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.
Each episode comprised about a dozen short segments, covering different areas like music, literature, social matters and more. The 'Noël à Vaugirard' sequence was directed by Jacques Espagne and, as per de Galard's philosophy, packed in as many stars as it could. Aside from main stars Gainsbourg and Goya, we briefly see yé-yé megastar Sylvie Vartan, who introduces the film, and Jacques Dutronc, who gets up to shenanigans on his scooter and lip-syncs to a small snippet of his 'Et moi et moi et moi' in a meat locker (alternated with excerpts of Gainsbourg's 'Qui est "in", qui est "out"). Famed night-club singer Régine also appears, as do a number of other well-known actors and singers – Georges Ulmer, Marie-France Boyer, Jean-Pierre Rambal and Guy Marchand. A troupe of dancers known as Les Ballets de Dirk Sanders dress as nuns and don groovy sunglasses.
The singer who plays a lament on her guitar for our holy pop couple is Dominique Grange. A former actress, yé-yé singer and television host, she later became a protest singer and committed activist during the May '68 demonstrations. Singing a simple folk song here, this appearance serves as a bridge between her earlier career phase and her better-known later identity.
A co-producer of Dim Dam Dom remembers that although 'Noël à Vaugirard' was not ill-intentioned, its mockery of religious imagery was potentially quite disrespectful for its era, and as such, executives ordered they bring in a "religious expert" to approve of things. The priest, in fact, enjoyed the skit and had only one problem – puzzlingly, with the closing shot showing the gate at Vaugirard. His objection? You could supposedly see the genitals of the bull statue on the gate! (However, the producer points out the statue was actually an ox...).
In Yé-Yé Girls of '60s French Pop, Jean-Emmanuel Deluxe notes Gainsbourg seems unenthused here, later telling his biographer he did not remember anything about the skit and sniping "Did I play Joseph or the donkey?". Goya, on the other hand, told director Espagne she had fond memories of filming the sketch. Espagne also recalled Gainsbourg trying his hardest to seduce an unwavering (married) Goya – unaware his attempts were being captured by his microphone for all to hear!
However non-committal Gainsbourg was, it's still fun to see him here, and Goya – who Espagne believes was "far more interesting as an artist" than she's usually given credit for – puts in a likeable performance. Overall, this is an enjoyably wacky romp and an interesting little window into the pop culture of 1960s France, and the inventive, experimental approach of some of French TV's early outings.
- '«Dim dam dom», l'école des femmes' (Le Figaro, 22/08/2009) by Fabienne Reybaud.
- Yé-Yé Girls of '60s French Pop by Jean-Emmanuel Deluxe.
- 'Sous les pavés... l'orage' (Club des années 60 n°46) by Marc Liozon.
- Roger Stéphane: enquête sur l'aventurier by Olivier Philipponnat, Patrick Lienhardt.
- 'Les Figures Incontournables'(iFrance.com) (Archived).
- Le goût de la télévision: Anthologie des Cahiers du cinéma, ed. Thierry Jousse.
- Nos années télé by Danielle Sommer.
- 'Sérialité et répétition : l'esthétique télévisuelle en question' (Quaderni n°9) by Michel Kokoreff.
- Taken from this DailyMotion video, which I edited as the sound was far too low.
- To any fellow sensitive vegetarians, I understand you may hesitate to watch something set in an abbatoir, but it's mostly alright. You'll probably want to avoid the meat locker part around 10:45 to 11:52. Or you could try to fix your eyes on the far more pleasant sight of Jacques Dutronc.