Have you ever seen "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg?" It's probably the perfect sung-through musical - far better and more affecting than all those clodhopping monstrosities like "Jekyll and Hyde" and God forbid, "Les Miserables" (the next time I want to get thisclose to Hugh Jackman's schnoz, I'll let you know, thankyouverymuch).
Not only is the Michel Legrand music blissful perfection, the movie itself is just flat-out gorgeous to look at (it was designed by Bernard Evein, a French art director whose work in "Cherbourg" is still eye-popping and modern). Directed by Jacques Demy, who also wrote the lyrics, the movie stars Catherine Deneuve at her most beautiful and the ridiculously handsome Nino Castelnuovo, who play a fated couple experiencing the trials of l'amour. Ooh la la!
Norma Desmond, as you may know, once said, "We didn't need dialogue, we had faces." She may as well have been referring to Catherine and Nino above, don't you think? Oh, and even if you haven't seen "Cherbourg," I'm willing to wager that you'll know the main theme song. Don't believe me? Try out a snippet of this song:
Did you watch it? Did you get chills? You know you want to hear more. Luckily, there's a fabulous 2-CD soundtrack - in lossless, bien sur - with practically every bit of music from the movie (I'm deliberately not telling you a thing about the story in case you haven't seen it) (and you should) (some things really should be watched fresh). On a related note, I don't know why this hasn't been turned into an English-language Broadway musical. It could be so wonderf...oh, never mind, they'd just
Movie sequels are seldom a good idea. Sequels to movie musicals are always a bad idea. Can you think of one that worked? I can't (and no, I can't watch more than a few minutes of this). "Cherbourg's" sequel, "The Young Girls Of Rochefort" wasn't to everyone's taste, to put it mildly. There's Deneuve, of course, and this time she's joined by a game, 50-ish Gene Kelly, "West Side Story's" George Chakiris, as well as Francoise Dorleac, Deneuve's sister (who at the time was more famous) (she died tragically in a car accident at age twenty-five).
And yet for all the silliness of the story about twin sisters who run a ballet school and dream of meeting their ideal mates, I've always found "Young Girls" to be a dream-like treat with its bursts of color and music in tribute to old Hollywood musicals. It's worth seeking out - after you've seen "Cherbourg" - and this 2-CD soundtrack is just delicious.
Speaking of eye-popping and designed like a dream, "The King Is Dancing," which charts the tumultuous, sometimes kinky, rise of France's "Sun King," or King Louis XIV, ravishes the eye and the ear.
Why this movie wasn't released in the U.S. is a big mystery (the director's previous feature "Farinello" was nominated for an Oscar). If you haven't had a chance to catch it, it's similar to "Amadeus" given the artistic rivalry with music - and dance, too - set amidst ruthless royal power struggles in Versailles. It's all very tempestuous. Ooh la-la, encore!
The 2-CD soundtrack is a treat for classical music lovers - there's Jean-Baptiste Lully, Jacques Bordier, opera composer Robert Cambert and more - and it's just as sprawling and lush as the movie.
Okay, I'm all Francophiled out for the day. Let's move south of the border to Cuba. Ai! It was my Cuban Luvuh who introduced me to the wily beauty below, the beloved comedian, singer and nightclub diva Velia Martinez! Ella era multi-talentoso, si? Si!
If you know of Velia (which I didn't), it's likely because of "Que Pasa, USA?" a hugely popular series which aired for gringos on PBS in the 1970s (she played the smart-tongued abuelita) (pictured below, to the right, next to a very young Steven Bauer). She also acted in movies opposite Errol Flynn, and starred in "The Devil's Sisters" (which sounds wonderfully trashy), in addition to thrilling the cabaret circuit with her singing and wisecracking.
It's the latter which comes through in full force in "Bon Voyage!" which features her performing in English, Spanish and French. Trust me, this old broad knew how to throw down. From her rousing opener, "Lover Come Back To me," to the galvanizing "El Cha-Cha Rock!" she never lets up. How do you say fabulous in Spanish?
Who doesn't like a good smoke while you're waiting for mack-daddy to set you up with a couple of "lunch dates?" You're on hold for a bit - he runs a very busy enterprise - but luckily, there's none of that awful "on hold music," which means you can listen to you own CD. But which one should that be?
How about a Greatest Hits collection? But please, no foolish games. You want something that'll make you feel like a stronger woman. Why? Because you've been down so-o-o-o long - and those two hearts breaking are still mending. You just want something that makes you feel like a diamond or a sapphire or an emerald, or collectively, like the single name for this snaggletoothed (I like that she hasn't gotten it fixed) "I once lived in my car!"-type singer. And if you still haven't figured it out yet, then the Secret Song File has some genuine diamonelle earrings she'd like to sell you.
Or wait, that's gen-you-wyne. Pronunciation is everything.
Feel free to get your tongue around anything you like in the comments!