If you live in New York or will be visiting the area on November 25th, you won’t want to miss the U.S. Premiere of the French pop musical spectacular, Les Idoles (1968). New York’s Film Society at Lincoln Center will be showing the film November 25th and following the film you can attend a fabulous yé-yé afterparty where DJs J Tripp, Melody Nelson, and the Film Society’s own Gabriele Caroti will spin French psychedelic ’60s pop.
For more information about Les Idoles and it’s upcoming U.S. Premiere please visit the official site for the Film Society of Lincoln Center.
Les Idoles was based on a popular stage play performed by the Center for Theater & Experimentation on Actor Performance founded by Marc’O (aka Marc-Gilbert Guillaumin) who also directed the film version of Les Idoles in 1968. The film’s stars were all originally members of Marc’O’s avant-garde theater group and in many ways Les Idoles was an accumulation of the work they did together on stage. This psychedelic musical satire serves as both a critique and inadvertently a celebration of French pop music and yé-yé culture in the sixties, which seemed to fuel the revolutionary spirit in French youth while also offering up easy escapism. Les Idoles apparently received a warm reception in France when it debuted in 1968, but for one reason or another the movie was never released in the United States.
The film centers around the rise and fall of three pop stars who sing and dance their way through Les Idoles. Pierre Clémenti plays the unruly and rebellious Charly “the Knife” le Surineur who is supposedly based on the real French pop idol Johnny Hallyday and the lovely Bulle Ogier plays the kooky, sweet and naive Gigi “the Mad” la Folle who seems to be a combination of two popular yé-yé girls; Sylvie Vartan and France Gall. And finally there is Jean-Pierre Kalfon as the singer with psychic powers known as Simon “the Magician” le Magicien. Although the quality of the musical numbers in Les Idoles varies, the three leading actors give some of their most energetic and sensational performances in this uncompromising musical.
I first discovered Les Idoles during a trip to Tokyo in late 2005. The film had just been released there and many of the music shops I visited displayed large advertising posters for Les Idoles DVDs, as well as CDs, books and other yé-yé related promotional materials. The Japanese seem to love French pop music from the sixties and it heavily influenced the Shibuya-kei scene made popular by great Japanese bands like Pizzicato Five so it’s not too surprising that Les Idoles would find an enthusiastic audience in the “Land of the Rising Sun.” Thanks to the upcoming U.S. premiere of the film, American audiences will now get the opportunity to enjoy Les Idoles as well.
I’ve never had the opportunity to see Les Idoles with English subtitles myself and since I don’t speak French it’s impossible for me to really write a thorough and detailed review of this imaginative film. I can tell you that the film has a distinct visual vocabulary and a wonderful sound that appeals to my senses and reaches well beyond any language barriers. If I do get the opportunity to see a subtitled version of Les Idoles in the future there’s a high probability that it will become one of my favorite films.
Besides the creative direction from Marc’O and the talented cast of actors who perform some great songs in the movie, Les Idoles also features some truly incredible set designs and striking interiors by Laurent Gire as well as stylish period costumes created by Jean Bouquin. All of this combines to make Les Idoles easily one of the most interesting and eye-catching musicals made in France during the sixties.
I’ve previously mentioned how much I admire and adore the actor turned filmmaker Pierre Clémenti, but his show-stopping performance as Charly “the Knife” le Surineur is truly one of his greatest roles. Clémenti was always ahead of his time and he brings an edgy youthfulness and bold abandon to the character of Charly “the Knife” that’s reminiscent of great iconic music artists from the late ’60s and early ’70s such as Jim Morrison and Iggy Pop. The lean pale figure clad in black leather that prowls the sets of Les Idoles could have easily given up acting to become one of the pop idols he mimics and that’s what makes his performance so compelling and dynamic. Clémenti is the picture perfect protopunk with the soul of a decadent 19th century French poet.
If you’re interested in experimental French film or just enjoy colorful French musicals from the sixties, then Les Idoles is definitely worth a look. Hopefully the U.S. premiere of the film will lead to a subtitled DVD release in the states so those of us who can’t make it to New York on November 25th will be able to enjoy this extraordinary film in the future.
Watch Pierre Clémenti perform one of his signature songs from Les Idoles (1968)
If you’d like to see more images from the film you’ll find them in my Les Idoles Flickr Gallery.
Some recommended links:
– REVOLT INTO STYLE: Les Idoles. Sam Di Iorio’s insightful article about Les Idoles for Film Comment.
– Yé-Yé Land. A great site with lots of info about French pop music created by my pal April.
– Ode to Marcel. My previous tribute to Pierre Clémenti celebrating his role in Belle de Jour.