During the 1960s, French television viewers who did not go out for New Year’s Eve were joined in the homes by an annual musical special starring Brigitte Bardot. Whereas most international movie audience only knew Bardot as the glamourous sex kitten from (usually) less-than-memorable movies, French audiences appreciated her talents for song and dance. Indeed, Bardot enjoyed a successful side career in pop music and many of her albums have found their way into American music stores.
Sadly, most of her television specials remain completely unknown outside of France. The one which found its way around the world, albeit through bootleg video channels, is the 1967 “Special Bardot.” This funky, psychedelic one-hour offering serves both as a groovy time capsule for everything that was wonderful and awful about the 60s culture and, in a way, it rings the beginning of the end for Bardot’s career.
By 1967, Bardot’s star was beginning to wane. After more than 10 years as an international icon, her appeal was fraying due to a combination of poor career choices and a new youth audience who wanted their own stars to worship. “Special Bardot,” which is basically a plotless string of music video-style numbers, tried to reinvent Bardot as fitting into the image of a mod rocker who was in touch with the cultural zeitgeist. While there was nothing wrong in seeing Bardot clad in a leather mini-skirt and black go-go boots while mounting a Harley Davidson or grooving to a sitar solo while dolled up in paisley gypsy clothing and a matching headband, there was just an itty-bitty problem. It was not that she didn’t look good (hell, she could wear the proverbial potato sack and look good). It was just not her style. Having Bardot dress as a teeny-bopper made no sense: she was a mature, sensual woman who was trying to shoehorn herself into a cultural statement that did not fit her image or personality.
It also didn’t help that Bardot’s approach to singing for the camera was robotic. For most of “Special Bardot,” she would position herself front and center, look into the camera, and sing without betraying the slightest emotion. Whatever humor, irony, sensuality or rue that was spiced into her songs were not hinted at in her stoic beauty.
Yet at odd moments, “Special Bardot” percolates with unexpected whimsy. In a 1920s tribute (how this got into the show is a mystery), Bardot glams it up in flapper chic while singing “Everybody Loves My Baby” in English. She vamps, camps, and dances a Charleston while a Dixieland band bounces the song along with infectious glee. It is a thoroughly charming period piece, and it is a shame that Ken Russell didn’t see this when casting his 1970’s musical “The Boy Friend” (Bardot would’ve been far more impressive in that 1920s-style extravaganza than the pneumatic Twiggy). Another number has Bardot strolling around London’s fashionable Carnaby Street. She is clearly enjoying the moment and watching her eyes light up as she peeks around the trendy shops of the heart of swinging London is a charm.
And for Europop addicts, “Special Bardot” provides a double-dose of Bardot in collaboration with the legendary Serge Gainsbourg. Their first number, “Comic Book,” takes place in a pop art setting reminiscent of the typical villain HQ on the TV “Batman,” with Gainsbourg talk-singing with insouciant Gallic charm as Bardot, made up to look like a comic book super hero (complete with cape, tight leotards and, oddly, a jet-black wig) goes through martial arts-style defense moves while exclaiming the fight-scene sound effects of the comic book format. Their second number makes the whole production worth watching: “Bonnie and Clyde,” with Gainsbourg and Bardot as the legendary bank robbers in a farmhouse hideout. Inspired by the hit movie of that year, the song is a hypnotic deification of the criminal duo (whose rebellion against authority made them heroes of the disaffected youth of the era). No one would confuse Gainsbourg with Warren Beatty, but Bardot was costumed and groomed to be the mirror image of Faye Dunaway’s Bonnie Parker. But Bardot, of course, was infinitely sexier than Dunaway and watching the French sex kitten point a machine gun gives a new argument for gun control debate: weapons should only be in the possession of sexy women!
“Special Bardot” would’ve probably remained unknown to all but French television viewers had the program not been released on Japanese laserdisc in the late 1980s (“Bonnie and Clyde” was a hit song in Japan). The American bootleg video releases of this title can be pegged to the Japanese edition, but a genuine commercial DVD release is unlikely given that “Special Bardot” is almost entirely in French without subtitles and Bardot (who quite show business roughly six years after this show was broadcast) no longer carries the clout to justify bringing the program into retail channels.
Yet “Special Bardot” is worth checking out, if only to get a good retro laugh at the excess of the late 1960s cultural fashion statements and to appreciate the most beautiful woman in French movies at the last peak of her sultry career.
IMPORTANT NOTICE: The unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material is not widely appreciated by the entertainment industry, and on occasion law enforcement personnel help boost their arrest quotas by collaring cheery cinephiles engaged in such activities. So if you are going to copy and sell bootleg videos, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. The purchase and ownership of bootleg videos, however, is perfectly legal and we think that’s just peachy! This column was brought to you by Phil Hall, a contributing editor at Film Threat and the man who knows where to get the good stuff…on video, that is.
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