Music Of Woody Allen Films – a new irregular feature about the musical compositions that have helped to make Allen’s films sing.
Woody Allen has loved Paris for a long time, but it took him over 40 films before he made a film that was fully set there. The result was Midnight In Paris, as glorious a love letter to Paris as Manhattan was to Allen’s home island. Both films open with exquisite montages capturing the beauty of each city. Manhattan famously got Gershwin. For Paris, Allen matched the images to a tune by one of his very favourites – Sidney Bechet.
Sidney Bechet was born in 1897 in New Orleans. He would grow up and learn the music of that city, and its rich Jazz. Soon, he was travelling the world playing in bands (and met and performed with Louis Armstrong). But his own personality let him down. He was violent and mean, and found himself arrested a couple of times. He finally called it quits from the US, and well into his 50s, he moved to France. There he found a home and recorded many tributes to that city.
‘Si tu vois ma mère‘ (if you see my mother) is one of a number of French tunes recorded by Bechet in his later years. It was his own composition and was first released in 1952. He had much bigger hits with French titles – ‘Petite Fleur‘, ‘Dans les rues d’Antibes‘ and ‘Les Oignons‘. Although he is tied to New Orleans, he definitely fits with a Paris film – the city where he died and is buried.
It’s a better fit if that film is by Woody Allen. Allen has said that Bechet is one of his very favourites, if not his actual favourite. Allen plays clarinet at least partly inspired by Bechet. He named one of his daughters Bechet. He has even said that Bechet is the person he would most like to have dinner with.
Most interestingly, Allen has been working on a biopic of Bechet. Provisionally named ‘American Blues‘, it would feature Bechet and Armstrong. Because the story would have to be shot in multiple countries and Bechet is not necessarily a big draw, Allen has never been able to get it made. But he spoke about stil working on it only two years ago. We were hoping it would be the 2016 Amazon series. This could be Allen’s Napoleon.
Despite that, Allen has rarely used Bechet’s music. Done out of love, he has described using Bechet music amongst dialogue or film footage as barbaric. Especially for his big hits. Which might explain the use of ‘Si tu vois ma mère‘, a lovely tune but hardly a hit. And the sequence has no characters, no dialogue.
But that scene – which opens Midnight In Paris – could be a short film itself. Allen (and cinematographer Darius Khondji) take us on a tour of Paris, starting with the bright morning. Every scene is beautiful – be it the stunning beauty of those world famous landmarks, to the simple rustic beauty of people sitting in cafes. It’s not just a Lonely Planet reel, there are lots of deep cuts. And time passes, and the sun sets into Paris, at night and the rain.
It leads us into a different story, but it sets the scene. We are immediately on Gil (Owen Wilson)’s side. Why wouldn’t you be washed up in this place?
Paris. Allen loves her. We love her. And this week, we have all been thinking about her. Allen’s little cinematic tribute might mean little in the light of big world events. But what we learn from Allen, in ‘Manhattan‘, is you have to decide on your own list of things that make you happy and get you through this awful life.
The internet doesn’t need anymore people quoting Woody Allen dialogue and lines. In three and a half years, we’ve never done it. This is a first and only time. This is Gil from ‘Midnight In Paris‘, on the city of lights.
I sometimes think, how is anyone ever gonna come up with a book, or a painting, or a symphony, or a sculpture that can compete with a great city. You can’t. Because you look around and every street, every boulevard, is its own special art form and when you think that in the cold, violent, meaningless universe that Paris exists, these lights, I mean come on, there’s nothing happening on Jupiter or Neptune, but from way out in space you can see these lights, the cafés, people drinking and singing. For all we know, Paris is the hottest spot in the universe.
We’ll leave you with grainy but exciting footage of Sidney Bechet, rocking out.
Find all our the stories in our Music Of Woody Allen Films series. What song should we look at next?