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Nothing Subtle on Eiffel Tower 100th Birthday

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Times Staff Writer

Early in the show, two men ablaze but in special asbestos suits will ascend the Eiffel Tower while 53 others jump off it, tied by elastic cords.

Later, rock singer Johnny Halliday, known as “the French Elvis,” will roar onto a huge stage, built at the foot of the tower, in the company of 100 leather-jacketed motorcyclists and their bikes. From the stage, from barges in the Seine, from holes in a giant birthday cake at the Palais de Chaillot, will emerge music, dancers, tightrope walkers, fashion models, fireworks and laser beams.

Finally, Ronald Reagan and his friend, Mayor Jacques Chirac of Paris will unveil the 76-foot tall cake. One thousand chefs will pour out of the huge pastry, with candles and slices of cake for le peuple .

Happy 100th birthday, Eiffel Tower! Happy 200th anniversary, French Revolution!

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The cost of Mayor Chirac’s 89-minute party tonight for several hundred thousand guests: $10 million.

No matter, it seems. This is no time for prix fixe. This is a time of Revolutionary excess and Bicentennial one-upsmanship in the French capital.

Not to be outdone by arch-rival Chirac, his opponent in a bitter presidential election last year, President Francois Mitterrand, has invited President Bush, 29 other world leaders and an estimated crowd of 2 million to his own party for the 200th anniversary of the storming of the Bastille, July 14.

The Mitterrand party, a parade that will include elephants, horses painted to look like zebras and the Florida A & M Marching Band doing the moon-walk down the Avenue des Champs Elysees, is expected to cost $15 million.

Aides to Chirac and Mitterrand deny any revelry rivalry. However, Mitterrand was not invited to Chirac’s party tonight. Nor was Chirac invited to Mitterrand’s fete next month.

“There is absolutely no competition between the two,” insisted Chirac aide Thierry Aumonier. “It is a simple matter of protocol. It is the mayor of Paris who invites. President Mitterrand was not invited.”

Although the president was snubbed, Aumonier said Chirac did invite Minister of Culture Jack Lang, a Mitterrand ally, “who will be given a position of honor right next to Reagan.”

Each show has an eccentric director with his own ideas of how to celebrate history. Promoters for Chirac’s Eiffel Tower party, directed by Olivier Massart, describe it as an event that “combines Jules Verne and Fellini--an enormous naive event that mixes the wildest imagination with the glory of industrial performances. Living artists mix with enormous pictures on unpalpable screens.”

Mitterrand’s fete is more playful, reflecting the elfin personality of Jean-Paul Goude, a veteran American and French advertising man.

“When I was a kid,” said Goude, “I always dreamed of putting on a show at the Theater of the Champs Elysees,” a musical and dramatic theater near the famous boulevard. “Now they have offered me the whole Champs Elysees. How could I refuse?”

Goude’s show will also benefit from Mitterrand’s position as commander-in-chief of the French military. In addition to 8,000 extras, 1,500 drummers and a 90-foot steam-belching train engine with 20 men pounding on oil drums, 3,000 French soldiers will join the parade.

Director Massart, who seems to be benefiting mainly from Chirac’s friendship with Reagan, will have 3,500 extras, 300 fashion models, 100 accordionists and 20 international stars, ranging from French crooner Charles Aznavour to Stevie Wonder.

Each of the rival shows has problems. The Chirac spectacle will be rudely interrupted by a commercial for Citroen, the French car maker. And Massart’s decision to install a “Noah’s Ark” sequence in the middle of a historical theme, which begins with the French Revolution, has left American television director Walter C. Miller puzzled.

“Some of this stuff I simply do not understand,” said Miller, part of the American Radio City Music Hall team hired to hired to tape the show for international television. “We go from the French Revolution to Noah’s Ark. It’s just not chronological.”

Too Tall for TV

Another worry for Miller, a veteran of big spectacles who staged the inauguration of President Bush among other events, has to do with the tower itself. The 1,000-foot-high tower, constructed by French engineer Gustave Eiffel for the World’s Fair of 1889, has a bad, as Miller put it in television terms “aspect ratio.” In short, it is too tall for television. There is no way to show a performer and the tower at the same time. As a result, the performers will appear on the small screen as though they are set before a jungle-gym, not the whole magnificent iron-lace tribute to the dawn of the modern age.

Goude, meanwhile, is beset by political problems. The Chinese portion of his “parade of planetary tribes"--a giant drum pulled down the street by cyclists with dancers from the Beijing Opera and flailing martial artists, was canceled because of the recent political turmoil in China. Soviet officials objected to Goude’s idea of having Kremlin guards goose-stepping down the street to African music while a ballerina danced with a bear.

Citizens from Brittany refused to march in a Goude scene that they claimed made them look like comic strip characters. Their main objection appeared to be his proposal that they should wear traditional Brittany bigoudenes --starched white head-dresses worn by women in the region-- but lit up with neon tubes.

Finally, Parisians of all stripes are fed up with both political leaders for the inconvenience that their respective parties will cause drivers. For Chirac’s fete tonight, a 6.2-square-mile area in the heart of Paris has been closed to all vehicular traffic.

Traffic restrictions will be even more severe for the Mitterrand Bicentennial events. Mitterrand has complicated his celebration by inviting the leaders of the world’s other six richest industrial nations to hold their annual economic summit here. He also invited dozens of leaders from the world’s poorest nations to meet with the rich nations’ leaders.

Almost every leader will require a motorcade. Security will be intense. The Paris police chief has said he will mobilize 30,000 police, compared to only 1,500 for the Chirac event. As a result, from July 10 to July 17, a huge section in the center of Paris, from the Bois de Boulogne in the west to the Louvre Museum in the east, will be closed to most traffic.

Fumed Le Figaro, a Paris-based newspaper that supported Chirac and not Mitterrand in the presidential election last May:

“Ten million Parisians and inhabitants of the suburbs are preparing to live a weeklong nightmare.”


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