Jane Birkin was—is—the unlikely girl who became a kind of royal figure in France due to her marriage and decades of collaboration with the country’s nonpareil musical genius Serge Gainsbourg. The Mother of All Babes is a documentary from 2003 directed by Birkin’s friend Gabrielle Crawford, who produced the DVD for Birkin’s Arabesque concert at the Odeon in Paris as well as published a book of photos of Birkin.
When Birkin went to France to do a film test for Pierre Grimblat’s movie Slogan, she had already appeared in Richard Lester’s The Knack and How to Get It as well as a memorable romp in the nude in Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up.
Birkin’s first time meeting Gainsbourg, at that film test, was seemingly inauspicious. Discomfited by Gainsbourg in a taciturn mood, she demanded to know why he hadn’t asked “How are you?” “Because I don’t really care,” was Gainsbourg’s typically blunt reply. Birkin’s husband of three years, Goldfinger composer John Barry, had recently left her, and Birkin’s emotional state as well as her incomplete command of French made the test a challenge, but Gainsbourg gallantly assisted her and helped her get the part.
Soon after they met Birkin contributed voice work for Gainsbourg’s greatest creation, Histoire de Melody Nelson. She was obviously a fruitful muse for Gainsbourg. My favorite detail from this documentary is that while they were on vacation in Normandy, Gainsbourg would get bored while waiting for the bars to open in Deauville, so he spent most of his time there befriending a goat.
Their relationship lasted 13 years, but the two remained close. Gainsbourg never tore Birkin down in the press and stayed loyal to her to the end—he was so worried that something bad might happen to her that he left her 25% of the royalties of Melody Nelson in his will.
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
‘Melody’ a film starring Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin
Jane Birkin in a Woolite commercial directed by Serge Gainsbourg