Academic journal article French Forum

Jacques Demy's Musical Comedies: An Homage to the American Show Musical

Academic journal article French Forum

Jacques Demy's Musical Comedies: An Homage to the American Show Musical

Article excerpt

Jacques Demy dreamed of America long before he discovered it in 1965, when Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (1964) was selected for the Oscars. For a long time, America fed his dreams of travel, intrinsically mixed with those of cinema. His reverie goes back to childhood during which he often went to the theater alone and saw "lots of American movies," as he reported in a 1969 interview. (1) His precocious "cinephilia" led him to Hollywood, whose studios he avoided, preferring to shoot outdoors in real-life settings around Los Angeles. Nevertheless, America and in particular the musical, a genre linked to the Hollywood studios, nourished his imagination.

His first full-length feature, Lola (1961), opens with a shot of the seashore and a white Cadillac being driven by Michel (Jacques Harden), the lover, who is back from America. This film, originally conceived as a musical, launched the 29-year-old director's career in musical films, a genre that had by then almost completely disappeared in the United States. Strictly speaking, only three of Demy's films can be called musicals: Les Demoiselles de Rochefort (1967), Trois Places pour le 26 (1988), and Pea it d'Ane (1971). The third film which belongs to a different sub-genre, the fairy tale musical, is much closer, as Jean-Pierre Berthome (243) and Michel Marie (11) note, to the world of Jean Cocteau's La Belle et la Bete than to the American musical. Thus it is not discussed in this paper. The two films I propose to analyze, Les Demoiselles and Trois Places, belong to what Rick Altman describes as the "show musical" sub-genre, in which Gene Kelly in particular distinguished himself in the postwar years and that was key to the development of the French director's approach. Although the two films came out 21 years apart, Jacques Demy states in an interview that the initial idea for Trois Places emerged during a meeting with Yves Montand in Los Angeles in 1968, only a year after Les Demoiselles. Four years later, a first draft of the script had been completed. Besides belonging to the same sub-genre, the two films where conceived during roughly the same period, that of Les Demoiselles and Demy's sojourn in the United States.

In this paper, I outline the shape Demy's interest in the American film musical takes in his work as an homage through a network of intertextualities to the Hollywood masters and especially to the "show musical" sub-genre as well as both an insertion into this codified genre and as a distancing from it. The last two points will be examined according to three major features elaborated by Altman in his comprehensive work, The American Film Musical: the hierarchical relation between image and sound, the fluctuation between reality and fantasy that is characteristic of the American film musical, and the duality inherent in the sexes that finds a resolution in the film.

Before presenting the form this homage takes in Demy's Les Demoiselles and Trois Places, it is not unnecessary to summarize these two films.

Les Demoiselles opens with the arrival of itinerant performers in Rochefort, where twin sisters Solange (Francoise Dorleac) and Delphine (Catherine Deneuve) live, one a musician, the other a dancer. They lead dull lives, content with giving tuition to children. The arrival of the fair awakens their ambition as well as the life of the town. After two of the female itinerant artists walk out of a show planned for the fair, Delphine and Solange get a chance to perform successfully in public. Meanwhile, Simon (the owner of a music store played by Michel Piccoli) and Yvonne (the owner of a coffee shop and mother of the twin sisters, played by Danielle Darrieux), who were lovers a long time ago, both happen to have returned to Rochefort. However, as they lost contact, they are unaware of this fact. At the end of the movie, they meet by chance and get back together again. The film interlaces the stories of three couples: aside from Simon and Yvonne, there is also the Solange and Andy (Gene Kelly) pair. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.