Histoire De Melody Nelson – The Film

Serge Gainsbourg’s 1971 masterpiece transformed into a work of video art starring Jane Birkin.

Serge Gainsbourg’s classic 1971 album Histoire de Melody Nelson is one of the great concept albums of all time – a languid, seductive and creepy slice of psych-funk, in which the narrator tells the story of his doomed love affair with an English cyclist who he hits while out driving in his Rolls Royce. Like much of Gainsbourg’s work, it is a morally ambiguous piece – we don’t, after all, quite know just how old Melody is supposed to be. Gainsbourg loved to play with outrage and controversy, and this album – his unquestioned masterpiece – is no different.

While the LP remains one of the best-known and most admired slices of French pop music internationally, the film version – simply called Melody – is a rather more obscure item. The half-hour short is essentially an extended music promo that follows the narrative of the album with Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin recreating their roles from the album in what is part narrative story, part music video and all trippy masterpiece that is awash with video effects, one revolutionary and now so dated that they once again feel startling and unusual. The film was directed by French video artist Jean-Christophe Averty.

Like many an old promo film, the short slipped into obscurity before emerging on a French box-set edition of the album in the mid-2000s. For those of you unfamiliar with the album, it here takes on its original purpose, as a promotional film to whet your appetite.

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