Monday, July 02, 2007

A little sparrow with a big voice

Patty here...

I saw a brilliant movie on Saturday night, "La Vie En Rose," the story of French chanteuse Edith Piaf (1915-1963) who was, during her heyday, the highest paid singer in the world. She was born Edith Giovnna Gassion but was later given the name Piaf, a Parisian colloquialism for sparrow. It has been said that the frail four-feet eight singer was Billie Holliday, Judy Garland, and Janis Joplin all rolled into one.

By all accounts, Piaf had a difficult life. She was born to an alcoholic mother, and raised intermittently in a brothel by her grandmother and in various seedy digs by her father, a circus performer. From the age of nine she earned her living singing and passing the hat on the streets of Paris until she was discovered and nurtured to stardom. She died at age 47, leaving a legacy of addiction, tragedy, and a monumental talent that was lost too soon.



Toward the end of her career, Piaf sang a song called "Non je ne regrette rien" (No Regrets). At this juncture in her life she probably had a few (but then again, too few to mention), but hearing her sing the words left a lump in my throat for all she'd gained and all she'd lost in her short life. To learn more about Edith Piaf, click here.



Marion Cotillard portrays Piaf in the film. Stephen Holden of the New York Times describes her performance this way: "Marion Cotillard's feral portrait of the French singer Edith Piaf as a captive wild animal hurling herself at the bars of her cage is the most astonishing immersion of one performer into the body and soul of another I've ever encountered in a film. Her portrayal of Piaf, plucked from the streets of Paris and molded into a music hall legend, ignites Olivier Dahan's screen biography."



Not only do I love Holden's wordsmithing, but I couldn't agree more with his review. Cotillard's performance was breathtaking and her resemblance to Piaf, uncanny.

The film is playing at the Royal Theatre on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Los Angeles, which is the flagship of the Laemmle Theatre chain and one of the best art houses in town, despite its pedestrian architecture.



And get this, I ran into my neighbor in the ticket line. What are the odds of that happening in a city of almost 4 million? That's what I love about LA. It's really just a small town at heart.

"La Vie En Rose" got me thinking about other music legends who died too young. I still miss Jim Croce. Who do you miss?

25 comments:

  1. I have a special love for Edith Piaf. My grandmother was French and sang all of Piaf's songs as she worked around the kitchen.

    As for singers who were lost too soon, I think I miss Joplin the most. I saw her twice. Once with Big Brother and once with her Kozmic Blues Band. I would have followed her anywhere if she'd asked.

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  2. I loved this film, and I always loved the music of Edith Piaf, even as a small child (my mother liked her, so there you go ...).

    When he died, in a car accident, I missed Marc Bolan of T-Rex (yes, that dates me, I know). I missed Otis Redding as well, because I have loved "Dock of the Bay" since I first heard it - gosh, I could only have been about 12. Maybe that's why I ended up living in Sausalito for a few years - that famous dock of the Bay.

    I do hope the actress who portrayed Piaf gets an Oscar, it would be a travesty if she didn't. Does anyone remember Mireille Mathieu? When she was first discovered, she was touted as the new Piaf - and she could really sing like her, but she was managed poorly and never quite sustained the promise - or perhaps it was the hopes of so many Piaf fans who wanted someone to take her place, which was impossible.

    Lovely post, Patty

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  3. patty smiley7/02/2007 8:44 AM

    David, I hope you get a chance to see this film. With your connection to Piaf, you'll really appreciate its power.

    Jackie, I'm not sure Cotillard is eligible for an Oscar since this is a French film with English subtitles, but the film could win a statue for Best Foreign film. I have no doubt that she will win many other prizes because her performance was astonishing.

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  4. It sounds like this film is a fitting tribute to Piaf. Can't wait to see it.

    I'd have to vote for Patsy Cline as my "gone too soon" candidate.

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  5. Lovely post.

    I always thought George Burns died too young (age 100, in 1996).

    I am particularly fond of his rendition of "I Wish I was 18 Again."
    http://tinyurl.com/27c2e5

    Paul

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  6. I've missed "our J's" posts over the past few weeks.....glad to see you're back on the pitch.....Add Marvin Gaye to the Otis Redding to-be-missed group.....of course to the Joplin group there's Jimi Hindrex, Jim Morrison,and Keith Moon from that era too.

    Jon
    "Ah, but I was so much older then....
    I'm younger than that now."

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  7. Stevie Ray Vaughan

    I remember listening to the radio in late August 1990 when they cut in to announce that SRV had died in a helicopter crash, and then they played a trio of Vaughan instrumentals. It remains the only time I have ever wept to a radio news bulletin.
    .
    .
    .
    B

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  8. patty smiley7/02/2007 9:48 AM

    Louise, hope you're rested from your Book Passage event.

    Brett, we're all waiting breathlessly to read your debut novel.

    Jon, we agree about missing Our J. We should all sign a petition limiting her time away from NakedAuthors.

    Paulie/Polly, George Burns...yeah. Did you see that wonderful interview by Ed Bradley on 60 Minutes when Burns taught Ed to sing harmony. Priceless.

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  9. Patty,
    Ed Bradley and George Burns......I miss both of them....and the interview was indeed priceless.
    Paul, that was a very touching clip of Burns, thanks for sharing it.

    Jon

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  10. I have to agree with anonymous and go with Marvin Gaye. Believe it or not, I once knew a married couple whose names were--you got it--Marvin and Gay. And Patty, don't think that line from "My Way" went unnoticed.

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  11. patty smiley7/02/2007 1:58 PM

    Mims, hey hey hey. Nothing gets past your keen detective's eye.

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  12. Ah, yes. Piaf, one of my all-time favorites, and Croce, too (just got another collection--all his songs, I think.

    Bessie Smith went too soon, as did Sam Cooke and Buddy Holly.

    Thanks, Patty. Going to get your book tomorrow. Going to miss your signing, and Paul's, at T.O., MTDF. I'll be at Thrillerfest. Catch you when we return.

    Groupie

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  13. Ah, yes. Piaf, one of my all-time favorites, and Croce, too (just got another collection--all his songs, I think.

    Bessie Smith went too soon, as did Sam Cooke and Buddy Holly.

    Thanks, Patty. Going to get your book tomorrow. Going to miss your signing, and Paul's, at T.O., MTDF. I'll be at Thrillerfest. Catch you when we return.

    Groupie

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  14. Judy Garland, definitely. I don't think anyone ever connected with an audience the way she did. Her "Live at Carnegie Hall" record is one of my all-time favorites...I can listen to "Come Rain or Come Shine" or "You're Nearer" for hours on end.

    And agree with Stevie Ray Vaughan.....he was an amazing talent...

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  15. patty smiley7/02/2007 3:41 PM

    Groupie, have a sensational time at T-fest. Don't wear yourself out!

    Rae, how many times have you seen the Wizard of Oz? Just curious.

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  16. patty smiley7/02/2007 3:47 PM

    Jon, I just watched the Burns video. Did you notice the looks on the faces in the audience? Poignant.

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  17. George Burns & Gracie Allen had one of the great marriages in Hollywood. George was devastated by her death in 1964. He would go sit by her grave with his cigar and talk to her about his work. If anything, he worked harder as he got older, winning the Oscar at age 80 for best supporting actor in "The Sunshine Boys."

    As he approached 100, still doing night club dates and concerts, he said he'd like to start dating women his age. "But there are no women my age!"

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  18. George Burns & Gracie Allen had one of the great marriages in Hollywood. George would go sit by her grave with his cigar and talk to her about his work. If anything, he worked harder as he got older, winning the Oscar at age 80 for best supporting actor in "The Sunshine Boys."

    As he approached 100, still doing night club dates and concerts, he said he'd like to start dating women his age. "But there are no women my age!"

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  19. Patty, I guess I've seen it 30 times or so....it used to be an annual event in my house.

    I have to say, though, Judy Garland fan that I am, I love the movie less as time goes by. There are parts that are brilliant, but the underlying message (at least the way I perceive it) of "stay home, there's nothing worth seeing out in the world" bugs me.

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  20. Patty Smiley7/02/2007 5:07 PM

    Paul, I so admire George for his devotion to Gracie. Remember how they used to sign off? "Say goodnight, Gracie..." Somewhere there must still be reruns of the show.

    Rae, Oz used to be an annual event at our house, too. When I was young, I didn't see a message, just an adventure. But I get your drift about the "No place like home" bit. And on hindsight Dorothy needed an awful lot of help getting out of all those jams. Hmmmm...

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  21. I was trying to find the name of a singer who went before her time who is featured in the film Forever by Heddy Honigmann. This documentary shot in Père-Lachaise cemetery in Paris is one of the most astounding and moving works of film I've ever seen. One edit brought me to tears, and that's never happened to me before.

    If you have an opportunity to see Forever, don't miss it. This was one of those films shown on Sunday morning after three days of documentaries and I almost didn't go. But I wanted to see the film it was paired with and as often happens, it was the film I wasn't expecting that blew me away.

    Easily one of the most powerful documentaries I've ever seen and I've done this festival every year for ten years.

    Forever by Heddy Honigmann. You'll thank me.

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  22. patty smiley7/02/2007 6:54 PM

    David, I just looked up information on the the film here: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0906743/

    It sounds wonderful. Thanks for the tip.

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  23. Patsy Cline, Janis J, Jimi, SRV, Buddy Holly, Piaf, and Hank Williams. And Mozart. And Maria Callas. Even though she probably wasn't that young.

    OMFG, Book Passage was SO GREAT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  24. One more: seventy-eight is too young when the person in question is Beverly Sills, diva and major hoot.

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  25. Mims, I saw the headline in this morning's paper. Shocking.

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