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THRILLERS ACCORDING TO D.G.

HE LEFT HIS MARK ON A WHOLE GENERATION OF COMPOSERS.
HIS UNIQUE, UNFORGETTABLE WORKS HAVE TRAVELLED 
TO THE FOUR CORNERS OF THE WORLD…

The "Ecoutez le cinéma!... "

 

collection has revealed not one but several successive faces of Georges Delerue: lyrical and taut for Truffaut, half-baroque, half-populist with Philippe de Broca, gleefully pop and trendy with Oury, and in-your-face contemporary for several urban tragedies made in the Seventies, like L’Important, c’est d’aimer, [“That most important thing: Love”], and Quelque part, quelqu’un [“Somewhere, Someone”]. With each of these albums, his portrait has been gradually refined, becoming more precise with the rich addition of complementary inspirations… which some might call contradictory, but that is what makes Georges Delerue so human: an open mind - and a healthy appetite for measuring up to filmmakers whose aesthetics sometimes diverge – without either bias or any predetermined musical orientation.

 

After three concept albums devoted to his most loyal believers (Truffaut and de Broca), a new idea gained ground: that of exploring the work of Delerue from a particular angle, the genre. More specifically, the composer always wrote prolifically for thrillers, a favourite domain in French cinema for decades, but one which has today, sadly, been annexed by television. If thrillers were trees, then Delerue covered all their branches and ramifications: detective thrillers, crime dramas, B-movie parodies, mystery tales, period thrillers and even spy thrillers, a variation on the genre that was much in vogue in the Sixties.

 

The list of Delerue’s detective-genre films encompasses a broad range of directors, from promising beginners (Classe tous risques [“The Big Risk”], the first opus from the young Claude Sautet) to old crooks now going straight (Chair de poule, [“Highway Pick-Up”], which was almost Julien Duvivier’s last testament). As for the writers, there were heavyweights like James Hadley Chase, José Giovanni and Georges Simenon, the Holy Father of the psychological thriller with Edouard Molinaro’s La Mort de Belle [“The End of Belle”] and Jean-Pierre Melville’s L’Aîné des Ferchaux [“Magnet of Doom”]. The latter left Delerue with mixed feelings, to use a euphemism: “Melville shunted me onto the wrong rails,” he said succinctly. “It was a kind of Dimitri Tiomkin-western-ballad and I couldn’t see it with such a serious subject, so deep and dark.”

 

When we started work on this anthology with Colette Delerue we didn’t know exactly where it would take us. Maybe we underestimated the strength inside these original tapes, simply inventoried under the working title “Georges Delerue, Thrillers, Sixties”. And then something happened… in the darkness of the studio, take after take, those old reels that had been lying dormant for forty years suddenly started producing a disconcerting number of nuggets: here, an incandescent blues with a solo female vocal delivering a sensual threnody, there an obsessive chase built over a Herrmann-like ostinato…

or else some great piece, solemn and grave, written for an orchestra and chorus, like a draft or sketch for Police Python, [“The Case against Ferro”], one of the high-spots in Delerue’s mature work. If proof be needed, Georges Delerue served thrillers magnificently… and thrillers gave him the highest inspiration.

There’s something else: when reassembled, these scores seem to clear the way to virgin territory in Delerue’s work. At a time when the composer seemed less inclined towards jazz than some of his peers who leaned on the Nouvelle Vague (Legrand, Solal), we find him extraordinarily at home in the swing and mystery registers, as if he was directly descended from Paul Misraki, his predecessor with Melville.

 

There are spellbinding flutes or clarinets playing over jazz rhythms and carpets of strings, brilliant, high-velocity big bands, and blues combos with heart-rending accents played on a trumpet… If Delerue sometimes used small groups, he first approached jazz in an orchestrated/orchestral manner. There were no provocative, bebop-style ellipses where he was concerned. To keep things simple, we’re closer, aesthetically speaking, to the way Duke Ellington composed. Listen to L’Homme de l’avenue, for example, the luxuriant finale from Le Crime ne paie pas [“The Gentle Art of Murder”]… In fact, given his education, Georges Delerue had the culture of a symphonist, and that was how he treated jazz. He may not have been as familiar with it as Michel Legrand, but he tamed it with grace,

like an actor appropriating a role which might not have been originally destined for him. And in one breakaway or another, there’s no shortage of real finds, like Des pissenlits par la racine, [“Salad by the Roots”], directed by Georges Lautner, who might have held a doctorate in derision and black humour: “musicians” (played by Francis Blanche, Maurice Biraud and Louis de Funès) find themselves playing a witty swing-baroque theme. This was the birth-certificate for a formula that Georges Delerue would greedily recycle, from Radioscopie to the Oscar-winning A Little Romance.

Beyond the compulsory figures (suspense, action) you can hear Delerue’s inner music, and feel his secret melancholy flush the surface, notably in the slow version of the theme from Classe tous risques, with its sad melody for the flute-guitar combination. It comes like a revelation of Lino Ventura’s solitude, which anticipates that of Michel Piccoli in the Sautet films made during the Pompidou/Giscard years.

 

Provocatively, this album (deliberately) omits Tirez sur le pianiste, [“Shoot the Pianist”], perhaps Georges Delerue’s most famous thriller score, and whose original soundtrack has already been reissued. This also meant more space for exhuming other works that were rare or unreleased, if not incunabula (Du grabuge chez les veuves, [‘Trouble among widows’], Le Crime ne paie pas and En plein cirage, [“Operation Gold Ingot”], which is Lautner’s least-known work, and a film that hasn’t been seen for thirty years.) When all is said and done, there’s a Retro whiff of perfume about this collection, with black & white photos of Paris, smoky clubs, trench-coats and soft fedoras. Like a photograph of the world that the events of May 1968 would blow to atoms.

 

This would have no influence at all on Delerue’s wedding to the world of thrillers, on the contrary; quite simply, it was when he did his most important films noirs (Police Python 357, Sanglantes confessions), that his inspiration became powerfully lyrical and modern, even taut to the point of abstraction, and that was how it would remain. As if it was the best way for his music to close the chapter on an era that had vanished for ever.

 

Stéphane Lerouge

Actu.

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