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August 15, 2005

The World of Jacques Demy

L'Univers de Jacques Demy
Agnes Varda - 1995
Wellspring DVD

Both of Agnes Varda's documentaries on her husband, the late Jacques Demy, have left me frustrated. Not that it's her fault, but I can't help but feeling frustrated when I see can see excerpts of films, but not the full length feature. In the case of Jacques Demy, it's as if the twenty years following The Young Girls of Rochefort didn't exist.

The World of Jacques Demy can be viewed as a kind of companion piece to Varda's earlier film, Jacquot de Nantes. While Jacquot was primarily a kind of biography of Demy, particularly his childhood, World is more interested in Demy's films. The structure is not totally chronological so that while Lola is discussed early on, Bay of Angels is not covered until near the end. In addition to the excerpts from Demy's features, Varda included interviews with actors and other collaborators, as well as "home movie" footage.

Dead at the relatively early age of 59, I had to wonder what a Jacques Demy film would look like were he still alive and active. In addition to his best known film, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Demy would demonstrate an interest in a stylized use of color, especially in settings and costuming. One could only assume that had he been able to make a film using computer generated special effects that Demy would have perhaps created yet another film with totally unanticipated images. At the very least, I would hope that Demy's later films, especially A Room in Town and Three Places for the 26th, along with his English language films, are made available on DVD. In terms of subject matter, Jeanne and the Perfect Guy is probably as good an homage to Demy as possible, starring the Demy and Varda's son Mathieu.

One person I wouldn't expect to see in a documentary on Jacques Demy is Harrison Ford. With just a handful of supporting role credits, Ford was Demy's original choice to star in The Model Shop, Demy's only American film. The top executives at Columbia Pictures vetoed the unknown Ford in favor of Gary Lockwood, fresh from 2001. A footnote to The Model Shop is that the script supervisor was Shirley Ulmer, wife of director Edgar G. Ulmer, a filmmaker dedicated to making the best film he could with the most limited of budgets.

In 1975, I had the chance to sit in on an interview with Demy's most famous musical collaborator, Michel Legrand. I don't remember what was said other than that I asked about Legrand's piano driven score for Bay of Angels. I found out a little later that Legrand was appreciative that someone knew him for more than Umbrellas or his Hollywood scores.

The World of Jacques Demy gives on a taste of Demy's entire filmmaking career. One can only hope that one doesn't have to wait long for the full meal.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at August 15, 2005 04:22 PM