On Pop

After a recent trip to the Indie Memphis Film Festival, French director Serge Bozon ponders how music is deeply connected to both his life and work.

I was in Memphis for the first time recently for the Indie Memphis Film Festival, where Don Juan was playing. I went to the Sun Museum, Graceland and the Stax Museum. And I went to Shangri-La Records and Goner Records to go record shopping. I was very happy to be in the land of rock ‘n’ roll. I went to Beale Street at 7 a.m. the day after I arrived (I was out of sync due to jet lag), and it was like a ghost town. It was a very strange experience, because it looked like a Hollywood set without actors or crew, because in the morning everything is closed. All the shops, the guitars – it was like a piece of history, but frozen in a desert of the memory. I was very pleased to be there, but Memphis was almost like a ghost town. Very strange. It’s a bit like Detroit, one of those cities that was so influential for rock and roll soul, but that was also destroyed by the financial crisis. I had a sense of being in the center of something, but it was also a ghostly center. There is something haunting about being in the center of something that perhaps has disappeared in the meantime.

Serge Bozon behind the wheels of steel. (Photo courtesy Serge Bozon.)

My relationship with music goes back as far as I can remember. Growing up in France, I listened to the top 40 and the hits of the day, like every young French boy living in a small town. I listened to (not very good) French pop singers who were popular in the late ’70s, like Renaud, and the first music I bought was cassettes, not LPs. I remember getting Supertramp and “Big in Japan” by Alphaville. Very gradually, I began to know a little more about music and expand what I listened to, but it took many years, because at that time there wasn’t the internet. If you wanted to listen to a group that somebody told you about, it could take 10 years! I heard about Kenny and the Casuals from Texas, who have a beautiful song called “Journey to Tyme,” and I had to wait something like five years to actually hear it. I would remember the titles, the producers, the label, because I had to wait so long to actually find a record.

I’ve now been listening to music for many years and on a daily basis. My movie La France was about the First World War, but very influenced by the English pop psych movement of the 1960s in England, and played with real instruments and recorded live with amateur singers and musicians. I try not to repeat myself in my work, both aesthetically speaking and musically speaking. I try to make each movie very different from the previous one. My new movie, Don Juan, is a kind of musical, but it’s the opposite of what you would expect from a musical. There is some music, but it’s not pop music, like in La France, it’s not garage rock like in my film Mods, or Turkish pop-rock like in Tip Top. It’s a kind of crossover between baroque pop and classical music. Everything was sung live, and my actors Tahar Rahim and Virginie Efira really sang on the set. I wanted something more romantic, and something without any lightness. There is a strange, dark, almost architectural quality, not the kind of light pop song you sing in your shower.

I’m always looking for opportunities to do something new. If you work with Isabelle Huppert, like I’ve done twice, you dream that you’re going to do something new and she’s going to do something new. It’s more exciting if you ask her to do something that you have not seen before. It’s the same for the music, and for everything else. It’s trying to find something that will bring you somewhere you could not have anticipated. Not for the pleasure of being in the strangest place in the world, but just to discover something that perhaps was hidden in your past, in your work, in your body and your emotion, and bringing it to the forefront, even if it’s sometimes painful or disturbing.

Featured image shows Serge Bozon at the Indie Memphis Film Festival.

Serge Bozon makes movies, writes about movies and plays in movies.