One of the more surprising (and many) revelations of Antoine de Baecque and Noel Herpe’s invaluable biography of Eric Rohmer (the English translation was published last year ) was that the director of the Moral Tales experimented on two occasions in the late ’80s with one of the least Rohmerian of genres, the music video.
Although he directed one musical film , The Tree, The Mayor and the Mediatheque – the only Rohmer feature unreleased in the US and a possible subject for a future post)- and used a singing chorus effectively in Perceval, Rohmer’s films are frequently indifferent to music. The rare uses of popular music in his films -the title sequence of Four Adventures of Reinette and Mirabelle comes to mind – seem arbitrary and added with little consideration. How then did this learned and profound filmmaker, who originally set sights on an academic career and kept his film successes hidden from his mother lest she learn that he wasn’t a struggling professor of literature, come to turn his sights on that uniquely ’80s offering, the music video?
According to de Baecque and Herpe, Rohmer developed a strong interest in music in the 1980s, writing a book about Mozart and Beethoven and even learning to play the piano. The actress Rosette, who appeared in several of his films, wanted to begin a singing career, so Drink Your Coffee seems to have been a convenient way for Rohmer to help out a collaborator while experimenting with applying his new interest in music to film.
It’s not entirely clear what Rohmer thought of the finished product. The biography quotes a letter in which he diminishes his role in the video, acting, at best, only as a producer on behalf of Rosette. Nonetheless, he allowed it to be released in theaters in front of his 1987 Boyfriends and Girlfriends.
Rohmer’s second journey into the world of music was also on behalf of one of his leading ladies. Arielle Dombasle , the lovely star of “Pauline at the Beach” was an established recording artist when she made Amour symphonique, a 1989 song in which she fantasizes becoming an opera diva. Rohmer directed and photographed the video, and even helped work out a portion of the melody, but again withdrew from taking credit for the final product. Unlike Drink Your Coffee, Amour symphonique is omitted from most Rohmer filmographies.
It is not unusual for major filmmakers to exercise their talents on ephemeral films – music videos, commercials, even political campaign films and theme park attractions – but the majority of these projects seem to be treated by their creators with indifference. The recent Mercedes commercial directed by Joel and Ethan Coen – not their first venture into advertising – indicates that we can expect the list of such projects to grow. A subject for future research?