Hey, I know you're busy, but....can you spare a minute? Do you see those two women over there? The African American lady with a touch of swagger? Yes, that one. And the white lady beside her? The one that looks as though a slight breath of air would knock her over? The one with the eyes that stare into your head and bore holes in your soul?
That one is Edith Piaf. The other is Billy Holiday. And I've been thinking about them, lately.
You see, there's this cabaret review I'm involved with.
Small. Intimate. A tiny theater in central New Hampshre called the Music Clinic; and a member, Laurie McDaniel, a slight, sweet woman with a powerful voice, has chosen to sing Piaf's signature "La Vie en rose". I've listened every night for the past few weeks to this song and Laurie's interpretation of one of Frances' greatest gifts And I became intrigued with Edith.
While growing up, I heard my Quebecois grandfather and my own mother speak in hushed tones of this chanteuse. They quickly changed the subject when I asked. Only saying that she was a wonderful singer. And I heard her scratchy recordings on a wind-up Victrola. A voice of deep poignancy with a vibrato to give you chills. I didn't speak French. But after listening to her sing "Je ne regrette rien", I felt..... somehow... different.
While casting about on the internet, I noticed that Netflix offered the Oscar-award winning movie of the same name. So, early one afternoon this week, I started watching the actress Marion Cottilard consumed by the role of "The Little Sparrow" in Olivier Dahans stunning 2007 French/Canadian production of, "La Vie en rose." It was like being present when a train crashed, or an airliner drops from the sky. You don't want to watch; but you have to.
Towards the beginning of the film, Edith is seen talking to someone in a record studio and behind her on the walls are large photo's of Billy Holiday. She loved Lady Day.
They were both born in the same year and shared a bruised bond of self-inflicted abuse and epic personal tragedy.
Billie Holliday was loved by many things. Men, women, microphones, the needle; but seldom herself She was born in 1915. Both women were pulled from the people they loved, Both grew up in brothels. Both seldom saw their parents. They each sang and people stopped in their tracks to listen. They both embraced addiction with alcohol and drugs They spent money. They lived a life of reckless abandonment, and were connected with those beyond the law. They shared smears from the press and adoration by their fans. They died within a few years of each other; wrapped in fragile bodies that had become withered, like dry leaves.
But it is Edith and this movie I want to speak of. If you see only one picture in the next month, it must be "La Vie en rose". I recommend it for the acting. For the non-lineal way the film unfolds. For the brilliant editing by Richard Marizy and the cinematography by Tatsuo Nagata. And the direction.
Cottilard has said her life was changed by working with Olivier Dahans and donning the persona of Piaf. You believe she is "La Mome Piaf" as her life unfolds in flashbacks and then played forward.(Spoiler alert) There is a scene in which she learns of the death of her lover that cannot be described. It must be seen to be felt with all it's intensity. I was drawn to this movie and, though there were times I wanted to go and do other things, I could not. It was that mesmerizing, and it is easy to see why Cottilard won the Oscar as best Actress. My God. That face. Those eyes. Those hands. Her body as it grotesquely ages (another Oscar for makeup). She has channeled Edith, and it is almost too much to look at.
But look you will, in this brilliant bio-pic.
There is a moving scene in the film, "Saving Private Ryan" in which a group of GI's are sitting around in this bombed out shell of a French town in Normandy. The American/French translator, Specialist Timothy B. Upham (played by Jeremy Davies) attached to the unit has found a wind-up record player with a long sound-horn and some records by Piaf. As they are playing, to while away the time, he translates the words to his comrades And as he speaks, these rough young men of war are visibly softened by her voice and what she is singing about.
I can't tell you more, other then you must see this picture. Much of the singing is from Piafs own recordings. But the acting is Colliards' alone. And it is breathtaking.
You can hear the ghost-like wisps of "The Little Sparrow" when Laurie sings. If you need directions to the theater, give me a call. The show runs through tomorrow, October 31st.
© 2010 George Locke