15 December 2009

Masterpiece in Miniature: The Opening Credits of Les Bronzes

A friend of mine once suggested that in the future, historians and critics will study Tyler Perry's movies the same way they now study Oscar Micheaux's, as they both cater to audiences that are typically neglected by the big studios. I said we should then perhaps reconsider how we evaluate Tyler Perry, or maybe Oscar Micheaux. Nevertheless, it's one of those stunningly obvious conclusions I don't typically think of until someone points it out to me: Dismissed Art + Time = Something Wonderful.

A film shrugged off back in the day will, given its survival into the future, emerge as a time capsule of an era. The older it is, the more likely it is to be studied and analyzed for clues about its makers, its audience, its stars. Think of all that old timey footage of city streets that crops up in history shows. Once the novelty of film wore off, I'm sure people then weren't too impressed with the shots. They could merely step outside and see the real thing. But now we're amazed by the preservation of a few scant moments of long-buried streets and citizens.

This is what I tell myself when I feel somewhat abashed by my surprise love for the opening credits of the 1978 French farce Les Bronzés, released in the English-speaking world with the regrettable title French Fried Vacation. I discovered it entirely by accident; while reading about Club Med on one of those random tumbles through the Wikiverse, I saw that the vacation resorts had been parodied in a film of this title. A few days later, I was watching movies on Hulu and saw they had the entirety of Les Bronzés. I clicked on it in curiosity. The opening credits entranced me, though I could only sit through about five minutes of the rest of the film. I might go back to it one day, as it wasn't aggressively terrible or anything. But comedy, especially the crowd-pleasing mediocre variety, rarely translates well, and outside of an amusing bit of awkwardness that could have come from a Ricky Gervais show, nothing was all that inspired.

If I were a random French person in the late '70s, I could imagine myself hating this film with all the ferocity I reserve for today's crap. "How can people like this rubbish?" I'd ask as I light up a cigarette at the local cafe. "It just caters to their basest instincts. It speaks not to the mind. Oh, if only Godard would release something new. Now where are my cheese and wine?" Today, given the distance of time and culture, it's safe for me to love it for those exact same reasons - it captures the mood of a nation at one particular moment. Imagine a Romanian person watching Wild Hogs in thirty years: "My God, it's like an entire era wrapped up in a movie! God bless America! Now where are my mămăligă and ţuică?"

That, essentially, is the sole reason why I love the film's opening credits. Lionsgate, which presumably owns its American rights, has put it online at YouTube and Hulu. Here's a link to the YouTube version, which has fewer advertisements if you're interested in watching the whole thing. At the least, please watch the approximately one minute long credits for further reading.

Done? They're stupidly simple, aren't they? Also incredibly cheap, with a rushed quality and produced with little to no imagination. It's just a slow zoom out from a still photograph of a beach and a few huts on a jungle-filled stretch of land while garishly orange credits flash in the corner. Really, were it not for a talent as famous (in France) as Serge Gainsbourg leering on the soundtrack, the credits might be mistaken for a porno's. It's as if the filmmakers are saying upfront "We made this movie fast and cheap, and if you don't like it, it's too late to get a refund."

But in that same sense, they seem to be the epitome of the '70's style, or at least what we think of now as "Hey! Remember the '70s?!" Back then, according to popular culture and VH1, everyone was snorting blow, sexing it up at Studio 54, and leaving their pubic areas dangerously ungroomed. And that's what this movie promises: hot babes singing "Sea, sex, and sun" over a beach panorama means we're about to watch some light-hearted yet scintillating shenanigans replete with thick mustaches and plaid swimwear. Even the palm tree in the logo is a sexual metaphor. I feel like I've caught the greatest VD of my life just by watching those credits.

The poster seen in dorm rooms across the nation

For all I know, there's nary a shot of full frontal nudity in the entire film. But even if it could be rated PG, it's still a sex farce featuring characters played by actors who look like real people and not models fresh from the silicone factory. Yes, that's right, back in the '70s actors could appear in stupid sex comedies (aimed at adults, not adolescents) and not have to unduly worry about the effect on their persona or career. We don't have those anymore today, unless they're staffed by 30-year-olds playing 18-year-olds desperate to end their virginity, or get with the hottest chick in school, or infiltrate the School of Hard Knockers. The closest we come (heh) are the works of Judd Apatow, but they don't have quite the same spirit. Really, when was the last true mainstream adult sex comedy? Exit to Eden with Dan Aykroyd and Rosie O'Donnell?


Alright, so maybe we do need some standards as to who appears in our liberated adult sex romps. But still, it'd be nice to have a little bit of the spirit of the '70s with us today, the spirit that worried less and wasn't all up into other people's businesses. What it comes down to, I think, is that we were less likely to judge others back then - at least, that was how it was for a very narrow slice of humanity as remembered and mythicized by pop culture - and that resulted in a bit more freedom.

Freedom and AIDS. Still, I would hope that we never entirely lose the joy of an era capable of making Ennio Morricone create this song.

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