Peace, love and understanding: the free jazz and wild politics of Les Stance a Sophie.
Just after the chaos of 1968's student riots in Paris, in the midst of the Vietnam War, French director Moshe Mizrahi decided to tell a love story. His film Les Stance A Sophie is the tale of a radical feminist, Celine, and her attempt to find love with her husband, Philippe, who doesn't quite appreciate her politics or her sleeping around. What is at first a romance descends into a battle of ideology and sexuality. But love, and trying to find it, is the film's nucleus. "Isaac Bashevis Singer said that if you're not setting out to tell a love story, then your story isn't suitable to be told," Mizrahi says from home in Tel Aviv, where he now lives and teaches filmmaking. Despite lofty hopes, the film only screened for three weeks as the production company went bankrupt. "Critics loved it, but no one else got to see it," Mizrahi says. To remedy this, Soul Jazz has reissued the film on DVD.
Though largely unseen, the film's name and spirit stayed relevant through its classic soundtrack from the Art Ensemble of Chicago, a collective of musicians that combined the wild free jazz of the time with a rhythmic sensuality. The group used hundreds of instruments to make their torrid sound, alternating between blaring horns and cool, methodical percussion. AEC had been living in Paris in the late '60s when Mizrahi saw them perform. "When I first heard them in Paris it was like thunder and I knew I had to have them in my film," he says. "The way they attacked music, like they could do anything they wanted." With only two weeks before they had to leave France for the US, Mizrahi commissioned original music from AEC to be performed during one day of filming. "Without hearing the songs before arranging the shoot, I didn't know how much it would lend to the film," he says. What he got, "Theme De Yoyo," would become AEC's trademark composition, a bursting, sexy track with vocals from soul singer Fontella Bass, wife of AEC trumpeter Lester Bowie. They perform the song in the film wearing white face paint, looking focused and intent.
Early in the film, after arguing about politics with her husband, Celine's friend Julia tells her the fight is useless because she's a woman. "He's not listening. He only hears the music of your voice," Julia says. "So when you get upset he only hears a scherzo and when you tell him to piss off it's as if there was a false note." Instead of being discouraged, Celine merely ups her tempo and argues louder. AEC's racket--which must have sounded radical in 1970 and still resonates as fresh, tense and urgent--is able to speak for Celine, scoring her timeless desire for autonomy. "If you do the story right," says Mizrahi, "it will always have some political meaning in it. And if you tell a good story right, that meaning will be universal."
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|Author:||Frank, Alexander Geoffrey|
|Article Type:||Sound recording review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2009|
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