The arthouse cinema of the 1960s – particularly the French New Wave – is, of course, one of the finest periods / movements in film history, a time when innovative directors essentially reinvented what cinema was with a series of stylish, provocative and intriguing films that were both intellectual and commercial. You can look at films from this period today – be they Godard’s Masculin Feminin or Felini’s 8 1⁄2 – and still be blown away by the visual aesthetic. The clothes, the characters, the striking, often black and white photography and the overall sense of sophistication and invention runs through the movies as much now as it ever did, even after years of familiarity and imitation.Nothing has ever quite matched these movies for sheer style.
Yet the soundtracks to these films are often overlooked, which is a pity, because the scores of many of these films play integral part of their overall impact, as much as the music does in any film. So this new collection – clocking in, like any decent film, at 80 minutes – is welcome indeed, collecting music from nine films and seven directors, from Godard to Orson Welles and Stanley Kubrick. This is no mere collection of theme tunes – while some films only have a single track to represent them, others have several – in the case of Lolita, 12 tracks, which is essentially a complete soundtrack album.
The CD opens with four tracks from Chris Marker’s masterful short science fiction film La Jetée. This is moody, atmospheric, dark music – the opening track Krestu Tvoyemu, performed by the Choir of the Russian Cathedral of Paris, offers a spiritual opening while the remaining music by Trevor Duncan perfectly captures the feel of the film, with elements of darkness, romance and suspense tinged with a hint of science fiction cliché. Marker’s film – a tale of time travel, war and love told in still images – would be a considerably lesser work without this score.
Things change dramatically with track five, the opening theme (and first of three tracks) from Francois Truffaut’s Jules et Jim. This lively theme is reminiscent of circus music, cartoonishly jolly and light. Vacances, on the other hand, is a more reflective piece, still joyful but with a more bittersweet edge. Also included is Jeanne Moreau singing the sweet ballad Le Tourbillion.
The first of two Jean-Luc Godard films is next, with Charles Aznavour singing Tu T’laisses Aller from Une Femme Est Une Femme, one of the director’s most entertaining and light-hearted movies. This is a classic early Sixties French ballad, cheesy yet oddly cool and timeless. Later, we get another ostensibly light – and very French – vocal piece from Vivre Sa Vie. Ma Mome, sung by Jean Ferrat, has a melancholy at its heart that matches the darker themes of the film.
After Une Femme Est Une Femme comes five tracks from the soundtrack of Alain Renais’ masterpiece Last Year at Marienbad. This is one of your writer’s favourite movies, and the score is perfect for the film – playful, mysterious, oddly discordant and curiously reminiscent of the sort of organ score you might find in a particularly weird low budget horror movie – more tonal atmospherics than anything really resembling a tune. Given that you can, if you choose, interpret Marienbad as a genre piece – it’s as good a definition as any for this unique movie – this odd, almost silent movie like score is rather appropriate.
Next is a complete change of pace, with the cool, swinging lounge music of Agnés Varda’s Cléo 5 a 7. La Belle Putai, sung seductively by Corrine Marchand is perhaps the epitome of French cool. Just as cool, albeit in a more frantic manner is the music from Orson Welles’ The Trial. This is frantic, swinging jazz, sitting somewhere between the effortlessly cool music you want to hear when confronted with jazz and the deranged free-for-all it all too often becomes. This is certainly fast and frantic, but thankfully holds onto a tune, and of course is perfectly suited for capturing the growing lunacy inherent in Kafka’s original novel.
A pair of Stanley Kubrick films round out the album. As noted earlier, Lolita is represented by what I assume to be the whole score, with music by Bob Harris and Nelson Riddle. This ranges from the sweeping orchestrals of the main title to suspenseful atmospherics (Quilty’s Theme) and lively, rather traditional film score music (Arrival in Town), all of which essentially underscore the onscreen events (and are often prosaically named accordingly – Humbert Contemplates Killing Wife and Discovery of Diary, for instance). But most fun – and what makes this score fit so well here – are the likes of Lolita Ya Ya, a playful slice of yé yé pop that could easily sit on a collection of French chart hits of the time – or the soundtrack to a gloriously cheesy Eurotrash movie. The track is later blended with the love theme on Thoughts of Lolita, giving it more of an edge. Also good is Two Beat Society, a swinging jazz number that has a Twenties feel, which later contrasts with School Dance, a more modern rock ‘n’ roll version. It’s excellent stuff, and the inclusion of this full score alone should be reason enough to snap this album up.
The album ends, rather incongruously, with Vera Lynn’s We’ll Meet Again, from Dr Strangelove. Well, it is on the film soundtrack, though this 1940’s number is perhaps a bit out place when stripped of the visual irony of backing up nuclear annihilation.
This closing oddity aside, this is a fine collection of varied – yet sympathetically collated – music from some of the finest films ever made. With 30 tracks and a booklet of extensive notes, this is a an essential addition to any soundtrack collection.