Friday, 26 August 2011

Friday Night Film: Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living In Paris

I first saw 'Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living In Paris’one Friday night in 1984. A plotless, often surreal presentation of twenty six Jacques Brel songs with translated lyrics by Mort Shuman, the production started on Broadway in the mid-sixties, but was made into a film in 1973 as part of the cable TV American Theater film subscription series, an early pay per view scheme which made some heavyweight dramas.

Atrocities + Puppets.

The Horn.

Some sort of symbolism.

The film opens in a theatre where three random characters discover that they are the models for the marionettes on the stage. A siren sounds loudly but they find it impossible to escape the theatre until they discover the dead puppet master and burst out of the theatre onto a beach. This odd prologue is followed by a series of song dramatisations, some fairly straightforward, others pretty unusual.

Elly Stone in full flow.

Jacques Brel proxy.

'If we only have love'.

How much you enjoy the film will, of course, hinge on how much you enjoy the chansons of Jacques Brel, but although there may be one too many 1920’s pastiches, the good news is that the quality of the songs is generally extremely high, with several unique performances. Jacques Brel himself makes an appearance, and doesn’t so much steal the show as put the whole production into his pocket and stride into another dimension. His performance is ‘Ne Me Quitte Pas’ is simple, but incredibly intense, and the film never really recovers from it and can be viewed on the various websites where antique clips of this nature are collected.

Here’s ‘The Statue’, performed by Joe Masiell (a stage actor, this was his only film appearance) a song which, combines wit, anger, drama and poignancy in perfectly measured amounts.

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