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Saturday, July 31, 2010

Bardot, Boisrond and Come Dance With Me

Among the most fascinating films of Brigitte Bardot’s legendary career, 1959's Voulez-vous danser avec moi is an ambitious if ultimately flawed attempt from director Michel Boisrond that still stands as one of Bardot’s most valuable works. Working from a Kelley Roos novel entitled The Blonde Died Dancing, Boisrond and his screenwriters bravely attempted to capitalize on Bardot's already proven comedic skills by mixing them with elements of both drama and mystery. The result would be mostly ignored at the time but, in hindsight, Come Dance With Me is clearly one of Bardot’s most interesting films and one of the most undervalued studio-produced French productions of the fifties.

Brigitte Bardot and Michel Boisrond were far from strangers by the time they made Come Dance with Me in 1959. Boisrond, a former assistant to both Jean Cocteau and Rene Clair, had already directed Bardot twice as the fifties gave way to the sixties, first on the Vadim scripted That Naughty Girl in 1956 and then on 1957’s The Parisian. The two had a good working relationship and Bardot was comfortable with Boisrond, a fact that would make her work with him all the more memorable. Come Dance With Me is far and away the best of their first three films together, a fitfully funny and captivating mystery that doesn’t make a wrong move until its frustrating final act.

Telling the story of a young bride named Virginie (Bardot) who is helping her husband Herve clear his name of the murder of a dancer who had been blackmailing him, Come Dance With Me is a competent and unfussy film driven by Bardot’s graceful and intelligent performance. Joining Bardot for Boisrond’s often surprising romp is Henri Vidal as her troubled husband, Dawn Addams as the conniving and doomed dancer Anita Flores and Serge Gainsbourg in a small but memorable role as the smooth-talking Leon.

Come Dance With Me was an important film for both Boisrond and Bardot and the director wanted to do something special for his favorite leading lady. He commented at the time that while their first two films together had been, “pure comedy” he, “wanted a change” with Come Dance With Me, in that he finally wanted to make a, “suspense film with some comedy touches.” To his credit Boisrond was one of the first directors, outside of Vadim, that knew that Bardot possessed something very special as an actress. He would say that she was one of just a few who could truly, “combine humour and drama”, and Bardot certainly doesn’t disappoint in Come Dance With Me.

While it might be hard to see what much of the controversy was about, Come Dance With captured the wrath of the censors outside of France. Boisrond’s film is indeed quite a daring little production for 1959, especially considering it was studio guided. While Addams topless scene (performed by a possible body-double) and the films final section in a gay nightclub must have raised many eyebrows in the late fifties, Come Dance With Me’s most daring moment comes in a tremendous scene between Bardot and Vidal, in which BB is in bed with the handsome man clearly admiring and enjoying his body and the promised sex they will soon be having. In a period where the idea that women might enjoy and want sex as much as men was still shocking to many, Bardot’s obvious delight at Vidal's body is still a refreshing and captivating moment. It’s also an interesting way for Boisrond to turn the table on an audience who were there for the most part to admire Bardot’s famous figure.

Come Dance With Me is also briefly trailblazing in the way that it presents homosexuality on the screen during a moving sequence between Bardot and Philippe Nicaud, who admits that while he finds her attractive he is only interested in men. Sadly Boisrond’s seeming acceptance of Nicaud as a positive character in the film is destroyed by the unfortunate final act that stereotypes his character as something perverse and corrupt. The films final denouncement is such a shame as for awhile Come Dance With Me seems downright revolutionary, but it finally turns out to be very much a product of its prejudiced time.

Problems aside, Come Dance With Me is for the most part quite a wonderful production. Directed well by the always competent Boisrond and featuring the wonderfully colorful photography of Robert Lefebvre, Come Dance With Me is the kind of studio-driven production most of the New Wave would have rejected but it’s aged extremely well.

Despite all of the qualities present on screen in Come Dance With Me, the film was marked by tragedy. The original choice for the character of Anita Flores, Italian actress Sylvia Lopez, had tragically died of leukaemia just before shooting began and Henri Vidal passed away shortly after the film wrapped. Making matters even worse was the fact that Bardot, who had shot an amazing two-dozen films in just over a five-year period, was completely exhausted and extremely depressed. Come Dance With Me, despite having an effortless feel about it, was an extremely difficult production for all involved so it’s a wonder that, for the most part, it came together so beautifully.

Come Dance With Me wasn’t one of Bardot’s bigger hits of the fifties with audiences, most of whom probably didn’t know whether to take it as a comedy or a thriller. Critical opinion was mixed with The Monthly Film Bulletin praising it as a, “colorful policier boasting a few neat twists and surprises”, while the ever-irritated Bosley Crowther wrote in the New York Times that it was a, “shoddy piece of mystery.” Also, in what has to be one of the most idiotic statements ever printed, Esquire critic Dwight MacDonald said of the breathtaking Bardot, “her face has been reduced to the sexual essentials and is, objectively considered, by now rather terrifying.”

Typical dubious critical reaction aside, Bardot’s performance in Come Dance With Me is enlightening, potent and finally poetic. Moving from scene to scene with the grace of an obvious dancer, and the charisma of someone near alien, Bardot is as captivating to watch today as she was over fifty years ago when Come Dance With Me was released. The symbolic end to the first part of her career, Bardot would follow Boisrond’s splendid mystery up with her stunning role in Clouzot’s The Truth, and within just a few years would leave all of cinema spellbound with her turn in Godard’s Contempt. She would only work with Michel Boisrond, who never stopped working up till his death in 2002, on the relatively obscure anthology film Famous Love Affairs in 1961. While not one of Bardot’s more well known directors Boisrond was one of the most important, as he was one of the first to see the vibrant poetry underneath the obvious sex.

Friday, July 30, 2010

A Benefit Concert For Myrna Smith

I was very saddened recently to hear that one of my favorite people in all of popular music, Myrna Smith, has been having some serious health issues and is need of some help. Myrna, once a High School teacher from New Jersey, was the co-founder of one of Soul Music's greatest groups, The Sweet Inspirations, and she is a very special artist. Outside of possessing an incredible voice, that's heard on The Sweets on albums as well as their backing work with the likes of Aretha Franklin, Dusty Springfield and Elvis Presley, Myrna is an accomplished songwriter (check out her contributions to Carl Wilson's solo albums), Civil-Rights activist and special friend to her many fans. Her recent health issues have a lot of her fans worried so a benefit concert called Back in Memphis has been scheduled to help her out, as well as pay tribute to someone who was one of her biggest fans, Elvis Presley.
Information on the Back in Memphis concert can be found here, so if you are anywhere in the Memphis Area on August 12th please check it out. Guests include Billy Swan, Jack Clement, Reggie Young and several others and I will be there to see a great show and hopefully help Myrna out. If you can't make the show but wish to send your good wishes to Myrna, cards and contributions can be mailed to the following address:

Myrna Smith
Canyon Oaks Nursing & Rehabilitation Center
22029 Saticoy Street, Canoga Park, CA 91303.

Myrna is recovering from a stroke and is currently on dialysis so any well-wishes or spare-cash you can spare to help with her mounting medical bills would be extremely appreciated.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Myrna, may I recommend any of these following albums:

Any of The Sweet Inspirations remarkable catalogue.

Dusty Springfield's tremendous Dusty in Memphis.

Elvis Presley's stunning Thats The Way It Is.

Carl Wilson's undervalued first-solo platter.

Those are just a handful of favorites but there are many more, some of which are chronicled here.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Life Rotates In 45 Revolutions Per Minute: Bikini Kill's Peel Sessions

My memories are extremely fractured but I clearly recall the spring of 1993 or so when I was living in downtown Lexington attending the University of Kentucky. I was in an extremely small and rather trashy efficiency apartment in a pretty bad section of town near campus. To escape the noise of my neighbors, a collective group that included rednecks, drug-dealers, addicts and assorted shady figures, I would leave my apartment every chance I got to usually go and haunt any number of the local record and book shops that were nearby. It was an extreme period of my life, as well as my most social, and I think I was fairly well known around the area as the guy with long purple hair who never had a dime in his pocket but who could always be seen returning home with a stack of records under his arm. My taste was as extreme as my mood in that period with platters by everyone from PiL to Lydia Lunch to Killing Joke occupying most of my record player's time.
I had recently fallen under the spell of the ferocious and quite brilliant lyrical pull of Kathleen Hanna and her mesmerizing band Bikini Kill, so much of my time was spent looking for fanzines and 45s from the Riot Girrrl movement. Actually most of the other groups from that loud and in your face scene left me cold but I was really captivated by Bikini Kill, especially the raw emotion and force Hanna always delivered with her words and voice. For a Summer or so I was completely enamored and would often quote Hanna's unflinching lyrics to my friends in one of the many creative writing classes I took, most of them under the tutelage of the brilliant and much missed James Baker Hall.
My favorite recording from Bikini Kill remains their lone Peel Session EP, preserved on a semi-legitimate 4-song 45 that I picked up at Lexington's once mighty Cut Corner, a store (since closed down) that was located down from campus on Limestone. I found the 45, which featured "Star Bellied Boy" and "Demirep" on Side A with "New Radio" and "Not Right Now" on the flip in Cut Corner's basement, a vinyl lover's paradise. It cost just a buck or two, I played it constantly throughout the summer as I waited with a mixture of excitement and dread for the fall classes to start.
The Peel Sessions EP isn't Hanna's finest moment, she has rightly said Bikini Kill's stunning sides produced by Joan Jett remains the best thing she has ever done, but it remains bloody brilliant and captures the band at their most confrontational and wonderful. "Star Bellied Boy" is particularly jaw-dropping and is played with the kind of splintering energy that hadn't been heard since the late seventies No Wave movement. I miss Bikini Kill, and the sheer nerve of them, I miss my long purple hair and even that shitty little apartment (but not often). I especially miss Cut Corner, one of the last of the real indie record stores in the area. Thankfully another indie shop resides in the spot now, CD Central, but that basement where I found so many of favorite vinyl sides is long, long gone...

The Art of the Movie Poster: Gillo Pontecorvo's Queimada (Burn!)

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Elvis on Tour on the Big-Screen this Thursday

Just a quick note to alert anyone interested that the remastered version of the Golden Globe Award winning 1972 documentary Elvis on Tour is having a one-night only nation-wide theatrical showing this Thursday. This special showing will included a video introduction by Priscilla as well as some "never-before-seen Elvis footage." There is some controversy right now concerning the famous opening of the film, set to a blistering version of Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode", in that it has possibly been altered but this has not been confirmed. Otherwise, the new print and sound-mix is said to be mind-blowing and this promises to be an exciting evening for fans. Elvis on Tour (with its stunning Martin Scorsese supervised montages) is one of the great rock documentaries and I have been clamouring for a DVD release for awhile (it finally hits stores next week) so this special showing is very welcome.

Moon in the Gutter (Month By Month)

BLOG CREATED, EDITED and WRITTEN BY JEREMY RICHEY: Began in DEC 2006. The written content of all posts (excepting quotes from reviews, books, other publications) COPYRIGHT JEREMY RICHEY.