The U.S. Premiere of Les Idoles (1968)

Les Idoles (1968)

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 (1968)

Les Idoles (1968)

Les Idoles (1968)

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.

Les Idoles (1968)

Les Idoles (1968)

Les Idoles (1968)


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.

18 thoughts on “The U.S. Premiere of Les Idoles (1968)

  1. Keith says:

    Hey Kimberly. Wow! That looks really cool. I definitely wish I would be in the Big Apple. I’ve never heard of this film before. I really hope they do put it out on DVD with English subtitles. I would certainly be getting it. I love all the pics you posted from it. Cheers!

  2. Adrian says:

    Incredible stuff, Kimberly! LES IDOLES with English subtitles, what an event! (When it was shown as part of a May 68 retro in Australia last year, they had to devise their own opera-like computer-projected sur-titles.) It was re-released in France a few years ago, to some acclaim. And, like you, I discovered it in Japan, on DVD. Shortly after, I had the pleasure of actually meeting (and dining with!) Bulle Ogier. The first film I mentioned (nervously!) was LES IDOLES, and she was very touched, because it is rare for people to start conversations with her on this particular touchstone! She told me that her work with Marc O’s theatre troupe (he is still doing ‘music-theatre’ video works, by the way) was a very happy and important 7 years of her life. I wrote a few words on this film, by the way, in Chris Fujiwara’s DEFINING MOMENTS IN FILM book. Glad to see it’s finally travelling the world! Good luck with the screening event, and have a Bulle-style yé-yé dance for me! By the way, do you know the story of Bulle in Paris, during the 90s, fleeing a public screening of L’AMOUR FOU (1967) starring herself and Kalfon. When asked why she was so distressed, she replied: “Oh, we were all so beautiful then …”

  3. Jonathan Lapper says:

    I am completely unfamiliar with this movie but damn those screengrabs are cool. And since I won’t be in New York anytime soon I won’t try to win the tickets. I’m betting (hoping) it will be here soonafter though.

  4. cinebeats says:

    Thanks for the feedback everyone! I should make it clearer though that I won’t be able to attend the screening of Les Idoles myself. Unfortunately I’m stuck on the west coast but I’m helping promote the event. Hopefully the film be screened at other venues around the U.S.

    Keith – I hope interest in the film will encourage some smart company in the states to release it on DVD.

    Adrian – How funny that we both had to discover a French film from ’68 in Japan! I honestly don’t think most people outside of France had heard of the film until it was released in Japan a few years ago. Shopping for DVDs in Tokyo can be a daunting experience! The Japanese are serious movie buffs with the “collector bug” and they get so many great films on DVD there from around the world that never see the light of day in the states. Unfortunately DVDs are also really expensive in Japan too. I would love to hear more about your meeting with Bulle Ogier! It’s fabulous that you got to chat with her about Les Idoles and other films. I keep meaning to pick up a copy of DEFINING MOMENTS IN FILM but you’ve just given me another reason to. I can’t wait to read your thought on Les Idoles!

    Jonathan – I know you’re fond of musicals and I think you’d find this fun viewing.

    Peter – Do tell! I’d like to hear more. I’ve only been kicked out of a movie theater once when I was trying to sneak into a second film, but I was only about 13 at the time.

    Jeremy – I think you’d find it really interesting since you’re a yé-yé fan like myself.

  5. Peter Nellhaus says:

    Kimberly:

    I was kidding about that last bit. I did catch a few films at the film festival during the years I lived in NYC, and just remembered that there is, or was, a photo of me taken with Jean-Luc Godard when he brought in Tout Va Bien. My only other connection with the film society was when Dick Corliss was editor of “Film Comment”, and I wrote about the first Telluride Film Festival.

  6. Uraniumwilly says:

    Kimberly

    I have not checked your blog in over a week and wow, so much new stuff, and all of it so good. Where do you get all this information and find these “groovy” movies. I am not too proud to admit that I have not even heard of 75% of the films I have seen on your site so far, and that is why I come back.

    There was one listed below but I forget the name now, a British film in b/w… from the 60’s I think. My cup of tea and I want to see it. Let me go back and check it all out. I will put these on my list of films to try and see before I die…

    Bill

  7. cinebeats says:

    Peter – I’d love to see the photo of you with Godard! That must have been an amazing experience.

    Bill – Thanks for all the kind words! As for where I find all these groovy movies… well I’m pushing 40 and I’ve been watching movies regularly and reading about them for almost 35 years so after that much time you tend to just know a lot by default and I’ve always been interested in seeking out unusal and little-seen films.

    I hope you get a chance to see David & Lisa as well as The Third Secret since they’re both worthwhile movies. The Third Secret is really one of the best films I watched last year.

  8. cinebeats says:

    WE HAVE A WINNER! Congratulations to Matt Posey!

    Just wanted to let everyone know that we have a contest winner but many thanks to everyone who took the time to send in your answers. I’ve changed my original post a bit to reflect that the contest is now over since I was still hearing from people who thought they had a chance to win tickets. I hope those of you who are in the area and interested in seeing the film will still try and attend the U.S. premiere of Les Idoles since it’s a wonderful movie!

  9. Caroline says:

    Saw this movie last night with a packed crowd at Lincoln Center. Most of the musical numbers are out of tune and pretty unlistenable, heavy-handedly making the point frequently and in real time that the pop idols have zero talent. What really struck me was how some of the fashions predated punk, the Ziggy Stardust era, and even hip-hop (that Kennedy jacket Simon wore could have gone on a rapper). The audience did not seem to know how to react to the film. The biggest reaction came when the slide show ended and the onscreen prompt elicited a titter at the end.

    Today this film would have knowing guest appearances by real stars, glossier styling and a higher production budget. Its depiction of “luxe” looks shabby by today’s standards.

  10. cinebeats says:

    Most of the musical numbers are out of tune and pretty unlistenable, heavy-handedly making the point frequently and in real time that the pop idols have zero talent.

    Really? When was the last time you actually listened to an entire record by France Gall? As I pointed out above, the film is mocking the yé-yé idols and the French pop music scene and I think the musical numbers are a mixed bag (some good and some not so good) but nowhere near as awful as you’re making them out to be. Then again, I have unusual music tastes.

    What really struck me was how some of the fashions predated punk

    Very true. My description of Clémenti as “the picture perfect protopunk” above is sincere.

    The audience did not seem to know how to react to the film. The biggest reaction came when the slide show ended and the onscreen prompt elicited a titter at the end.

    I find that happens a lot with modern American audiences, which is why I often dislike attending screenings of older movies (and new ones for that matter). Unless a film is easy viewing and familiar to a crowd, people often don’t know how to react to it. This seems especially true of art films and foreign films.

    Today this film would have knowing guest appearances by real stars, glossier styling and a higher production budget. Its depiction of “luxe” looks shabby by today’s standards.

    Today a remake of this film – made with the current crop of “pop stars” – would be plain awful unless someone like Todd Haynes decided to tackle it, but hopefully he’ll stick to writing his own scripts. And frankly, I feel sorry for anyone who thinks the film’s depiction of “luxe” looks shabby. That view really lacks imagination in my opinion, but it sounds like the crowd you watched it with may have been lacking in an appreciation of yé-yé in general as well as the time period that created it. It’s no wonder that films like this have a hard time finding an audience in America.

  11. Caroline says:

    Caroline here. Actually I am not young and happened to be living in Paris as a kid around 1969-70. I do know the music of the era in all its Chantal Goya glory, although it was winding down by then. You are right that some of it is pretty rudimentary, but Simon’s singing was truly awful even judged by the context of the time. There were a lot of cutie-pie smoothies around then too, like Patrick Juvet and the gorgeous, suicidal Mike Brant.

    As for luxe, the last time I saw a Fassbinder film, something bugged me that I could not put my finger on. Today I have figured it out: The world of objects has totally changed. It is a question of materials. Recall the diving board in the film’s outdoor pool that looked as though it would give your feet splinters…the stage with cracked and peeling paint…the flimsily attached iron bedframe that gave way when Charly chased Gigi la Folle. Today all these things would be made of synthetic material and much brighter and glossier looking. Oh, and slick journalists would pluck their unibrows.

    I loved the nihilistic way the movie ended. Blam and they were all dead. More movies should end this way.

    The audience was young and hipsterish: I think they really wanted to appreciate the film. There was a mood of anticipation that gave way to bewilderment. They were sincere, but you are right, they just did not get it. And you are right, it happens a lot. It’s a shame.

    Loved the fortune-telling via rotten egg. Why did we never see the eggs breaking?

    And finally today Simon would be gay. Was it sort of implied in a way?

    Really enjoying the dialogue with you, you are clearly very smart and this is a great site.

  12. cinebeats says:

    Thanks for the comments Caroline! I appreciate you taking the time to post them here.

    Today all these things would be made of synthetic material and much brighter and glossier looking. Oh, and slick journalists would pluck their unibrows.

    True. I personally love the look of older films probably for the same reasons that many find them unwatchable. It’s also important to consider budget since I’m sure the budget for Les Idoles couldn’t compare to Hollywood films made around the same time for example.

    I think they really wanted to appreciate the film. There was a mood of anticipation that gave way to bewilderment. They were sincere, but you are right, they just did not get it.

    If the crowd didn’t understand that they were going to see an avant-garde production then I imagine they may have been confused by it. It sounds like many in the audience weren’t expecting to sit through a critique of popular French culture in the late ’60s.

    I’m not sure about the implication of Simon being gay since I saw him more as bisexual myself. I think pop culture in general often celebrates androgyny and all the characters in Les Idoles seem to display interest in members of the same sex in varying degrees. Of course I’ve never seen the film with subtitles and I don’t speak French so naturally my understanding of the subtler aspects of the film are limited.

    Hopefully the film will play on the west coast or better yet, get a DVD release in the states.

  13. Caroline says:

    Yes, I think Lincoln Center marketed this film as something kinda poppy and campy — not a critique. Maybe the audience was expecting a light Gidget-style campfest.

    As a French speaker I found the subtitles pretty perfunctory/slipshod. They were done with a slide show — the print had none. I hope the DVD ones are both more imaginative and more precise.

    Et voila Mike Brant. Ignore the hairstyle, he is so beautiful…

    tp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L136big8Kco&feature=related

    Have a great holiday.

  14. Pink Frankenstein says:

    Thinking of showing this movie in LA this summer. Was wondering if you recall what the format was for the Lincoln Center viewing?

    I saw this at the cinematheque in Paris in 2003 but it was unsubtitled.

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