Sep 27, 2010

you spelled god wrong

Elevator to the Gallows - (The Criterion Collection)Fascinating. "Elevator to the Gallows" or the original "Ascenseur pour l'├ęchafaud" is now available on Netflix. Even better it's available for streaming via Watch Instantly. It's a Louis Malle film from the 50s. One of the French "New Wave" or nouvelle vague directors that's on my list of directors to run through their back catalog of films at some point (I'm currently going through Goddard). He is probably best known to my generation for his film "Au revoir les enfants". Interestingly Malle earned his chops as a cameraman for Jacques Cousteau. Ascenseur was his first feature film.

While the film is quite good, it is the soundtrack by Miles Davis that is the real treasure. It was recorded at Le Poste Parisien Studio on December 4-5, 1957 as Davis was disbanding his first great quintet (drug issues). And much like Kind of Blue was later created, it was recorded without any rehearsal or any kind of preparation other than some chord progressions. For example "Sur L'Autoroute" has the chord progression from "Sweet Georgia Brown". They just improvised the entire soundtrack with a few takes for each song while watching the movie on a screen in front of them. In fact some believe this was the very first example of this kind of improvisational recording approach. As one might guess, or perhaps not, each take is distinctive and not entirely like the previous one.

The music has an overwhelming melancholy feel to it. Some with better ears claim the sound from the horn is like no other recording from Davis. This is because part of Davis' lip kept sticking to the mouthpiece but he kept playing.
while he was playing, a tiny piece of skin from his lip got loose and stuck in the mouthpiece of his instrument. Miles gladly accepted this strange new element, in the literary sense of the word an 'unheard heard-of' musical effect, in quite the same way as those painters who often owe the plastic quality of their coat of paint to mere chance or coincidence. - Boris Vian
The soundtrack is available and contains both the clean takes as well as the final versions used in the movie where an echo effect is added to create an even more haunting sound. Both the movie and the soundtrack are worth your time.

There's a nice preview here:


And a clip from the movie here. It's not hard to see why Jeanne Moreau became famous after this role. I hear she's a good actress too.

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