The Muse at 90: Juliette Greco
An icon of France and regarded as an intoxicant of rare vintage around the world, singer-actress Juliette Gréco turns 90 today, still a seductress and still a survivor decades after her World War II-era Resistance activities and imprisonment as well as friendships and fruitful collaborations with artistic legends like Jean Cocteau, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and Miles Davis that followed after the war. In her 2014 interview profile for The Guardian with the beloved chanteuse whom she dubbed “unique and untamed,” Agnès Poirier wrote: “With her long black hair and fringe, her penetrating stare and her oversized clothes, Gréco became the left bank's muse, its existentialist mascot, the gamine girl photographers never tired of. She was keen on acting, but when she started singing, things took off in that direction. ‘I wanted to be a tragedian, but a friend suggested I use my voice differently. I loved poetry and literature, so why not voice poems?’ Voicing is a good way of describing Gréco's singing style. ‘I am no Maria Callas, that's for sure,’ she laughs, ‘but I have had this truly astonishing career, touring the world, singing all those wonderful things in front of large crowds.’" A sizable part of her amazing resumé includes film roles in Orpheus (1950, directed by Cocteau), Elena and Her Men (1954, directed by Jean Renoir), The Sun Also Rises (1957, directed by Henry King) and Crack in the Mirror (1960) and The Big Gamble (1961), both directed by Richard Fleischer. Fifty years ago she worked on two of her most noteworthy stints before big-screen Cinemascope cameras. Her one scene in director Otto Preminger’s adaptation of Françoise Sagan’s novel Bonjour Tristesse (1958) became something of a signature that captured for global audiences soulful and gut-grabbing way with a song. Performing the title tune (music by Georges Auric, lyrics by J. Datin and Henri Lemarchand, adapted into English by the movie’s screenwriter Arthur Laurents) in a nightclub scene as the emotionally careless young Cécile (Jean Seberg) dances with cool frivolity but reflects on the chill in her soul, Gréco devastatingly nails the story’s dark undercurrent in pure chanson style (Lyrics here: http://lyricsplayground.com/alpha/songs/b/bonjourtristesse.shtml) lurking underneath the gorgeously scenic, fashionable Givenchy-costumed trappings. Joining her The Sun Also Rises colleagues – producer Darryl F. Zanuck and castmates Errol Flynn and Eddie Albert – later in the year for director John Huston’s adaptation of Romain Gary’s The Roots of Heaven (1958), Gréco took on the more substantial part of Minna, a disillusioned barmaid in French Equatorial Africa (earlier forced into prostitution by invading Germans during World War II) who finds a renewed purpose in the crusade of the idealist Morel (Trevor Howard) launches a campaign to save the majestic elephant herds from hunters, poachers and zoo collectors in the face of government indifference and ruthless ivory-trade profiteers. The unbearably hot tropical environment of the Chad locations took its toll on most of the cast but Greco, who had persevered during her nation’s Nazi occupation the decade before, forcefully held her own among her ailing fellow players, but also in the persistent case of producer Zanuck’s amorous advances. Ultimately, she was stricken with malaria and had to be flown out from the location. Though indifferently received as a discombobulated adventure story, the film stands as one of the first to depict an ecologically minded viewpoint. Nine years later, Gréco also briefly appeared on movie screens in a more familiar environment – as an Occupied Paris café singer in director Anatole Litvak’s World War II suspense thriller The Night of the Generals (1967). Raise an audiovisual toast to an a distinctive voice and visage by joining Gréco and her co-stars in the Twilight Time hi-def Blu-rays of Bonjour Tristesse, The Night of the Generals and The Roots of Heaven (the latter available here: http://screenarchives.com/title_detail.cfm/ID/16858/THE-ROOTS-OF-HEAVEN-1958/). Value-minded opportunists should also note that at www.screenarchives.com, the Preminger and Huston films are part of SAE’s marvelous Twilight Time 7 for $70 Bundle Deal. Viva Juliette!