Vladimir Cosma: “De Funès, it’s a binary rhythm”

Rabbi Jacob returns Sunday evening to France 2.

First collaboration with Oury, Rabbi Jacob brought the legendary musician Vladimir Cosma upmarket. He spoke to us about it in the heart of the First Classics n ° 6 (January-March 2019), with Louis de Funès on the cover. We are reposting this interview to wait until the replay of the cult film, this Sunday on France 2.

Under what circumstances does Gérard Oury call on you and at what stage of the film’s production?

This happens through our mutual friend, François Reichenbach. It was he who, one day, came to tell me: ‘Gérard Oury is making a film, with de Funès. Music is very important there and there is only one who can do it: you! I warned him and he will call you. ‘ But Oury does not call me. Until the day I learn that Gérard is attending the premiere of Tall blond with a black shoe, whose music I wrote. Two-three days pass, before the production company of the film contacts me: ‘Gérard Oury would like to meet you on his shoot, in Orly‘I go there and Gérard, during our first exchange, said to me:’There will be an important moment: the dance of de Funès. Music should be recorded while filming the scene. ‘ Then he adds: ‘I came to the screening of Tall blond listen to the music you wrote and that’s not what I’m looking for in my film at all. You made effects music. I want music that comes from the heart. There is New York, a meeting between religions. We need a music of fraternity that unites. Not gimmicky music.‘I reassure him by telling him that it’s not because I played the panpipe in Yves Robert’s film that I don’t know how to do something else.

Did you know that other prestigious composers had been approached before you?

I found out when I went to record at the Davout studio. The sound engineer told me: ‘My poor friend, we’ve been doing this all week. Georges Delerue, Michel Polnareff, Norbert Glanzberg have already passed. ‘ It was a tough battle. Especially since I was not as well known as them.

The dance music was based on a basic motif provided to you by the Kol Aviv group…

… And what Philippe Gumplowicz, who was part of it, brought me. I immediately met the group and its choreographer Ilan Zaoui. The dance scene had to be longer, with a musical, initial, slower part. And it was shortened for the movie. The rehearsals I did, with de Funès, followed Oury’s instructions, who wanted it to be more immediately nervous. The idea, however, was to have so-called ‘Jewish’ music. In my opinion, there is no such thing as ‘Jewish music’. It’s a question of orchestration and klezmer musicians who give a Jewish character through their interpretation, with glissandos, vibratos.

Is it this musical passage that earned you to be hired?

This was done in two stages. The model of the dance pleased Oury who hired me to write the rest of the score. Starting with the main theme, which is the credits. This famous ‘music of fraternity’, very New York, pop, modern. There’s even a distorted guitar solo, guitar rhythm with wah wah pedal. There is also a mixture of vocals and brass that may recall Ray Conniff’s orchestra. I composed this theme, then I played it at home, in Garches, in front of Gérard who loved it. But it must also have pleased de Funès. So I reinterpreted it for Louis at the Billancourt studios, where he was filming. De Funès listened to me at the piano and, delighted, gave me his blessing. I was very moved; he was a musician, a former jazz pianist.

You say that each actor has a musical color. What was de Funès’s?

For me, de Funès is a binary rhythmic color. While the ternary allows three-beat jazzy and swing music, à la Gene Kelly, the binary music, very pop or rock, offers a more muscular rhythm. For Pierre Richard, a lunar musical comedy character, I wrote rather ternary music. For Louis de Funès, and even if there can be emotion on it, the energy of the character inspired me essentially binary music.

Did Louis de Funès surprise you between rehearsals and filming, where you saw him dance in front of the cameras of Oury?

Yes, from every point of view! I rehearsed with him for several weeks at home at the piano. I saw a very serious man, repeating the dance steps with application, without fantasy. I wondered how he could make people laugh. The day I saw him shoot the stage, I couldn’t believe it. Technically master of his steps, he was unleashed and brought, with each take, new gags with incredible spontaneity and fluidity. He blew me away!
Interview by Olivier Rajchman.

Trailer of Adventures of Rabbi Jacob, broadcast Sunday at 9 p.m. on France 2:

Vladimir Cosma tells about fifty years of career

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