Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris (1974) seemed like a good introduction to the works of M. Brel. I knew a bit about him, mostly through people who he had influenced. I recognized Bowie's "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide" as Brelesque, without ever having heard Brel's music. The theatrical emotionality with a casual informal rhythm, perhaps. Anyway, it was time for me to give it a listen, so I queued up this movie.
The opening does not bode well - a bunch of Godspell-reject hippies cavorting around a theater. Then show starts and it all gets "meta", with the audience becoming performers and the atomic bomb threatening to wipe them all out. Was this fresh in 1974?
But the songs themselves mostly make up for it. Funny, intense, personal, fascinating. The major singers are an older woman, a slick young man, and a chubby guy with a Mario moustache. He is Mort Shuman, a songwriter in real life ("This Magic Moment") who supplied the English translations. His songs are mostly funny, about the dreams of an everyday shlub.
The height is M. Brel himself, singing "Ne Me Quitte Pas". He was very handsome, in a Belgian James Coburn way. He is smoking a cigarette, of course, and dying of lung cancer, although I suppose it wasn't known at the time. The movie is worth it for this song alone.
The rest of the songs are pretty great too, although the English lyrics may not always sparkle - do the French lyrics sparkle, or is the original a little prosey and ordinary, on purpose? Even the hippies get a sweet, true moment with a song, The Desperate Ones.
In conclusion, a charming set of songs, beautifully sung, in a pretty silly movie.