Serge Gainsbourg“Ugliness is, in a way, superior to beauty, because it lasts.”—Serge Gainsbourg
In many respects Serge Gainsbourg was Rimbaud reincarnated, spitting in the eye of the French bourgeoisie throughout the second half of the twentieth century.
Provocateur by nature and the reigning poète maudit of French popular music during his day, he realized at an early age that he would be forever an outcast. Born Jewish in a predominantly Catholic country, an ugly man in a world where beauty reigned, Gainsbourg was able to turn his outcast status into a badge of honour, and a source of power. To borrow the title of Maurice Girodias's autobiography, Gainsbourg was the Frog Prince, who against all expectations ends up with the beautiful princess; princesses plural in fact: there was a brief but notorious affair with Brigitte Bardot, and a decade-long relationship with British actress Jane Birkin. His influence on French music was widespread and profound, and although Gainsbourg died in 1991 his home in Paris is a grafitti-covered shrine and a pilgrimage destination even today.
Gainsbourg by Gainsbourg: An Intimate Self Portrait is a 94-minute documentary from director Pierre-Henry Salfati. If you do not already know the broad outlines of Gainsbourg's life the film is a little bit hard to follow, but it makes an excellent companion piece to the 2010 biopic Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life. An Intimate Self Portrait weaves together sections from what looks like Gainsbourg's own home movies, combined with clips from old TV and concert appearances (including some wonderful black and white clips of Gainsbourg in a couple of his earlier incarnations: as jazz pianist playing with a trio in some Parisian jazz cellar, and as a "button-down shirt and tight black suit" crooner of the standard French chanson). In almost every shot, it seems, Gainsbourg is shown veiled in a thick cloud of cigarette smoke -- by the end of his life it was as much his trademark as was the three-day stubble on his chin. All of the clips are tied together by Serge Gainsbourg's voice doing narration; the result is a film that serves (in the words of one review) as "a posthumous autobiography," a fascinating portrait of a complex figure.
You can watch the trailer (without English subtitles) here.
There's one show remaining: on October 6th at 7:30 pm, at the Empire Granville 6