It looks as if England has lost Jane Birkin forever … she is firmly entrenched in Paris with baby Kate, nanny and the lovely Serge Gainsbourg, living in sombre luxury in their newly acquired house. The interior is stark and dramatic, every room is decorated in black and white, with white doors and black marble floors or carpet. The furniture is also black and white—there’s a big black shiny piano in the lounge, and a black mink cover adorns the bed which is raised off the floor on a black perspex dais. Weekends are usually spent at a quiet retreat in the country, making a sharp contrast to the busy social life that they lead during the week. Since Jane landed in France she has never stopped working. Film after film has been completed and the success of the record she made with Serge, which was also written and composed by him, Je T’Aime … Moi Non Plus, has led to an LP also written by Serge. Her life is chaotic and busy, it seems as if the telephone never stops ringing. People phone her every day with offers of interviews and films, the next of which is still a closely guarded secret. It was whilst she was making her first film in France, Slogan, that she met and fell in lovewith Serge, an event which seems to have altered her life but through it all she remains the same—a waif of a girl, tall and lanky, in pullover and jeans, serving tea out of her treasured English teapot. Her wardrobe is noticeably small, consisting mainly of casual clothes like pullovers, T-shirts and jeans; with the occasional gipsy-type dress reserved for the evening and worn with gold chains, loop earrings and gipsy belts. She acquires most of her clothes by chance buying, rarely by intentionally setting out on a spending spree. Usually she just spots something she likes in a shop window and ends up by going in and buying it. In London she shops mainly at Countdown, Foale and Tuffin, and Quorum. She buys her jewellery from the Chelsea Antique Market. In Paris she favours the more trendy designers like Mia and Vicky or Jean Bourquin. Jane is perfectly happy spending hours hunting about in antique shops for interesting little knick-knacks, like the 18th-century doll’s house which she gave to her Serge for Christmas.
My dad used to talk about how, back in the Sixties, they would watch ‘mainly French music videos’ in coffee shops on ‘video jukeboxes’. I never really got to the bottom of it, at the time, and it was only when someone actually gave me the word Scopitone that I finally worked out what on earth he’d been talking about. (According to him, that was the only possible reason that Johnny Hallyday had ever become so popular here).
The Scopitone phenomenon was never really adopted by British or American stars on the same scale as in continental Europe, despite the fact that there were hundreds of machines installed throughout the US, so it is mostly effective as a record of those beautiful Yé-yé stars who briefly invaded the consciousness of British coffee shop-dwelling teenagers.
“From an American consumer’s standard, not only were there so few available to watch, but half of these were in French, made on crummy, reddish film stock (which, over time, has gone from bad to worse). It’s no wonder the Scopitone’s already negligible popularity was surplanted by the growth of color television.” Robin Edgerton, Le Scopitone!
It has also given us a handful of brilliant videos for some iconic English language Sixties pop songs, such as Nancy Sinatra’s These Boots Are Made For Walking and Procul Harum’s Whiter Shade of Pale. These would prove valuable years later when music channels such as VH1 required videos for songs from this period.
I decided to blog about this after seeking out footage of France Gall singing ‘Baby Pop’. Her appearance in Gainsbourg (Vie héroïque) is so hilarious, I needed to see the original. I’m somewhat disappointed by the lack of insane dancing there, but it did remind me to blog a few of my favourite examples of the genre.
Has there ever been a sexier pairing on the planet? (Or, even, a more naked woman in the Sixties than Jane Birkin? But that’s another blog post altogether…) The chemistry practically jumps out of the pictures and slaps you around the face…