CD: Francis Lai – The Essential Film Music Collection (2010)

February 23, 2011 | By

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Rating: Very Good

Label: Silva Screen/ Released: February 7, 2011

Tracks & Album Length: 20 tracks / (69:05)


Special Notes: 8-page colour booklet with liner notes by Michael Beek.


Composer: Francis Lai




This 2010 recording (originally produced by Japan’s King Records) features Francis Lai conducting orchestral versions of his most famous themes, spanning a 45+ year career in movies.

Lai’s most popular and recognizable themes – A Man and a Woman, Bilitis, and Emmanuelle II – are very much steeped in the writing style of their respective eras, as well as Lai’s own emphasis on expressing a theme to its fullest lyrical limits with no restraint on flowing harmonies, and little room for any jazz or pop improv; it’s the ideal formula for memorable schmaltz.

The danger, for some, might be a best-of album that emphasizes cues in easy listening renditions, but the arrangements and performances in this newly recorded compilation capture the style of each theme’s era, yet avoid the kind of orchestral pop style that often dates theme samplers and composer tributes. Lai’s music may not appeal to the broadest spectrum of film music fans – filmmakers ably exploited his knack for enhancing schmaltz such as Love Story with treacly music – but the power of his most popular themes are undeniable.

Emmanuelle II, for example, is a visually rich, ponderous and generally ridiculous film; it’s filled with a seriousness that sometimes morphs into the absurd when Lai’s concerto-styled main theme plays on the soundtrack (such as the preposterous acupuncture scene). Separated from the flawed films, however, themes hold their own, and lacking visual clichés, the music achieves a pureness that enables one to appreciate his flagrantly romantic work.

Most of the theme selections vary in length, and the instrumentation is generally faithful to the original versions, such as the vocal for Bilitis.

The strongest material, in terms of instrumentation and Lai’s penchant for blending urgency and romance, stems from Lai’s numerous collaborations with director Claude Lelouch. Itineraire d’Un Enfant Gate is a rich fandango for violin, acoustic guitar, and electric bass, with a light Latin flavour coming from the rhythmic shifts; the simple humanity within Le Genre Humain stems from a classical style, with acoustic guitar being supported by chamber strings and woodwinds; and the dreamy Vivre pour Vivre, with its cascading piano lines and carnival hall ambiance.

Equally impressive are non-Lelouch scores, such as the tragic theme from La course du Lievre a Travers les Champs, with lamenting woodwinds carrying Lai’s sad melody; the strange desperation that permeates Le lecon particuliere; the lightness of the jazzy Les Miserables, dominated by a wistful sax and backing from duel concertinas; and the peculiar blend of melancholy and brash bravado in the orchestral rock version of Les Ripoux, a style also popularized in light crime films by Philippe Sarde.

Michael Beek’s intro notes and brief cue breakdowns in the booklet place the themes in context (although adding film dates would’ve helped organize the stages and popular genres Lai tackled during his lengthy career).

Silva Screen’s CD is another finely mastered recording, and the lengthy selections of themes will probably prompt listeners to seek out the scores, if not the films, and scrutinize how Lai’s material was integrated in Lelouch’s films, and the erotic and tear-jerking schmaltz that propelled him to international fame during the seventies.



© 2011 Mark R. Hasan


Related links:

LP:  Man and a Woman, A / Un homme et une femme (1966)

DVD / Film:  Man and a Woman, A / Un homme et une femme (1966)


External References:

IMDB Soundtrack AlbumComposer Filmography


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