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

Unusual musical revue where the unique music is more powerful than the dated visuals. 3.5 Stars

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.

Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris (1975)
Released: 27 Jan 1975
Rated: PG
Runtime: 98 min
Director: Denis Héroux
Genre: Drama, Music
Cast: Elly Stone, Mort Shuman, Joe Masiell, Jacques Brel
Writer(s): Eric Blau (screenplay), Eric Blau (play), Mort Shuman (play), Jacques Brel (play)
Plot: Three attendees at a puppet theater don various roles in order to sing a variety of songs by Jacques Brel, all while hippies and other eccentrics cavort about them.
IMDB rating: 6.1
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: Kino
Distributed By: Kino Lorber
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Audio: English PCM 2.0
Subtitles: None
Rating: PG
Run Time: 1 Hr. 37 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: keep case
Disc Type: BD25 (single layer)
Region: A
Release Date: 06/19/2018
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 20th 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.

Published by

Matt Hough

editor,member

13 Comments

  1. In the case of "Jacques Brell…" as the flawed film it always was, having an average overall score for this film and transfer comes as little surprise. On the other hand, I am under the impression that this is the only visual document we have on record; therefore, if there were to be only one high score out of three – in this case,the audio – I would choose just that. A strong 4.5 on Audio makes this good enough for my purchase. Hard to know; as our HTF audiophiles will have to chirp in; but I'm betting with today's technology that this 4.5 may now produce a better sound than the classic Off-Broadway and soundtrack albums. Kudos to Kino for making this available.

  2. Peg and I watched our copy of this last night. I knew very little about it. It was my first time seeing it. I hated it.

    I got the disc because Peg is FOREVER listening to the music from the cast albums. She LOVES those. When I mentioned the movie was getting a release on home video she lit up. When the disc arrived and I left it on the HT cabinet, she got really excited. She couldn't wait!

    I shouldn't have done it, but I pre-warned her that the film DOES have its detractors–that it is the product of its time (1974) and that it has some sensibilities of the cultural stuff that was going on at the time. She waved me off and was unfazed in her enthusiasm. Let's watch it tonight!

    Nine minutes into the disc, she was asking me to turn it off. (This is right around the rather surreal part when the siren went off in the backstage area of the theater and they broke out the doors onto the ocean beach and the siren continued.) I insisted we persevere. We watched it to the end.

    At one point (near the end of the film) Peg said to me, "I want you to know how much it means to me that you thought to get this for me knowing how much I like the music. It's a real example of how much you care for me. But I never want to see this movie again!" She later added, "I hope you can get your money back!"

    She has seen a few different local productions of the show (basic, simple cabaret staging) and couldn't understand why the material was being presented in such a bizarre manner.

    With our heads still spinning today, she texted me, "THAT, absolutely, was the worst thing I've ever seen in my life."

    So, we'll both challenge your production score of 3, Matt! :laugh: Peg's fondness for the songs themselves remain. I, on the other hand, found them ridiculous. I thought the lyrics were nonsensical garbage and the melodies were repetitive from song-to-song.

    Bottom line: If anyone wants a deal on the Blu-ray, PM me. I bet we can close a deal.

  3. Oh. And, Phillip: The condition of the mono audio track is the highlight of the disc. I completely agree with Matt's description of the technical aspects of the disc.

    I'll just add that as the movie played on, I looked at the disc case and saw this line in the description:

    But the true showstopper offers Brel himself singing his signature, "Ne Me Quitte Pas," in a sequence that ranks as one of the most powerfully understated and sincere musical performances ever put on film.

    1.) I didn't realize that I knew this song so well. Its English title is If You Go Away and one of my favorite performers Glen Campbell had recorded and performed this song. I had forgotten that it was written by Brel and had no idea it was going to appear in this film. Nice surprise. But my French, it ees not so good.

    2.) Regards the slow zoom on Brel during this number mentioned by Matt in his review. For me, it made the performance neither understated nor sincere. It just made it weird. This did NOT work like it did for Sergio Leone! 😀

  4. OUCH !!
    Being that the staged and recorded versions Brel is a favorite of your wife and learning that even SHE had hated it, I am now detoured from purchase. I saw Elly Stone perform this show in 1979. In my youth, I used these songs for auditions. Love both the stage and film recordings; but I've got a bad pitted feeling in my stomach. So much so, that even PMF would pass on an invited PM to F. But…Mike…let me ask you this. If one puts on the BD for audio only – and keeps their eyes averted from the screen – would it change things? Would it audibly be better than just the vinyl or CD? Or is this film an altogether wash, no matter how ya slice it?

  5. P.S. Makes me now wonder if Mr. Brel specifically sang "If You Go Away" for the film, as a message to those exiting audience members; knowing full well where this production was headed.:D

  6. PMF

    But…Mike…let me ask you this. If one puts on the BD for audio only – and keeps their eyes averted from the screen – would it change things? Would it audibly be better than just the vinyl or CD? Or is this film an altogether wash, no matter how ya slice it?

    I'm not the right guy to ask. Good-sounding music is important to me…but I just don't have a good enough feel for the quality of the recordings of the cast albums…and I can't speak to how different the arrangements are as to whether you'd like them or not. Only you can make that call. My wife is no help as she's not a discriminating listener. She rarely appreciates any of my high-rez music purchases–even though she might like a particular recording.

    I liked Elly Stone the best of the entire experience. One of the things I weirdly noticed was that she was missing some teeth. In fact there were so many extreme close-ups of the leads that it was easy to see that they all could have benefited aesthetically from some time in the dentist's chair. :blush: the other comment I made to peg was that she was the only thing in the film that I thought could have passed for contemporary (although maybe that was just her haircut). But the hair, make-up, clothes and staging all screamed mid-70s. But she could have stepped off the screen and onto a present-day street and not have received a 2nd look.

    $10. Which includes shipping. :D:D You know you want to see it. PM me. Do it…….. [​IMG]

  7. Mike Frezon

    […] But she could have stepped off the screen and onto a present-day street and not have received a 2nd look.[…]

    …that is, unless, she was smiling at those who were passing by. Must have been the Brussels.

  8. Matt Hough

    There was at one time a soundtrack album in stereo for the Jacques Brel film. I don't know if it was ever ported to CD or MP3.

    Nope never released to cd. But, a friend of mine in Nashville (!) transferred this to disc for me some twenty years ago.
    I'm hanging on to my lp because Joe Masiell signed it with the motto, "aim high."

  9. Matt Hough

    There was at one time a soundtrack album in stereo for the Jacques Brel film. I don't know if it was ever ported to CD or MP3.

    The soundtrack is great. Amazon has the vinyl for about 7 bucks.

  10. Anthony Dale

    […]I'm hanging on to my lp because Joe Masiell signed it with the motto, "aim high."

    Joe Madiell? Cool autograph. But he actually wrote "aim high" after having seen the film?:lol:

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