'Noël à Vaugirard' was a short film that appeared in an episode of Dim Dam Dom, broadcast on December 23, 1966. Starring Serge Gainsbourg as Joseph and Chantal Goya as Marie (Mary), it's a comedic telling of the Nativity story updated for its young, modern audience, filmed at the abbatoirs of Vaugirard.
It's been exactly 50 years since this odd Christmas sketch first aired on French TV, so I thought it might be a good time to revisit it, this time in more detail than when I first posted it ten years ago. I have also realised the version I originally shared is abridged, so wanted to post the full version, which is four-and-a-half minutes longer. 'Noël à Vaugirard' was a short film that appeared in an episode of Dim Dam Dom, broadcast on December 23, 1966. Starring Serge Gainsbourg as Joseph and Chantal Goya as Marie (Mary), it's a comedic telling of the Nativity story updated for its young, modern audience, filmed at the abbatoirs of Vaugirard. It's a light, throwaway kind of piece, but irreverent in its own way, with some surreal and highly creative moments that reflect the unique approach of the program.
Premiering in March 1965, Dim Dam Dom was the flagship show of the newly launched second television channel of France's national broadcasting service, ORTF. It aired once a month on Sunday afternoon, for a total of 70 episodes until the end of its run in 1971. Daisy de Galard, who had worked at Elle magazine for fourteen years, was approached by Roger Stéphane, a journalist and an advisor to the head of ORTF, Claude Contamine, to create a television magazine aimed at women. Though she had no experience in television, the fledgling producer set out to make something different to the usual fare offered to female audiences at the time. She created a show that was modern and innovative, taking many risks both aesthetically and in terms of subjects the show covered. The program not only showcased some of the most popular entertainers of the time, but was a springboard for many young journalists and directors. The name Dim Dam Dom was an abbreviation for Dimanche (because it was broadcast on Sundays), Dames (since it was primarily targeted at women), D'hommes (because it also featured segments concerning men, and aimed to hold their interest as well). A hit from its first broadcast, and successful later in reruns, Dim Dam Dom is remembered with a great deal of respect as a pioneering program.
An eleventh-hour discovery in the RTS archives as I was about to publish the last entry, this video was too good a find to tack onto the end of that post as an afterthought. It's a terrific 1966 Swiss television special starring Jacques Dutronc entitled Rendez-vous au bowling. This is the year the 23-year-old Dutronc launched his singing career and became an instant megastar in France, topping the charts with his first single 'Et moi et moi et moi' and selling over a million copies of his debut album. Here, Dutronc is as charismatic and dapper as ever as he performs some of the best tracks from his first album, like 'La Compapade', 'La Fille du Père Noël' and 'Les Playboys', and shows off his comedic skills in skits between songs. Most of the performances are lip-synced but Dutronc and his backing band, including Alain Chamfort on organ, do a dynamic live rendition of 'Les Cactus'.
A welcome surprise was the appearance of yé-yé girl Pussy Cat performing 'Ce n'est pas une vie', her cover of the Small Faces' 'Sha-La-La-La-Lee'. Born Evelyne Courtois, Pussy Cat is a very interesting figure in the 1960s French pop scene. A songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, she founded the only all-female band of the decade, Les Petites Souris, before going onto a solo career where she recorded some excellent, mostly Anglocentric covers, and later some self-penned material.
When the credits rolled, I noticed the name of another of the era's most fascinating girls, Stella, who wrote biting satires of the yé-yé scene. I was bummed that she was missing from this video, but luckily found her in another clip from the show:
Radio Télévision Suisse has an excellent online audiovisual archive which includes a number of videos featuring 1960s French pop stars. You'll find all the big names like Serge Gainsbourg, Françoise Hardy, France Gall, Johnny Hallyday, Sylvie Vartan, Sheila and Jacques Dutronc, as well as some rare clips of more obscure artists. There is much to explore on the site, so here are a few of my picks:
Tucked away twelve minutes into a May 1967 episode of news magazine Carrefour is a performance by yé-yé girl Chantal Kelly (I've clipped out her part above). One of my favourite French pop girls of the era, she remains puzzlingly uncomped and unreissued. I wrote about this nine years ago, mentioning she'd only made it onto a couple of compilations, and nothing has changed since. It's hard to understand, as her songs are as worthy as those of the most beloved and frequently reissued girls. Unlike some singers saddled with tame rehashes of American and British hits, Chantal got to record quality originals by top songwriters (the above song is co-written by André Popp), including some highly inventive songs like 'Caribou'. There is more than a whole LP's worth of material begging to be anthologised – someone make it happen.
The rest of these videos are embedded from the RTS site, so require Flash:
Wow, this is twenty incredible minutes of Françoise Hardy in London in 1965. The footage includes Hardy recording her album L'amitié at Pye studios, and walking around the city with her then-boyfriend, photographer Jean-Marie Périer.
Each episode of the Swiss series Chansons à aimer focused on a single music artist, giving the subject a chance to showcase a handful of their songs and be interviewed at some length. In this 1969 episode, Michel Polnareff performs 'La poupée qui fait non', 'Jour après jour' and 'Pourquoi faut-il se dire adieu'.
German born, French-based actress Uta Taeger released one single in 1969, 'Hier, aujourd'hui, demain' (Yesterday, today, tomorrow) backed with the fuzzed-out 'Baudelaire'. Here she performs the A-side, a cover of The Shangri-Las' 'Past, Present, And Future', on the TV special Barcarolles à Barcarès, which aired on August 30th, 1969. The entire show is filmed on a boat in the title location because... well, why not? The French love wordplay so much, I would not put it past them to have conceived of this simply to pair the words Barcarolles and Barcarès. Poor Uta looks like she might blow away, but remains elegant.
In this clip from Show Tom Jones, which aired on French television on July 30 1966, Serge Gainsbourg performs his marvellous 'Qui est "In" qui est "Out". The show was a one-off special hosted by Tom Jones and mostly features performances by him, but some French artists show up as well, including Françoise Hardy, Eric Charden, Zouzou and Pussy Cat. There are a mix of live and lip-synched performances – Gainsbourg's here being the latter, though he is as charismatic as ever.
Who needs fancy effects when you have Gainsbourg, a razor blade and some large paper signs? I enjoy his manner here, a mix of his natural shyness and an amusingly affected disinterest. This is one of my favourite Gainsbourg songs – it has that groovy organ, great guitar and a relentless stomping beat, and there's the nerdly satisfaction of the way the first two lines of each verse end with "in" or "out" syllables. And nothing beats upbeat cynicism in pop, of which Gainsbourg is of course the master. But amidst the thick cynicism here – which I think you can feel even if you don't understand the lyrics – there is something about the melody I find oddly moving. I get strangely emotional when I hear this song, both because of that quality and just because I find the song so overwhelmingly good.
Though Gainsbourg's appeal and a sense of emotional connection to his songs transcend language, there is something key those of us who don't speak French miss out on. Luckily, there are some resources that help bridge that gap. My Own Role is an excellent collection of English translations of Gainsbourg's songs, but sadly 'Qui est "in" qui est "out"' is not there. But there is a good translation on the blog French One Song At A Time, though it's worth noting "le Cashbox" in the lyrics actually refers to the music charts magazine Cashbox. There's also Mick Harvey's English cover 'Who Is "In" Who Is "Out"' from 1997's Pink Elephants. I love Harvey's versions – the translations are faithful while being carefully adjusted to suit the English language and to preserve rhyming schemes. Happily, he has just released a new album of Gainsbourg covers, Delirium Tremens.
I have a couple more clips from this show up on Youtube: Marianne Faithfull singing 'Si demain', and Françoise Hardy performing 'La Maison ou j'ai grandi' & 'Il est des choses', briefly chatting with Tom Jones between songs.
This is a sketch from an episode of Dim Dam Dom broadcast on Dec 23, 1966. I'm not exactly sure what's going on besides it being a modernised version of the Nativity story, with Serge Gainsbourg as Joseph and Chantal Goya as Marie (Mary). Though I'm pretty sure that even if my French were better, I'd still be left scratching my head at scenes featuring nuns sashaying to Gainsbourg or Jacques Dutronc briefly performing in a meat locker. Plenty of fun, weirdness and great tunes, with an all star cast including Sylvie Vartan (intro) and Régine (full cast list at IMDB).
out of print
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- Sat, Oct 22 2005
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