Musiques de Films 1959-1990
While there have two major collections of Serge Gainsbourg's work issued by Philips, an 11-CD retrospective called Gainsbourg et Gainsbarre and his complete works in 13 CDs, the substantial body of film music he created has been largely ignored, despite the fact that it is at least as important in understanding his monolithic (and proto-mythical) stature in French popular culture, as well as in determining his development as an artist. This collection, which relies solely on the music Gainsbourg either wrote, sang, or otherwise performed, while not complete, goes a long way to filling in the gaps. Comprised of three CDs, the package itself is handsomely done. There are two sets of notes, one in French, naturally, and one in English, that feature interviews with directors and arrangers Gainsbourg worked with, such as Alain Goraguer, Jacques Poitrenaud, Pierre Grainer-Deferre, Betrand Blier, François Leterrier, and others, with commentary by Catherine Deneuve Gerard Depardieu and many more. There are miniatures of each poster Gainsbourg scored represented in this collection, and extensive session notes. In other words, there is plenty here for the fan and obsessive to dig in and argue with or salivate on. As for the music, it follows such an interesting trajectory it's difficult to see why Gainsbourg never did make it on both sides of the Atlantic as a film composer. In the early days, from 1959 to 1966, Gainsbourg was apparently moved by the Latin and jazz worlds enough to compose in this style for films such as L'eau a la Bouche and Les Loups Dans la Bergerie, as well as "Strip-Tease." One listen to the fine theme for Les Loups and we get the impression that Gainsbourg had paid careful attention to the timbral notions discovered by Stan Kenton and Gil Evans in his orchestrations. In the "Cha Cha La Loup," from the same film, the elegance of Machito with Bird and Diz are readily apparent. In "Strip-Tease," the Latin theme is here, but in ballad and song form, with vocalist Juliette Gréco sensually iterating the theme of the film, which goes on to scorch and burn with first a chamber infusion, á la the Modern Jazz Quartet, and then the blues-riding hard bop of Jackie McLean. It's truly awesome stuff, as solid as anything Mancini, John Barry, or Legrand ever came up with in the same vein. As the '60s wore on, Gainsbourg was taken over by the rock & roll fever that accompanied the psychedelic generation's attempts at rebellion and liberation. He completely stole Bob Dylan's "Hollis Brown" for "Chanson du Forçat" from Vidoq and sang it himself. And then there's the off-kilter pop of "Sous le Soleil Exactment," sung by Anna Karina. Things really get wooly at the end of disc one, with "Woom, Woom ,Woom," an instrumental that boogies in the same greasy vein that Booker T & the MGs did, and the "Breakdown Suite" from Si J'etais un Espion, where Gainsbourg moves his grainy jazz against an electric rock boogie and a mindbending psychedelic keyboard. On disc two, which begins in 1967, Gainsbourg goes from the neo-baroque of "Elkisa," the instrumental from L'Horizon, to the title theme of Manon in the style of Leo Ferre or Jacques Brel and sounds like Leonard Cohen in a lounge. The sitars on "New Delire," with the tables and ostinato snares, give us a hint as to the places Gainsbourg was thinking about going in his acid period. And then there's the electric guitar shimmy in "Champêtre et Pop" from Ce Sacré Grand-Père. But the real surprises come from his score to the film Cannabis in 1970 There are four selections here from that film, and they are doozies of camp psychedelia, overblown rock and cabaret, as well as purely obsessive love songs. And that's a another thing about Gainsbourg compared to the other guys listed above: he knew how to work with both an orchestra and a rock band simultaneously. All of Mancini's attempts at such a pairing are laughable, Legrand has no idea what an electric guitar really sounds like, and Barry makes everything sound like a British disco circa 1965. Gainsbourg, like George Martin and Gil Evans, understood the way sounds worked together to create a montage soundscape simply because he was a real fan of popular music. The music on disc three, which spans the years 1972 to 1990, is perhaps the most satisfying as it begins with the soundtrack from Sex-Shop and Jet'Aime...Moi Non Plus, two of his most well-known works. The selections here are not common. The Sex-Shop theme resembles "Whiter Shade of Pale," which resembles a Bach piece, and the track from Jet'Aime... is the drunken cabaret number "The Ballad of Johnny and Jane." Also included are Gainsbourg's first forays into reggae with "Zanzibar," and one of his cinematic collaborations with then-wife Jane Birkin, "Yesterday, Yes a Day," and the theme from the amazingly kitschy film Goodbye Emmanuelle, which is a somber and torched-out romantic piece of music with a killer vocal by Gainsbourg. The remainder of disc three showcases the artist's moves into punk, funk, disco, and electro with various degrees of success, but without lack of authenticity. Gainsbourg took all musical forms seriously and could move back and forth between them effortlessly. There are a host of bonus tracks on the box as well, including the two from the film Los Couers Verts, which was released in 1966, but never had any of its soundtrack issued until 2001, and five alternates from other films, including Goodbye Emmanuelle (the uncensored version of the theme), Nico's theme to Strip-Tease, and Juliette Greco's glorious "Valse Au-Revior." In sum, this is an astonishing collection worthy of any film music library, and an essential addition for Gainsbourg enthusiasts.