Monday, May 6, 2013

Scott Walker and Catherine Deneuve

In 1964 a film was released that catapulted Catherine Deneuve to international stardom. If you haven't seen "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" I urge you to make it a priority. But don't watch it on a tiny laptop with interruptions. If you must watch it at home make sure it is on a big screen and commit to the whole kit and kaboodle.

It is a musical unlike any other. Every line of the film is sung. Small talk, conversations between incidental characters, shopkeepers and customers, how-do-you-do's and pardon-me-ma'am's are scored as lushly as the songs that erupt from the existing musical landscape.

On top of this layer of unreality, director Jacques Demy manages to create a palette consisting entirely of primary colors, every blue the same blue, every red the same red, green to green, until this impossible scheme forces you into a world as idealized and imaginary as any Disney cartoon. The double whammy of these two unreal elements (music and color) juxtaposed with the melodrama of a young shop girl pregnant by her young lover sent off to fulfill his duty to his country - well, you wind up with just about the saddest most romantic movie ever made.

I won't give much more away than that. I only explain that much to put this next link into the proper context. The Walker Brothers were on fire. They'd had two number one hits in England, both of which had also done quite well in the United States, and they had come to be seen as their own unique brand of brooding doomed romantics. The pairing of their Gothic sensuality with the European lilt of the signature "song" from "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" is, in a word, transcendent.

Now, Scott Walker was already chafing at this kind of cover song. More and more he was writing compositions that rival this one in scope and beauty and melodic power. Regardless of how he views the songs that he was "forced" to interpret during this period, I (heavy stress on that I) feel that his vocal work on these covers places him in very rare company, company you can count on both hands. Frank, Judy, Dean, Tony, Ray, Nina, Ella...I'm sure you could argue any number of folks in that pantheon but if Scott Walker had never written a song he would still be one of the greatest singers of all time.

Listen to The Walker Brothers soar to impossibly sad romantic heights in their cover of the theme song to "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" in the song "I Will Wait For You". I picture thousands of English high school girls (and boys) closed up in their rooms, tears streaming down their cheeks, wishing and dreaming of the eternal devotion promised in this gorgeous song.

Next up, Scott Walker solo sings more Michel LeGrand...