Michel Legrand

Rest in Peace, Michel Legrand. Though it seems like you could write about little else these days besides politics and the death of the great artists of the 1960s, Legrand is a big one.

A composer of film scores and film songs, he straddled the world between the New Wave and the middle brow establishment. He was the French Mancini and Lalo Schifrin and Bachrach, and made music with Miles and Coltrane. Few of us can forget the first time we ever watched The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (and I’ve written in the past about Jacques Demy’s next film, The Young Girls of Rochefort).

Not long after discovering that, I watched The Donkey Skin (Le Peau D’Ans) and was blown away by the twisted Freudian fairytale.

Years later my mother gave me a CD of Legrand playing solo piano. I put it on for some background music one day, and recognized one song from Peau D’Ans, humming its chorus from memory.


Legrand made music for 250 films…and looked good doing it.


I guess that’s what musicians do, put aural nuggets into our brains that we can’t forget. They add spiritual substance and feeling to narratives, and everything else.

Legrand’s niece, incidentally, is Victoria Legrand, a graduate of Vassar and one half of the band Beach House. Rest in peace, Uncle Michel.

Mad Men and The Young Girls of Rochefort

Let’s all have a late ’60s spring! It’s all around us, with Mad Men back for its final season on Sunday, and, in my neighborhood, The Young Girls of Rochefort coming to BAM for a whole week starting tonight.

The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967), written and directed by Jacques Demy, is so corny I can’t believe how much I love it. It has none of the tragedy of Umbrellas of Cherbourg nor the twisted fairy tale horror of Donkey Skin, which is still my favorite of his films with composer Michel Legrand. But it is unquestionably something that must be seen in a cinema. It has dance numbers and huge, colorful sets, Catherine Deneuve and her sister Françoise Dorléac, George Chakiris (better known as Nardo from West Side Story), and Gene Kelly as The American.

An ad for the final season.

An ad for the final season.

When you think of late ’60s music you think of the Jefferson Airplane or Motown or the “White Album,” but I can’t get enough of what “the squares” were doing at the time. Bachrach, Bert Kempfert, Morton Gould and His Orchestra, The Living Strings, Sinatra singing Joni Mitchell, Engelbert singing just about anything: the encounter between old show biz and the new counterculture. Legrand and Demy made a few great films out of it.

Apparently Matthew Weiner digs it too. You could see from the very first episodes of Mad Men, in the number of beatniks Don Draper kept coming across, that sooner or later he would employ one and co-opt his sensibility – and he has – and that a day of reckoning was looming for the ad guys, a full-on collision between the antiwar, anti-establishment movement and the corporate asses they make a swank living by kissing. That’s what I predict this season. I just hope we see Sal return for a triumphant out-of-the-closet moment, and that it’s tasteful.

Françoise Dorléac in 1967.

Françoise Dorléac in 1967.

As for Françoise Dorléac, she died the year Young Girls of Rochefort came out, allegedly while speeding to catch a plane at the Nice airport. If you think Gene Kelly’s too old for her, well, in one of her other films she was paired with David Niven, who was born older than middle-aged Gene Kelly. I can’t wait to see her on the big screen this week.