Saturday, 16 May 2015

Je t'aime: The Story of French Song

Just watched the latest of BBC4's Friday night music documentaries, one that was slightly outside my comfort zone but was no less interesting for it - Je t'aime: The Story of French Song, a very good 60min primer on the Chanson Française, the uniquely French style of popular song made famous by Edith Piaf, Jacques Brel and Serge Gainsbourg. What's interesting about the classic chanson française, what differentiates it from the Anglo-American tradition of song, is the emphasis on lyrics, which in many cases was introspective and confessional, sometimes scatological funny, and occasionally transgressive, like Serge Gainsbourg's orgasmic duet with Jane Birkin, "Je t'aime… moi non plus". The best stuff in the documentary are the years covering what one might call the Belle Époque of the Chanson Française, with fantastic archive footage of the aforementioned singers and musicians as well as Juliette Greco, Anna Karina, and Jane Birkin (all of whom are interviewed specifically for the film), although I wished there was more on Françoise Hardy (who receives only a fleeting mention) and the mysterious Barbara, whose harrowing 1968 song "L'Aigle Noir" ("The Black Eagle") was written about her memories of sexual abuse she suffered in her pre-teens by her father ("De son bec, il a touché ma joue" / "With his beak, he touched my cheek"). If you missed the initial screening last night, check the listings over the next few days for a rerun, or if you're in the UK, the documentary is available for a limited time on the BBC iplayer: (or here)

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