Category Archives: Music

‘The Umbrellas of Cherbourg’

UMBRELLAS-OF-CHERBOURG

Having recently become members of the Nickelodeon, my wife and I on Sunday attended a special showing of “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, ” the film that launched Catherine Deneuve as a star.

I’m not what you’d call a big fan of colorful romantic musicals of the early 1960s, but this one was unusual, if not unique. And not just because it was in French.

First, it was at first glance visually very much like Hollywood films of the time — very Kandy-Kolored, none of that somber continental auteur black-and-white stuff. In fact, the colors were sort of a foreshadowing of the later psychedelic portion of the decade. The wallpaper alone in some of the interior sets would make you suspect there were some very funny mushrooms in the vicinity of Cherbourg.

Then there was the fact that it wasn’t just a musical musical, in the sense of people suddenly and without warning breaking into song for no good reason. Every word of dialogue, down to the most pedestrian remarks, was sung. A bit disturbing at first, but this operatic device worked, even with me. In the opening scene, a guy who works with one of the protagonists at a garage sings that he doesn’t like opera; give him movies instead. I could identify, ordinarily. Anyway, it made for a nice little internal joke.

If you get the opportunity to see the film sometime — it’s no longer showing at the Nick — it’s worth it just for the moments when suddenly, you recognize a tune the characters are singing. I was delighted and frustrated by this, because these tunes were very much a part of the background of the 1960s — the grownup, Muzak, “standards” part that was always playing somewhere, even though it’s not what we kids sought out. Here’s a cover of one. I’m proud that I made the connection on this one before the film was over, when suddenly my brain replaced the French words with “If it takes forever, I will wait for you.” Here’s another earworm from the film.

I had never heard of the film back in those days, but I certainly knew the tunes.

SPOILERS to follow…

That warning seems a bit unnecessary, but I’m hoping that some of you who haven’t seen it will see it sometime. As for those who have seen it, I’d be interested in what you think about how the film turned out.

As happens at the Nick, there was discussion of the film there in the theater before and after the showing. At the start, we were told that this apparently light story was set within the context of France’s traumatic experience in the Algerian War. But… I didn’t see any heavy political subtext. The structure of the film was in three parts, the first being boy-meets-girl and the second boy-leaves-girl-to-go-to-war. It could have been any conflict, or some other cause. The point was that the boy went away. There was nothing special about the fact that it was to Algiers.

Madeleine -- not only was there character in her face, but she had a sort of Katharine Ross thing going on...

Madeleine — not only was there character in her face, but she had a sort of Katharine Ross thing going on…

Then there was the ending, which in a sense was the least Hollywood thing about the film. And this is the real spoiler. We’d been set up to think it would be a terrible thing if Geneviève and Guy didn’t get back together — in conventional Hollywood terms. But from the moment Mssr. Cassard and Madeleine made their appearances, I felt that they were better mates for our star-crossed lovers. Sure, in Hollywood-values terms, Deneuve was beautiful as Geneviève — being beautiful was her specialty, especially when she was older — but Madeleine was more my type, and Guy’s, too, I thought. Not only did Ellen Farner have a kind of pre-Katharine Ross thing going on (and it was a law of movies in the ’60s — if Katharine Ross appears, you the male viewer will fall in love with her), but there was depth of character in her face. This is the girl you marry, Guy. And Messr. Cassard was more the kind of mate Geneviève needed, despite — or perhaps even because of — his over-trimmed mustache.

Anyway, I guess that’s enough on the subject of a film you probably won’t see unless you go out of your way. But it impressed me and I wanted to share that…

The psychedelic wallpaper was well ahead of its time.

The psychedelic wallpaper was well ahead of its time.

Thursday Music Discussion Group

We’ve had a reference to some old-boomer music, and we occasionally have a reference to Phillip’s musical talent. Accordingly, I thought I’d give y’all a chance to talk about the music that you’re listening to (or playing) now.

Currently, I’m preparing for a contested motion hearing, so I’ve got Holst’s “The Planets” on in the background here at the office as I go over my final points.

What is everyone else listening to these days?

Uninformed observations about unrelated pieces of music

Of all the things I like to write about in spite of knowing nothing about them, music is one of my favorites.

Lately, I’ve been boring members of my family by making them listen to the opening of Leon Russell’s “I Put a Spell on You” from his eponymous album (the one before the Shelter People one). No, not a Screamin’ Jay Hawkins cover. Totally different song.

It has one of those “you are in the studio” false starts at the beginning. Actually, two or three of them. I’ve always thought those things were a little obnoxious, because they seem to play on fans thinking it’s cool to hear their rock ‘n’ roll heroes being informal, making mistakes, and it seems self-conscious, as in “We know y’all will enjoying feeling like you’re rubbing shoulders with wonderful us in the studio, so we’ll throw you a bone.”

Or maybe I read too much into it.

Anyway, I like this one because of what Leon does with it. There’s one false start. Then another. Then he, and a guitarist, play a sort of winding, downward pattern. And then suddenly, Leon does that thing where you run your finger down the keys in one long flow, from right to left (what’s that called?), and then the rollicking song actually begins.

It feels, to me, like the musical version of jump-starting a car with manual transmission by letting it roll down the hill and letting out the clutch with the gearshift in first. If you’ve ever done that (I’ve had to do it a couple of times with my Ford Ranger), see if listening to this kind of feels that way to you.

Or maybe I’m just crazy.

Here’s the other musical thing I wanted to bring up. This is probably a question for Phillip Bush, like when I asked why awesome songs such as Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” are so awesome. What musical tricks make the endorphins flow?

I’m thinking that about the theme song to “Orange is the New Black,” which we’ve touched on here previously.

The magic seems to occur in two places. One is when Regina Spektor gets to the line, “And you’ve… got… ti-i-IME!” What is she doing there? It’s unusual, and very appealing. The other cool part is the bridge (I think), where she shifts gears and goes:

Think of all the roads.
Think of all their crossings…

Anyway, it’s very appealing, whatever she’s doing. I wish I could put it into words. But if I could, I guess we wouldn’t need music, which would be a shame…