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Au Clair de la Lune (1957)

In November 1957, Miles Davis was invited by French impresario Marcel Romano to participate in a three-week European tour of France. The tour was largely a bust -- the group played only a few gigs -- but while Davis was in Paris, in addition to participating in a memorable session that yielded the haunting soundtrack to Louis Malle's classic Ascenseur pour l'échafaud, he performed with René Urtreger and Barney Wilen in a television show directed by Jean-Christophe Averty.

The show was broadcast at 9:07 pm local time by Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française (RTF) on the evening of Christmas 1957. It comprises a number of Christmas-themed comedic skits introduced by Jean Carmet -- Le Réveillon du Journaliste (featuring Roger Carel along with Francis Blanche, Pierre Doris, Judith Magré, and Nono Zammit) Le Réveillon des Comédiens (Roger Carel and Jean Bellenger), Le Réveillon du Boxeur (Henri Salvador), and Le Réveillon du Psychanaliste (Louis de Funes, Pierre Mondy, and Pascale Roberts) -- and concludes with a 17-minute segment, Au Clair de la Lune.

Between the opening and closing announcements of the final segment, during which the Davis-Urtreger group is playing "What's New?", it features

  • Keita Fodeba and Ballets Africains (3:50);
  • Paul Braffort singing and playing the piano (1:37);
  • the Davis-Urtreger quintet's variation on "Dig" (3:51);
  • Giani Esposito singing and playing a hand drum (1:55); and
  • Juliette Gréco walking around the stage and singing into a telephone (3:23).

The musical performances take place on a set with a stylized lunar landscape with the sun, planets, and even twinkling stars in the background. The overlays and graphics during the announcements and between artistic performances are very strange, combining astronomical and zodiacal images with what looks like Alice in Wonderland. Plus St. Nicholas, of course. (Averty would go on in 1970 to direct "Alice au pays des merveilles," a very weird adaptation of Alice in Wonderland.)

I am grateful to Pascal Rozat for finding a copy of this film and sharing it with me.

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