On July 16, 1991, just two short months before his death, iconic/iconoclastic jazz trumpet legend Miles Davis was honored with knighthood in France’s Legion of Honor, one of the highest cultural honors bestowed by that nation. From a New York Times wire service article:
Jack Land, French culture minister, described Davis as “the Picasso of jazz.”
“With Miles Davis, you are in constant musical adventure,” Lang said. “He has been able to cross all the eras while staying eternally avant-garde.”
Davis, 65, has recently given several concerts in France, which have not been well received. The headline on an article in Libération, a left-of-center national daily, read: “Miles Davis Bores Us.”
It’s tempting to write that kind of dismissal off as French radicals being, well, French (Libération was founded by Jean-Paul Sartre, so it can hardly get any more radical or any more French in this particular instance) but by that time, Davis’ output was basically slick pop like Tutu, and his close-but-no-cigar attempt to catch up to acid jazz on the posthumously-released Doo-Bop. Trombonist and Village Voice jazz writer Mike Zwerin, who forever cemented his untouchable credibility by playing on Davis’ Birth of the Cool, wrote in an article in the International Herald Tribune the following day:
This summer he blanketed Europe under kliegs, playing not only a bass-heavy backbeat but also his hits of yesteryear (“Boplicity,” “Sketches of Spain”) and leading an all-star assortment of ex-employees (Jackie McLean, Herbie Hancock). For at least a decade he has refused to look back, and I cannot help but wonder if this unexpected flurry of eclectic activity at age 65 is some sort of last roundup.
His current working sextet has been playing pretty much the same set and solos night after night, including Michael Jackson’s tired “Human Nature,” which has become his “Hello Dolly.” The band has lacked creative energy since freethinkers like Al Foster and John Scofield left in the ‘80s. No longer leading the way in the ‘90s, he is getting by on his (considerable) charisma, which is holding up better than his boredom-detector. When the French minister of culture, Jack Lang, made Miles Dewey Davis a knight of the Legion of Honor on Tuesday, it seemed somehow like final punctuation.
The article’s complete text is here. It’s excellent, very personal, and given how short a time Davis had to live, it serves accidentally as a fine eulogy.
Enjoy this brilliant footage of Davis in 1970, with Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett, and Jack DeJohnette, among others, at the Tanglewood Festival, performing “Bitches Brew.”
In New York, subway etiquette is primarily informed by human instinct and enforced with corrective glaring. It’s not the best system, since the self-absorbed, mentally ill, and tragically oblivious are often immune to the expectations of the world outside their own noggins and earbuds. France, however, is leaving nothing to chance, and keeping patrons informed, with style.
The pictures you see here are a from a book of subway etiquette created by the Paris transport authority. The manual contains twelve rules, all of which fall into one of the four “pillars of civility.” (You can see/read the whole thing here.)
Like French film, the manual is attractive, but it doesn’t patronize your intelligence. Unlike French film, it will be completely ignored by pretentious assholes.
Proving that stupidity among conservatives knows no national boundaries, “Hommen,” France’s most militant in-your-face anti-gay organization, largely comprised of ostensibly heterosexual males in their late teens and early 20s, have taken to protesting against the country’s marriage equality laws by taking their shirts off, writing anti-gay slogans across their bare chests and parading around shooting off flares like mentally-deficient members of the Hitlerjugend modelling for an Abercrombie & Fitch catalog.
Their name and the topless nature of their protest is a razzing of Ukraine’s topless Femen protest movement (who they abhor, one Hommen rep called Femem “terrorists”), but obviously these dudes haven’t really thought the whole topless thing all the way through in their particular context and the hilariously mixed message that their distinctly homoerotic protests communicate.
Because nothing says “virile young heterosexual males protesting against gay rights” like large masked groups of ‘em oiled up and naked to the waist with nary a woman in sight!
Nothing gay about it.
DEVOlution in Nantes
“I have ze ‘Democracy’ right ‘ere!”
“Liberté the Pony Boy” likes to give his pals in Hommen free rides. Clip-clop!
On their knees against gay rights.
You’ll have to come up with your own caption for this one!
In this short clip (uploaded by Oranj Telor Theatre) Beckett reads an extract from his difficult and complex second novel, Watt, which was written “just an exercise”, while on the run from the Gestapo during the Second World War. “No symbols where none intended.”
An even shorter Q & A with Beckett, after the jump…
I was never much of a fan of Annie Hall. I couldn’t honestly believe anyone would want to spend time with someone who seemed to be so alienated from their own feelings. I sat in the cinema thinking “Get oan wi’ it. Dae something”. But all that happened was introspective discourse and humor as deflection. Sure it had funny moments, but it seemed a million miles away from my life and the lives of those around me. And it seemed indulgent.
Yet, Annie Hall marked the turning point when Allen’s unique brand of humor conquered the world, and changed film and TV comedy for the next 3 decades, right up to Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm.
Allen was suddenly everywhere - from the covers of Newsweek and Time, to lengthy interviews on French TV and the South Bank Show. He was the pin-up of geeks and the bourgeoisie, and Annie Hall was a lifestyle choice.
Still, none of that takes away from the fact Woody Allen is a comic genius, and a brilliantly talented writer and director of films.
This fascinating documentary captures Allen not long after his Oscar success with Annie Hall and the release of his follow-up movie Interiors. Made for French TV in 1979 by Jacques Meny, and actress/journalist, France Roche, this documentary takes the neurotic King of Comedy through his childhood, early career, and success as writer filmmaker. Though the voice over is French, Allen’s interview is in English.
Chris Marker the influential French artist and film-maker has died aged 91. Marker died on his birthday, July 29th, which oddly reminded me of the time traveler in his 1962 film La Jetée who returns back in time only to see his own death at Orly Airport.
La Jetée is Marker’s best known work, which questioned the form of cinema, and the role within it of image, sound, editing and script. The film consisted of a series of still images, and one film sequence, which told the story of a post-apocalyptic world where a time traveler returns to the past to change the future. The film was the basis for Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys, and original conceit for James Cameron’s Terminator. Today, French President Francois Hollande led tributes to Marker, saying La Jetée “will be remembered by history.”
Born Christian François Bouche-Villeneuve on July 29th, 1921, Marker was vague about his biography, preferring to mislead and fictionalize elements of his story. He variously claimed he was born in Paris, Neuilly-sur-Seine, and Outer Mongolia. Marker never gave interviews, and refused to be photographed, though in later years pictures were secretly taken.
Marker was studying philosophy when the Second World War broke out, he served with the French Resistance, after the war he wrote a novel, Le Coeur Net (1949), joined the left-leaning magazine Esprit, contributing to poems, stories, and co-wrote the film column with André Bazin. He then wrote for Cahiers du Cinéma, before starting the globe trotting that would continue for the rest of his life, photographing and documenting his many excursions.
Marker’s first experimental film was a documentary on the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. He then worked with Alain Resnais on Les Statues Meurent Aussi, a hugely controversial film dealing with colonialism and art, which was banned in France on the grounds it attacked French foreign policy. Marker was a Marxist and his politics informed much of his work. However, Marker could be critical of Soviet Russia as he was of the west. In Letter from Siberia (1958), he famously critiqued Soviet and Western propaganda by showing the same piece of film three times, reporting it twice through East/West propaganda, and finally, ‘telling it like it is.’
Durng the 1950s, he also started a series of photographic books, one in particular on Korean women, developed Marker’s idiosyncratic style of mixing image and text, which possibly inspired the form of La Jetée.
Marker followed La Jetée with the less successful Le Joli Mai (1962), a 150 minute film made up from almost 60 hours of interview material on the lives, loves and politics of Parisians. He was then involved in establishing Société pour le Lancement des Oeuvres Nouvelles (SLON), which made collectively directed films and documentaries. Their first film was on Vietnam, and continued with the style of documentary Marker had devised with Le Joli Mai.
During the 1970s, Marker seemed to lose his way, making films about the politics of previous generations rather than the issues of feminism, sex, and personal liberty, that were central to the decade. It wasn’t until the 1980s that Marker returned to form with the cinematic essay, Sans Soleil (1983) and AK (1985), a documentary on Akira Kurosawa, making his epic movie Ran.
Marker continued working through his seventies and eighties and began developing a more personal and intimate style of film-making, focussing on his pets and zoo animals, creating his own bestiary.
Chris Marker wrote with the camera - his best works told cinematic essays that mixed the personal with the social and political.
Chris Marker (Christian François Bouche-Villeneuve), July 29 1921 - July 29 2012
Hearty congratulations to the entire country of France for having the good sense to elect a Socialist president, François Hollande, and for kicking that pompous dickhead Sarkozy to the curb.
It’s not like the “Socialist” part—or even President-Elect François Hollande himself for that matter—got much play in the initial reports in the American media, although “Farewell Monsieur President!” and “Goodbye Sarkozy!” headlines were in abundance (I’d have gone with something like “France tells ‘President of the rich’ to piss off, elects Socialist”). Hollande will be the country’s first Socialist leader since François Mitterrand (the Republic’s longest-serving president) left office in 1995. It was Hollande’s ex-wife, Socialist politician Ségolène Royal, who was defeated by Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007.
MSNBC, not mentioning Hollande in the headline, and under a picture of a dejected looking Sarkozy, natch, called the President-Elect “unassumming.” When reporters did get around to mentioning Hollande by name, it was normally to mention that he was a “socialist lite” or a “moderate.”
By American political standards? That’s a pretty meaningless and worthless comparison, if you ask me.
To take the President-Elect at his own word, his win represents “a new departure for Europe and hope for the world” because “Europe is watching us, austerity can no longer be the only option.” I personally like the way that sounds, but Lynn Parramore, writing at AlterNet fears that Hollande will end up being a “marshmallow” who talks big and then lets monied interests walk all over him (where have we seen that happen before?). She also describes him as “more like an American centrist Democrat than a Bush-style right-winger,” but I’d take that with a grain of salt (see below).
The 57-year-old Socialist has openly admitted that he “does not like the rich” and declared that “my real enemy is the world of finance”. This means taxing the wealthy by up to 75 per cent, curtailing the activities of Paris as a centre for financial dealing, and ploughing millions into creating more civil service jobs.
Add an explicit threat to renegotiate the euro pact to replace austerity with “growth-creating” spending, and you have one of the most vehemently left-wing programmes in recent history.
BUT… There’s always a “but” isn’t there? France is broke and mired deeply in debt. Servicing the country’s outstanding debt is the second item of the government’s yearly budget, right below healthcare:
Caution is justified, though one thing Mr Hollande will not repeat is the disastrous tax-and-spend policies introduced by France’s last Socialist President, François Mitterrand, in 1981. He was soon forced into a humiliating U-turn, and into sharing power with the right as the Communists quit his cabinet in protest.
In contrast, Mr Hollande will focus on solving the euro crisis and reversing a Gallic economic decline widely blamed on a failed capitalist system, and particularly a rotten banking sector.
Foreign policy: supports the withdrawal of French troops present in Afghanistan by the end of 2012.
European politics: aims to conclude a new contract of Franco-German partnership and he advocates the adoption of a Directive on the protection of public services. Proposes closer Franco-German partnership: “an acceleration of the establishment of a Franco-German civic service, the creation of a Franco-German research office, the creation of a Franco-German industrial fund to finance common competitiveness clusters (transport, energy or environment) and the establishment of a common military headquarters.”
Financial system: backs the creation of a European rating agency and the separation of lending and investment in banks.
Energy: endorses reducing the share of nuclear power in electricity generation from 75 to 50% in favor of renewable energy sources.
Taxation: supports the merger of income tax and the General Social Contribution (CSG), the creation of an additional 45% for additional income of 150,000 euros, capping tax loopholes at a maximum of €10,000 per year, and questioning the relief solidarity tax on wealth (ISF, Impôt de Solidarité sur la Fortune) measure that should bring €29 billion in additional revenue.
Education: supports the recruitment of 60,000 new teachers, the creation of a study allowance and means-tested training, setting up a mutually beneficial contract that would allow a generation of experienced employees and craftsmen to be the guardians and teachers of younger newly-hired employees, thereby creating a total of 150,000 subsidized jobs.
Aid to SME’s, with the creation of a public bank investment-oriented SME’s and reducing the corporate tax rate to 30% for medium corporations and 15% for small.
Recruitment of 5,000 judges, police officers and gendarmes.
Construction of 500,000 homes per year, including 150,000 social, funded by a doubling of the ceiling of the A passbook, the State making available its local government land within five years.
Restoration of retirement at age 60 for those who have contributed more than 41 years.
Hollande supported same-sex marriage and adoption for LGBT couples, and has plans to pursue the issue in early 2013.
The provision of development funds for deprived suburbs.
Return to a deficit of 0% of GDP in 2017.
This is “moderate”? Sounds pretty “sane” to moi.
Appropriately, Hollande’s jubilant left-wing supporters took their joyous celebrations to la Place de la Bastille where the Socialist President Elect spoke:
“I don’t know if you can hear me but I have heard you. I have heard your will for change. I have heard your strength, your hope and I want to express to you all of my gratitude. Thank you, thank you, thank you people of France, gathered here, to have allowed me to be your president of the republic.”
“I am the president of the youth of France! I am the president of all the collective pride of France! I am the president of Justice in France!
“Carry this message far! Remember for the rest of your life this great gathering at the Bastille because it must give a taste to other peoples, to the whole of Europe, of the change that is coming. In all the capitals, beyond government leaders and state leaders, there are people who, thanks to us, are hoping, are looking to us and want to put an end to austerity.”
Some more vintage electronic French pop to round out the week on Dangerous Minds. Some folk may not know the name Pierre Henry, but they definitely know his music - well they would know his music, were it not for the fact that what they are hearing isn’t actually him. I’m talking of course about the Futurama theme tune, and how it is a blatant rip-off of Henry’s classic ‘Psyche Rock’ from 1967 (more specifically, the Fatboy Slim remix).
Now, don’t get me wrong I love Futurame, but it’s to Matt Groening’s eternal shame that he did not just stump up whatever cash was required to purchase the original track. What we now have in its place every week is a lame facsimile, that some people even confuse with the original track. Oh well. That’s entertainment!
Regardless, The Art of Sound is an excellent French (subtitled) documentary directed by Eric Darmon and Franck Mallet from 2006 that follows Pierre Henry as he collects unique sounds for his compositions, sets up an even more unique live concert in his house, and generally looks back over a career in music that spans over fifty years. It’s intimate and revealing, and its central figure comes across as quite the character.
No, scrub that - Pierre Henry is the shit. He went from being a pioneer of musique concrete with Pierre Schaeffer in the 1950s to creating psychedelic sound-and-light shows in 1960s Paris that could match anything dreamt up by Pink Floyd and the Grateful Dead. He composed music for abstract ballets that still sounds genuinely psychedelic and like nothing else today. He may come across as crabby and extremely eccentric in this film, but I still hope I end up as cool as this guy if I get to be his age. I mean, you have to be pretty awesome to attract a steady fanbase to abstract electronic recital shows in your own bloody house, right?
More psyche-pop magic, this time with Henry & Colombier’s “Teen Tonic” (1967) set to footage of the 1960s German TV fashion Show Paris Aktuel by YouTube uploader Cosmocorps2000:
Anne Pigalle weaves her magic in this short biographical film, L’Histoire D’Anne Pigalle.
Made in 2001, during a point when the legendary chanteuse was re-examining her life, the film looks back on her creative life, from childhood through first bands, to the release of her classic debut album Everything Could Be So Perfect in 1985, to her slow disillusionment, as she questioned the value of her fame and success.
Since making L’Histoire D’Anne Pigalle, Anne has established herself as a multi-media artist, mixing art, photography and painting, with live performance. Last year, Ms Pigalle made a triumphant return to the top of the tree with her beautiful and spell-binding album L’âmerotica Part I and II, which was quickly followed-up earlier this year, with the stunning L’âme érotique.
The folks at Mod Cinema just keep the goods rolling out, don’t they? It’s hard to stay up with the embarrassment of riches on offer from them. Take for instance their recent duo of double DVD sets featuring unedited episodes of Dim Dam Dom, the distinctive, ultra-hip, fashion-forward late sixties French pop TV series. Dim Dam Dom had a very French “mod” sensibility, giving it a vastly different look and feel to British programs like Colour Me Pop or Top of the Pops and American counterparts like Shindig! and Hullabaloo.
Dim Dam Dom was a music variety hour produced for the Deuxième channel in France. The title summarizes this shows concept, “Dim” for Sunday, “Dam” for ladies, and “Dom” for men. Pioneering the creativity of the show was Daisy Galard. From the elaborate dance choreography, to the set design, to the production and staging, Dim Dam Dom serves as a colorful time capsule of pop music in 1968.
Included in Mod Cinema’s two 2-disc Dim Dam Dom sets are several complete unedited episodes (most in color, a few in black & white) with rare performances by Johnny Hallyday, Mireille Darc, Grapefruit, Marie Laforêt, Nino Ferrer, Eddy Mitchell, Stone, Memphis Slim, Ronnie Bird, Françoise Hardy, Procol Harum, The Electric Prunes, Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger & the Trinity, Sylvie Vartan, Jacques Dutronc, Pussy Cat, The Moody Blues, P.P.Arnold, Serge Gainsbourg, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Jacques Dutronc, “Les Bee Gees,” Claude François, The Easybeats, Manfred Mann, France Gall (who also sings the shows “theme song”) and many many others.
I’d heard the theory that the Smurfs were a ploy to get us used to the imminent arrival of little blue aliens, but this is news to me. A French academic has published a book claiming that the Smurfs were both Communist and anti-Semitic, claims that have met with a backlash from fans of the little blue guys. From The Guardian:
Antoine Buéno, a lecturer at Sciences Po university in Paris, makes the claims in his new book Le Petit Livre Bleu: Analyse critique et politique de la société des Schtroumpfs, in which he points out that the Smurfs live in a world where private initiative is rarely rewarded, where meals are all taken together in a communal room, where there is one leader and where the Smurfs rarely leave their small country.
“Does that not remind you of anything? A political dictatorship, for example?” asks Buéno, going on to compare the Smurfs’ world to a totalitarian utopia reminiscent of Stalinist communism (Papa wears a red outfit and resembles Stalin, while Brainy is similar to Trotsky) and nazism (the character of the Smurfs’ enemy Gargamel is an antisemitic caricature of a Jew, he proposes). A story about the Black Smurfs, meanwhile, in which the Smurfs are bitten by a fly which turns their skin black and renders them unable to speak, has colonial overtones.
Reactions to the book were immediate and hostile, with commenters on Smurf fansites calling Buéno a “dream breaker”, an imbecile and a crook with “paranoid delusions”, who is ruining childhood memories.
Is this strange video perhaps more proof of a connection?
This should have been something: When Sparks met Jacques Tati in 1974, to discuss Ron and Russell Mael’s’ starring roles in the French comedy legend’s next feature Confusion. N’est-ce pas incroyable, non? As the brothers explain over at the fabulous Graphik Designs website:
Russell Mael: “We were discussing with a guy from Island Records in Europe fun things to do that weren’t involved with being in a rock band and how to just kind of expand the whole thing… JacquesTati’s name was brought up and we just kind of laughed it off. Anyway, he approached Jacques Tati and somehow got him to come meet us. Jacques Tati didn’t know anything about Sparks because he was 67 years old and doesn’t listen to rock music.”
Ron Mael: “We were to be in Tati’s film Confusion, a story of two American TV studio employees brought to a rural French TV company to help them out with some American technical expertise and input into how TV really is done. Unfortunately due to Tati’s declining health and ultimate death, the film didn’t get met.”
Confusion was to be a “visionary project” in which Tati offered a critique of the encroaching globalization of the world through advertising and television. It was planned as a follow-up to his masterpiece Playtime that dealt with the damaging alienation caused by modern corporate life. Tati had even decided on a shock opening to his new feature. In the first reel, his famous comic alter-ego, Monsieur Hulot would be killed off, in a mix-up with a real and prop gun.
The film had Hulot working in a rural TV station and his death leads to the arrival of two young American TV execs (Ron and Russell), who have plans to modernize the TV station.
What should have been one of the greatest pop-comedy films ever made, sadly never happened after Tati went bankrupt and his declining health put the project on hold. However, Sparks did write a song for the film, Confusion, which appeared on their Big Beat album. Instead of starring roles, the brothers made a cameo appearance in the 1977 blockbuster Rollercoaster. Plans to film Confusion lingered on for a few years, until Tati’s death in 1982 brought the project to a close.
Bonus clips of Sparks, plus their demo ‘Landlady, Landlady, Turn-up the Heat’ after the jump…
Solar Skeletons consists of French duo TZII and RIPIT, who brought their musical talents together in January 2006 to create “a conceptual band with no limit of genre nor process.” Their music fused Industrial Minimalism with Blues, and a dash of psychedelia.
They sell their wares with a mix of tongue-in-cheek and sci-fi babble:
The Dead Sons of the Sun are roaming the Earth, choosing the musical weapon to convince the so-called human intelligence to fight if they can’t love each other. After conquering Mars and Pluto, they chose the East Coast of the USA to land and start their crusade. Their Head Quarters is now established in Brussels. They will blind the audience with raw rays of unseen light, and preach through distorted music clichés. The absurdity of human beings needs to be shown by pointing its most obvious form: religion, drugs, love etc… After being reprogrammed, humans will be able to save their planet.
Best stick to the tunes, guys, which are hypnotic, addictive and exceedingly tasty.