumpeting his way through hits of the day. A crisis arose when the musical parts were temporarily lost on a train trip to a performance in Lyon.

Fortunately, the Fartiste had his music director/conductor with him (Dr. Fromage) and the good Dr. was able to instruct the local Lyon musicians as to the tempo, style and length of each tune.

When the concert started, however, The Fartiste immediately became uncomfortable performing and suddenly defecated in his pants and, ultimately, the stage. The concert abruptly ended.

Backstage, The Fartiste (still in considerable pain) asked Dr. Fromage what was wrong. "Nothing," replied the Dr., we performed "The 'Taxi' Song" in D as usual."

"But I perform that song in Bb" cried The Fartiste.


Posted by: Haydn on December 10, 2004 01:55 PM

Really? And the music director's name really was "Dr. Fromage"?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on December 10, 2004 02:28 PM

No Michael, I must apologize. This is an old musician joke (based on the real person) and as it is generally told, you say "True Story" at the end--heightens the humor??--maybe not!!

Posted by: Haydn on December 10, 2004 02:37 PM

Say, why couldn't Beethoven find his teacher?

Because he was HAYDN!


Speaking of musician jokes...

Posted by: Brian on December 10, 2004 11:33 PM

I'm amazed that musicians generally even know of Pujol, enough to craft a joke around him. Is there something about musicians and farting? ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on December 11, 2004 11:36 AM

This entire comment chain and Pujol himself are just ggr-r-r-o-sss!!!!! Aaaarghhh!

Posted by: annette on December 11, 2004 01:40 PM


I take your amazement in the spirit in which it was given.

Long ago, when pre-man was but lurching about on all fours , he had not one but a few sphincters, one of which we now call the larynx or voice box.

So, while Pujol and his achievements are, ah, noteworthy, the context of the modern-day larynx as post-sphincter gives one pause whilst listening to the warbling of the operatic soprano, the attorney standing at the bar or the academic at the lectern.

Apologies to Annette for grossness.

Posted by: Haydn on December 11, 2004 03:14 PM

And we can all buy this for only $19.95.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on December 11, 2004 03:42 PM

You're hopeless.

Posted by: annette on December 11, 2004 05:07 PM

I recall seeing a documentary about Le Petomane on TV a couple of years back which, if I remember rightly, had actual footage of the man himself. Alas, I think the film was taken around 1900 and there was, as a result, no sound (although I wonder how well flatulence would be picked up by the acoustic recording horns of the period anyway)...

Posted by: James Russell on December 12, 2004 05:58 AM

Michael: I'm not very familiar with the son's work, but his book (Renoir, My Father?) irritated me throughout, and led me to be "pre-emptively" suspicious of his other creations. Certainly the amplitude of hero-worship displayed towards his father is grossly out of scale with the latter's achievements. (Perfectly fine for a son to harbour such feelings in private, but not appropriate for a biography that's intended to be taken seriously.)

I'm amazed you didn't find the tone offputting, it is some years since I read it, but I can clearly remember the icy (ultra-Victorian) superiority of a family that brooked no criticism or dialogue where their assumed brilliance was concerned. This is not endemic or typical among the truly talented - in fact often manifests as a contraindication, as we know...

Renoir senior was an archetypal cold, rejecting Victorian who compensated by dwelling on ersatz sentimentality instead of real humanity (a type dissected, for instance, in Pirsig's Lila).

Posted by: Toby on December 14, 2004 02:05 PM

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