Friday, January 16, 2015

Reflections on France, A Life Well Lived, And Music Videos

Eugene Smith and Thelonius Monk jamming in 1959. Note: This photograph is for illustration only and does not represent the French movie industry, students, or cats.
Seeing so many images of France lately brought me back to the Spring of 1983 when I graduated high school and purchased a ticket to Gatwick Airport, outside London, and a Eurail Pass for a few months.

I traveled all over Europe that spring with two friends and now laugh at myself when I think about the things I said, did, believed in. But such had to be for a life well lived.

Still it was a fantastic trip that was to launch many life pursuits. One of the things that the three of us all agreed on was that we needed to travel alone for a while. I don't remember if this was because the others had itineraries I didn't think were important or they just needed to flee my cloying presence. I immediately saw this "alone time" as my own vision quest -- what would happen if I had nowhere I had to be, had all the time in the world, and was able to easily move myself around Western Europe. Such freedom reiterated that my life was my own and I would spend it as I saw fit.

So what did I actually do?

Sure I saw the Louvre, the Prado, the Uffizi Gallery, but also spent serious time playing video games and trying to find movies in English of the Fast Times At Ridgemount High sort.

In Paris I went to a scruffy university neighborhood and found the shabby theater showing an American movie. In the square near the theater was a statue of an 18th century nobleman, judging by his dress, that someone had dumped a bucket of orange paint over -- certainly a strident protest of something.

Before the main movie was a black-and-white ten-minute short of jazz musicians playing which looked like it was made in the 1950s. The film cut back and forth between the musicians and slow-motion footage of cats being dropped behind a translucent screen so only their silhouettes were visible. The bebop jazz, the cats gracefully writhing through the air, made for something that in my mind was unequivocally French, artistic, and beyond the scope of gross American culture.

There was no mention of who the musicians were, or even who made the film -- it appeared to exist only to give illustration to the beautiful abstraction of the music. I had certainly seen music videos before, but such were obviously intended to promote the band and sell records. The minimal edits, the stationary camera, the beauty of the airborne cats, all seemed to exist only to give the viewer pleasure.

I looked for this clip on YouTube and was unable to find it. I was again brought back to that smokey theater when I saw this clip. Sure it has good production value and is by a famous artist, but the style harkens back to my jazz-cat experience in thematic simplicity. Enjoy:


Uffizi Gallery
Uffizi Gallery

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