The Secret World of Serge Gainsbourg

An older Vanity Fair piece from Lisa Robinson entitled “The Secret World of Serge Gainsbourg“. Definitely worth a read. Here is an excerpt on the house he lived in until his death:

Except for two pianos which have been removed, the house remains exactly the way it was on the day he died. The walls are covered with black fabric. The floor of the main drawing room is black and white marble. “Cluttered” is an understatement, but each thing is precisely in the place that Serge put it—and there are hundreds of things. Every surface is covered with ashtrays, photographs, and collections: toy monkeys, medals from various branches of the armed services, cameras, guns, bullets, police badges from all over France, pictures of the women who sang his songs—Brigitte Bardot, Anna Karina, Petula Clark, Juliette Gréco, Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Adjani, Marianne Faithfull, Françoise Hardy, Vanessa Paradis—and, most prominently, his lover of 13 years and Charlotte’s mother, the British actress Jane Birkin. There is a larger-than-life-size poster of international sex kitten Bardot, whom Serge first met on the set of a movie in 1959. Later, they carried on a clandestine affair while she was married to playboy Gunther Sachs, and recorded the steamy duet, written by Gainsbourg, “Je T’Aime … Moi Non Plus.” Framed gold records—for albums featuring songs such as “La Javanaise,” “Ballade de Melody Nelson,” and “Love on the Beat”—are on the walls and the mantel above the fireplace. There is a bronze sculpture of a headless nude that Charlotte tells me was modeled on her mother, a statue of the Man with a Cabbage Head (the title of one of Gainsbourg’s greatest albums), Gainsbourg puppet dolls, tape recorders, a black lacquered bar with a cocktail shaker and glasses, a Jimi Hendrix cassette, framed newspaper stories, and empty red jewelry boxes from Cartier—”He loved the boxes,” says Charlotte. There are photos of Serge with Ray Charles, with Dirk Bogarde, with his last girlfriend, Bambou, and their son, Lulu. The small kitchen at the back of the first floor has a 15-inch black-and-white television set, candy bars and two cans of tomato juice in the refrigerator, opened wine bottles, and, in the cupboard, cans of food from 1991—except, says Charlotte, “the ones that exploded.”

Upstairs, on the second floor, in Serge’s skylit study, there is an IBM electric typewriter even though he never typed, books about Chopin, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Fra Angelico, and Velázquez, and a copy of Robinson Crusoe. Photos of Marilyn Monroe line the dark, narrow hallway, including one of the star dead, in the morgue. There is the room Jane Birkin called her “boudoir” and what Serge called “La Chambre de Poupée” (the doll room) after Jane left him, in 1980. The bathroom has a very low bathtub, modeled after one Serge saw in Salvador Dalí’s apartment, and bottles of Guerlain, Roger & Gallet colognes, and soap from Santa Maria Novella. His toothbrush is still there. The master bedroom has blackout curtains, a mirrored wall, and twin gold female heads with pearls around their necks at the foot of the black, mink-covered double bed. Chewing gum and mints are next to the bed, and on the bed are dried flowers that have been there since he died. In the large hallway closet: his white Repetto jazz shoes, ties, and pin-striped suits. The house is a shrine, but it’s not creepy, and one can imagine how stylish, even decadent this all must have seemed in 1970 when Serge and Jane moved into what was their family home and later would become the solitary lair of Gainsbourg—singer, songwriter, musician, painter, actor, director, smoker, alcoholic, romantic, ladies’ man, and revered national figure.

For the rest of the article, click here

And here is Serge performing “L’homme a Tete de Chou” live in ’88.


Diner (1982)

Feeling nostalgic, I re-watched Barry Levinson’s Diner last night, a film that only improves with each viewing. If I get my act together, I’ll do a follow-up post showcasing some screen caps because the clothes in this film are amazing–a sea of button-downs, pea coats and khakis. In the meantime, here is a link to S.L. Price’s “Much Ado About Nothing: How Barry Levinson’s Diner Changed Cinema, 30 Years Later” published in Vanity Fair. Price’s article has a lot of great info on the film and makes a very compelling case for Diner’s place in cinema history.

Yet no movie from the 1980s has proved more influential. Diner has had far more impact on pop culture than the stylistic masterpiece Bladerunner, the indie darling Sex, Lies, and Videotape, or the academic favorites Raging Bull and Blue Velvet. Leave aside the fact thatDiner served as the launching pad for the astonishingly durable careers of Barkin, Paul Reiser, Steve Guttenberg, Daniel Stern, and Timothy Daly, plus Rourke and Bacon—not to mention Levinson, whose résumé includes Rain Man, Bugsy, and Al Pacino’s recent career reviver, You Don’t Know Jack. Diner’s groundbreaking evocation of male friendship changed the way men interact, not just in comedies and buddy movies, but in fictional Mob settings, in fictional police and fire stations, in commercials, on the radio. In 2009, The New Yorker’s TV critic Nancy Franklin, speaking about the TNT series Men of a Certain Age, observed that “Levinson should get royalties any time two or more men sit together in a coffee shop.” She got it only half right. They have to talk too.

What Franklin really meant is that, more than any other production, Diner invented … nothing. Or, to put it in quotes: Levinson invented the concept of “nothing” that was popularized eight years later with the premiere of Seinfeld. In Diner (as well as in Tin Men, his 1987 movie about older diner mavens), Levinson took the stuff that usually fills time between the car chase, the fiery kiss, the dramatic reveal—the seemingly meaningless banter (“Who do you make out to, Sinatra or Mathis?”) tossed about by men over drinks, behind the wheel, in front of a cooling plate of French fries—and made it central.

Also worth checking out is director Brian Koppelman’s article on Diner and its influence on his work in this month’s issue of Lucky Peach. Sadly, the article isn’t available online. However, if you haven’t read an issue of Lucky Peach, this is as good an excuse as any to buy one (it also includes a conversation between Anthony Bourdain and Elvis Mitchell where the two make fun of the movie, which makes for funny reading even if I disagree with their assessment).

And the famous sandwich scene: