It's unfortunate that, outside of France, his native country, and possibly
Japan, where film music fans are a great deal much hipper than anywhere else
in the world, Francois de Roubaix remains a total unknown. A brilliant exponent
of film music, and one of the most important French film composers of the
1960s and '70s, de Roubaix, an avid deep-sea diver who died in a freak accident
in 1975 at the age of 35, left behind a legacy of scores that are extraordinarily
evocative and original, and that have illustrated some of the best films
of the era.
The compilations listed above all pay tribute to this unusual composer whose
uncanny musicality set him apart from what his peers were doing at the time,
and while many of the same tunes appear in all of them, each contains themes
that are not available elsewhere, making them essential to get a thorough
appreciation of his talent.
One element all have in common is the sparse information about the composer's
early years and training. In the liner notes provided, beyond the obligatory
reminiscences of his many collaborators and colleagues (Robert Enrico, Yves
Boisset, Pierre Richard, Philippe Sarde, et al), all of whom go to great
lengths to outline his contributions and his professional achievements, there
is little that actually informs the reader about de Roubaix' life, leaving
the interested fan to find out about him, literally, through his music. In
this respect, however, there is an abundant wealth of great material, and
a lot to discover and admire, indeed...
Long considered an iconoclast (or a marginal), with his long flowing blond
hair, his smiling blue eyes, and the beard that framed his handsome face,
de Roubaix drew unusual effects in his scores by adding percussive elements
to color them and give them a quality seldom heard in film music at the time.
A quiet and discrete presence in French recording studios, he exerted an
influence on his contemporaries that continues to be felt to this day, creating
a vast array of catchy melodic themes, in which the apparent simplicity of
the writing belied a tonal complexity that contributed enormously to their
obsessive appeal. Though their styles are miles apart, the other composer
he most resembled in terms of inventiveness and originality was Jerry Fielding.
According to the various testimonies one can gather about him, de Roubaix
came to music almost naturally: intuitively gifted, he learned to play a
wide range of instruments on his own, and, applied modern recording techniques
to write scores in which he was almost exclusively his own interpreter. He
often relied on the unusual harmonic conflict between electronic sounds and
the warmer tones of acoustic instruments. This is noticeably evident in scores
such as La scoumoune, in which a Hammond organ plays an important role against
an otherwise electronic tapestry, Jeff, Dernier domicile connu or Chapi Chapo,
where the guitar is also prominently featured. As he himself once proclaimed,
"What interests me most is blending together traditional and electronic music.
I try to create a balance between them, like a bridge between folk music
and experimental sounds."
In the liner notes to Anthologie, vol. 1, producer Stephane Lerouge perhaps
best sums up what de Roubaix was all about when he writes, "His life centered
around three key elements - music, the sea, and his pals - and their different
permutations: the sea and music, his pals and the sea, music and his pals.
These permutations are also part of the fictional world in which he delved,
most notably in the films of Robert Enrico and Jose Giovanni, bathed in virile
friendships and sea adventures. This fascinating blend of reality and film
invention gives a unique, almost mythical dimension, to the striking life
trajectory of de Roubaix, a composer-adventurer who loved above all the ocean
and his own freedom."
Over the 10 year period in which he was most active, de Roubaix created the
scores for more than 35 features and numerous TV series, many of them represented
here. Among the most important (and most memorable), the ones that come to
mind include Le samourai, directed by Jean-Pierre Melville, in 1967; Tante
Zita, also in 1967, Boulevard du rhum, in 1971, and Le vieux fusil (winner
of the Cesar for Best Film Score), in 1975, all directed by Robert Enrico;
and Le rapace, in 1968, with its haunting theme performed by Los Incas, Dernier
domicile connu, in 1969, and La scoumoune, in 1972, directed by Jose Giovanni.
Many of these scores, with a few exceptions (Aunt Zita, Boulevard du rhum,
La scoumoune), were never released on either LP or CD, leaving one to discover
and appreciate their creator's skills in the compilations that are now available.
If one were to choose a collection over another, 10 ans de musique de film,
a 2-CD set on Odeon released in 1998, probably would be the best bet. It
is fairly complete, containing as it does 57 selections, including some of
the composer's most popular themes in previously unreleased early development
stages. In addition to the multiplicity and variety of the themes found it
it, it boasts clear, up-to-date remastering.
Next would be volume 1 of the Anthologie, released by PlayTime in late 1999,
in a limited edition of 3000 units, which primarily centers on tracks not
found elsewhere, written most specifically for television, like Commissaire
Moulin, Les secrets de la Mer Rouge, La guerre d'Algerie or A vous de jouer
Milord. Though the label announces it has a website, it cannot be accessed
at this time, and further documentation about volume 2 (and others) in this
Anthologie series has yet to be obtained.
The two titles on the Hortensia label, Les plus belles musiques de films
de Francois de Roubaix, released in 1990, were actually remastered from two
LPs dating back from 1976-77. While overall quality is not much of a problem,
the other anthologies obviously supersede them, the only point of interest
here being the fact that they contain a couple of cues not found elsewhere
(Pour un sourire, Les anges).
In the grand international scheme of things, many of the films scored by
de Roubaix would probably not qualify as great hits, even in France. But,
as sometimes happens, a score may elevate a modest film to greater heights
of popularity, simply because of the rare quality level of the music. Such
is the case here. As these compilations clearly evidence, de Roubaix certainly
deserve to be discovered and to take his place in the pantheon of the great
Didier C. Deutsch
|Les plus belles musiques de films Vol. 1
|Les plus belles musiques de films Vol. 2
|10 ans de musique de film
|Anthologie Vol. 1