Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris Blu-ray Review

Wednesday, June 20 2018

Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris Blu-ray Review

Run Time: 1 Hr. 37 Min. Package Includes: Blu-ray Disc Type: BD25 (single layer) Region: A MSRP: $29.95 The Production: 3/5
Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris began as an off-Broadway revue which ran for almost five years. Plotless but loaded with tunefully soulful commentary on life and love, victory and defeat, triumphs and tragedies (but more of the latter), the musical was brought to film in 1975 as part of Eli Landau’s experimental American Film Theatre, a subscription-based operation where unusual plays were filmed for audiences with specialized tastes in theatrical works too avant-garde for commercial cinema. The movie is not the stage show: some songs have been added and others dropped, and director Denis Héroux has attempted to visualize Brel’s unique art songs in sometimes too obvious or off-putting ways. The songs translated into English remain, however, performed by a trio of fine singers that reveal, despite the irregular visual presentation which can affect or demean, the throbbing ache of emotion that imbues all of Brel’s observations on life’s foibles and failures.
In the film’s introductory number “Madeleine,” we’re introduced to our film’s three principals: an everywoman (Elly Stone), a cabbie (Mort Shuman), and a Marine (Joe Masiell) who will in those or various other guises introduce us to the art tunes of Jacques Brel. They’re unfortunately accompanied by a rather bothersome group of hippies (the film was shot in 1974) who consistently interact in mime with our trio, their use obviously designed to give the film a hipness and cool factor for its day but whose presence now does not enhance the movie nor the music. The three main performers, however, all intimately involved with the show during its stage incarnation at various points during its long run, do right by the music as they sing either separately or together Brel’s observations on human existence: “Marathon” about the follies of 20 th century war and peace, “The Statue” about life’s regrets, “Jackie,” “Taxicab,” “Timid Frieda,” and “Amsterdam” about the allure and freshness of youth, and “I Loved,” an ode to enjoying life’s pleasures while they’re available.
But there are the poignancies, bitterness, and the sadness present in life which are also memorialized in song: “Funeral Tango” as a corpse looks back on life’s missed moments, “The Bulls” with pointless deaths which could be prevented, the self-explanatory “The Desperate Ones,” “Next” as a recruit decries the dehumanization of the military, and the one number sung in French “Ne Me Quittes Pas” by its author Jacques Brel who mourns personal decisions that have cost him a lover and a child. For the latter number, director Denis Héroux uses a slow tracking shot toward the performer until we’re in his eyes watching them fill with tears as the song reaches its unbearable climax.
Apart from Brel, the three other performers likewise reach emotional apexes during the film. Elly Stone, with her Edith Piaf-like voice possessing a noticeable tremolo that adds poignancy to her ballads, excels with “Old Folks,” a paean to the resilience of the elderly, “Sons of” about the lost men in her life, “Marieke” about a lost child, and “Song for Old Lovers,” another self-explanatory tune. Possessing the best voice of the trio, Joe Masiell has his best moment in “Bachelor’s Dance” as he imagines his ideal mate. As the comic relief (and the artist who translated Brel’s original French lyrics into English), Mort Shuman looks for love in “Amsterdam” and “Mathilde.” All three blend beautifully in the film’s upbeat climax “If We Only Have Love.” Video: 3/5 3D Rating: NA
The film is presented in 1.78:1 and is offered in 1080p resolution using the AVC codec. While color is generally (but not always) strong and vibrant and flesh tones natural, the images sometimes take on a dated appearance with some soft focus that comes out of nowhere and dust specks and some debris which can get heavy at times. Generally, sharpness is average to above average throughout. The movie has been divided into 8 chapters. Audio: 4.5/5
The audio track is PCM 2.0 (1.5 Mbps) mono. The singing voices, background accompaniment, and sound effects have all been blended expertly into a strong audio mix. Age-related problems with hiss, crackle, flutter, or hum have been eliminated. Special Features: 3.5/5
Audio Commentary : film historian Bret Wood and his son Addison offer an interesting commentary on the film, its stage incarnation, the life of its creator and principal cast. Though in the first half of the film, Wood does an excellent job identifying the individual songs and discussing their merits, he veers away from that later on to offer other information about the project, the American Film Theatre, and other items related to the endeavor including critical reception at the expense of our learning about the histories of the other songs.
Edie Landau Interview (26:16, SD): the widow of American Film Theatre producer Eli Landau explains where the concept of the program came from and the triumphs and tragedies of its two-season run.
Eli Landau: In Front of the Camera (6:30, SD): Eli Landau’s filmed thanks for a successful first season of the American Film Theatre with clips from the eight productions of the first year.
American Film Theatre Trailers : Butley, A Delicate Balance, Galileo, The Homecoming, The Iceman Cometh, Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, Lost in the Stars, Luther, The Maids, The Man in the Glass Booth, Rhinoceros, Three Sisters. Overall: 3.5/5
An unusual musical revue featuring songs of one of the world’s most unique balladeers, Denis Héroux’s Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris may be visually grounded in the 1970s, but its songs reflect timeless emotions of love, loss, and life which may appeal to those adventurous enough to sample them.