Thursday, June 21, 2007

Film Music Blog-a-Thon (Francis Lai, Emmanuelle 2)

Damian over at the Windmills Of My Mind blog is hosting a Film Music Blog-A-Thon and I thought it would be fun to join in. Many of my all time favorite albums are soundtracks so the idea of selecting just one to write about was extremely difficult. My mind immediately started to flip through my internal database of favorite albums and lp's ranging from Colin Town's FULL CIRCLE to Air's THE VIRGIN SUICIDES. Then I started thinking about individual moments in films that use certain pieces of music to remarkable effect like Bobby Womack's ACROSS 110th STREET in JACKIE BROWN or Moby's GOD MOVING OVER THE FACE OF THE WATER in HEAT. I decided finally though that I wanted to post on an album and film that typically induce disdain and snickers rather than respect. So the following is my tribute to one of my favorite lps, composers, actresses and yes, films.

Francis Lai will forever be linked to two particular themes that he wrote; The first for Claude Lelouch's masterful A MAN AND A WOMAN and the second for the piano based piece for Arthur Hiller's LOVE STORY. While those two themes are incredibly powerful they have often overshadowed just how prolific and consistently brilliant Lai has been. Scoring well over 100 films since the mid sixties, Lai has contributed solid work to pretty much every imaginable genre for directors ranging from Michael Winner to Rene Clement. Excelling in everything from violent crime films to romantic comedies, Lai is most masterful at composing themes representing desire, seduction and erotic love. He was never more successful at this than he was in in 1975 when he was asked to deliver the score for the follow up to the most financially successful French film of the seventies.

It is hard to overestimate just how popular and important Just Jaeckin's EMMANUELLE was in 1974 and how big of a star it made Sylvia Kristel. With the flood of hardcore films films filling French and American theaters by the mid seventies, Jaeckin's film played as a barnstorming reminder of the power of suggestion and true eroticism in film, with Sylvia Kristel becoming the face and body of a movement that seemed steeped in tradition as well as being totally progressive.
First time director and famed photographer Francis Giacobetti had his work cut out for him when he got the assignment to direct the sequel to Jaeckin's film. With the obvious thought that the follow up and had to top the first film in nearly every respect, Giacobetti began shooting what would turn out to be one of the most audaciously erotic films ever lensed, as well as a film that would push the limits to what was acceptable in a mainstream release.
Along with the jaw dropping images and incredibly lush photography that Giacobetti delivered for EMMANUELLE 2, a film which Alex Cox called one of the greatest ever made, there are two things that make the film not only better than the first but also one of the best films of the mid seventies.
Sylvia Kristel and Francis Lai were both in their absolute primes in 1975. Kristel was getting a landslide of offers from directors all over the world and would soon be appearing in films helmed by everyone from Claude Chabrol to Alain Robbe-Grillet. Francis Lai was just a couple of years past winning the Oscar for LOVE STORY and was one of the most in demand film composers in the world. Lai's soundtrack for EMMANUELLE 2 would be the perfect compliment to Giacobett's erotic imagry as well as a tribute to the beautiful and talented Kristel, an actress of considerable skill and a culturaly important figure that history typically tries to look over.

Lai's music for EMMANUELLE 2 is an intriguing and always beguiling mix of classical orchestration and surprising electronic textures. Paired up with the talented Christian Gaubert (with reported help from Catherine Desage) as arranger and working with some of France's top session musicians, Francis Lai's EMMANUELLE 2 has the clear distinction of sounding very much of its time but it still progressive sounding. The album is filled with Lai's typically spare piano pieces mixed in with Gaubert's innovative arrangements, but it becomes among Lai's finest works in the moments where he matches the eastern locations of Giacobetti's film with a series of still astonishing synthesizer pieces.
One of the highlights to the film and album is the acupuncture sequence. Here Lai's music seems to become a character in the film and the track is nearly overwhelmingly hypnotice with it's cross cutting of LOVE STORY like piano parts, sweeping orchestrations and irresistible drugged-out electronic sections. Listening to this track, with or without the film's striking imagery, has an incredibly strong dreamlike pull that few pieces of music in my collection can match.
Along with the above section, the key track to the album and film itself is the unbelievably cool and seductive title track sung by Sylvia Kristel. L'AMOUR D'AIMER is one of my all time favorite songs and every time I hear Sylvia Kristel's breathy and inspired rendition of it I am transported back in time to some hot and exotic locale with her. I posted previously on this track and how wonderful I think it is and the shots I have of Kristel in the studio with Lai are among my favorite photographs. The two clearly appear to be having fun in creating one of the greatest and most undervalued movie theme songs of the seventies.

The title track is available in two versions, both sung by Kristel, with one being in French and the other in English. While it is hard to match the original French version, Kristel's more hesitant English vocal is a real favorite and it is unfortunate that it isn't available on the soundtrack lp or cd.
The single was a minor hit in France and Japan and the great 45 of it often pops up on ebay and is highly recommended. The soundtrack lp is one of the great near lost treasures of the seventies. It was released to coincide with the film but quickly slipped out of print. It briefly resurfaced in Japan on a highly collectible cd in the 90s but that too is currently out of print. It occasionally pops up used on ebay or amazon but expect to pay a high price. A google blog search for it might provide a pleasant surprise if you choose to look though.
My favorite shot from EMMANUELLE 2, and one of my favorite closing shots in screen history, is the final freeze frame. After the final love scene Giacobetti pans away from the explicit action and cuts to a triumphantly powerful looking Kristel, and as Lai's remarkable title theme begins Giacobetti freezes the frame on one of France's great faces and then the credits role. It remains for me a chilling, exhirlirating moment and a bold reminder that the human face can be among the most erotic things in the world.

Obviously Francis Lai, Sylvia Kristel and Francis Giacobetti didn't win awards or much respect for EMMANUELLE 2. The film opened, got savaged by most critics and didn't do as well as the first one financially. I suspect too that the above rhapsodizing post on it will no doubt draw a few snickers also but that's okay, I am unapologetic about my love for this film, actress and music. It remains one of the great marriages between image and music in screen history. As the film's slightly notorious ad campaign stated back in 1975, "Nothing is wrong if it feels good" and all of these years later Francis Lai's music in this film still makes me feel very, very good.


Cinebeats said...

Beautifully stated Jeremy!

We’ve talked about how great Francis Lai’s score is before but it’s nice to see you expand on it even more. I don’t think anything you wrote is “snicker” worthy. Lai’s score is really perfect for EMMANUELLE 2 and adds a lot to the film. This was a joy to read!

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks Kimberly,
I love the film and think it has one of the most perfectly crafted soundtracks ever recorded. It is a real shame that the cd isn't easy to find these days...I appreciate the very nice words....

Rodrigo said...

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justmeguy said...

loved reading this post. I saw "Emmannuele 2" recently and it is one of the sexiest movies ever. Everything about it is just perfect, the photography, Sylvia Krsitel at her best, the massage scene with Laura Gemser and as you write, the amazing music score.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks justmeguy,
I am happy to hear that some other people admire this film and love Lai's score as much as i do. Thanks for stopping by and commenting...

Rogue Spy 007 said...

Francis Lai made such beautiful music. I think his music does add to the film. I do love "Emmanuelle 2." Sylvia was so sexy in it. I've always been more of a fan of Euro erotic films than what's usually done in the States.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks Keith,
I think Sylvia is one of the great beauties of the seventies and one of the most forgotten culturally important figures of the period.
I am really looking forward to reading her autobiography, which is supposed to get an English translation later this year.