"Dans la nuit" features music newly composed and improvised to accompany Charles Vanel's 1930 silent movie, which was restored by the Cinémathique Francaise, and then taken up by TV channel Arte and the Institut Lumière in association with Bertrand Tavernier. Tavernier regards the film as an unjustly neglected major work, and is committed to bringing it to a wider audience: "For this new birth, I asked Louis Sclavis to compose an original score. After his work on 'Ça commence aujourd'hui' or Amos Gitaï's 'Kadosh', with his natural ability as a musician, composer and performer, I was not worried about the result. In the difficult art of laying down in 2001 a musical soundtrack for a 1930 film, Louis and his musicians displayed a magical talent and infectious enthusiasm. They sublimate Vanel's images and, while enriching it, render inspired homage to this strange film poised, as Sclavis says, between Murnau and Renoir."
The film, exploring themes of love, tragedy and betrayal, tells the story of a quarry worker who must wear a metal face mask after being badly injured during a rock blast. While he is working night shifts , his wife takes a lover. In its scenes of explicit infidelity, physical violence and gritty realism, "Dans la nuit" was years ahead of its time.
The film stars Charles Vanel (1892-1989) as the quarry worker and Sandra Milovanoff (1896-1957) as his wife. Vanel also directed "Dans le nuit", a bold move at the time. He went on to act in more than 200 films spanning more than 75 years, making his final performance in 1988 in Jean-Pierre Mocky's "The Seasons of Pleasure" at the age of 96. As with as his dramatic resourcefulness, his craggy, workingman's features, stocky build and piercing gaze were much appreciated by directors including Jacques Feyder, Luis Bunuel, Maurice Tourneur, Raymond Bernard and Henri-George Clouzot, who cast him in a variety of character roles. International audiences knew him best as the detective shadowing Cary Grant in Hitchcock's "To Catch A Thief", and as the eldest of the men assigned to drive truckloads of nitroglycerine over rugged terrain in Clouzot's cliff-hanger "The Wages of Fear".
Sandra Milovanoff was born in St Petersburg and had a successful career as a dancer in Anna Pavlova's troupe, and as an actress in the theatre, before emigrating to France in 1919, where she was soon much in demand for cinematic roles. She played opposite Charles Vanel in several films including "La Flambée des Rêves" and "Pêcheur d'Islande" (both directed by Jacques de Baronceli), "La proie du vent" (directed by René Clair), and "Maquillage" (directed by Félix Basch), before making "Dans la nuit" with him. Very much a star of the silent era she was, unlike Vanel, ill-equipped to make the transition to the "talkies". She made no films at all in the 1930s and only four between 1940 and her death 17 years later: of these her role in Sascha Guitry's "Le comédien" received the warmest press notices.
Setting music to a film that originally had none - "Dans la nuit" was one of the last of the French silent movies - called for special considerations. "For this film", Sclavis says, "I had to compose music that takes into account the period, the atmosphere of each sequence and their cinematic aesthetic. The music, at times, should have an angle on the action, an attitude, especially during the dramatic passages, should be almost as it were out of synch, giving it a distance that allows the tempo and the light to play their part. On the other hand there should also be a play of simple proximity to the characters and their feelings, realist or expressionist passages; all of this without too many sudden breaks." Simultaneously, Sclavis was also concerned about reflecting his current musical interests and his "personal pleasure in composing and playing. Although the greater part of the music was written and timed virtually to the second, for the editing and proper interpretation of the script demand a lot of rigour, I wanted to include some interpretative passages improvised directly from the image to preserve the freshness and spontaneity of this film. I did not want to banish this work of cinema back to its own period, to produce an exercise in style or historical reconstitution, but to try, in composing today for a film of yesterday, to bring it to life in a different way, to imagine bridging connections, to use the time between its creation and the present as an echo-chamber and to take advantage of the distortions produced."
The featured musicians assembled for the project are not a 'band' as such, though all have a history with Sclavis. Drummer François Merville and cellist Vincent Courtois are members of Louis's current touring band. Violinist Dominique Pifarély has been part of many Sclavis groups, and was for some years co-leader of the Louis Sclavis-Dominique Pifarély Acoustic Quartet; he is now a successful bandleader in his own right. Accordionist Jean-Louis Matinier was employed for Sclavis's soundtrack to Tavernier's film "Ça commence aujourd'hui". Matinier's accordion has a central role to play in the music of "Dans le nuit", emphasising the "period" feel where necessary as well as a markedly Gallic atmosphere. One of the most acclaimed contemporary accordion virtuosi, Matinier works regularly with bassist Renaud Garcia-Fons; he has also played with Willem Breuker, David Friedman, Gianluigi Trovesi, Michael Riessler and others. He will be featured on a forthcoming ECM CD with Anouar Brahem.
Louis Sclavis, born 1953, studied classical clarinet in his native Lyon, came to jazz via Sidney Bechet and was captivated at age 17 by the music of Sun Ra, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Thelonious Monk and Charles Mingus. From there he moved backwards and forwards through jazz history. He played with Michel Portal, Chris MacGregor, the Workshop de Lyon, appeared with Cecil Taylor's magisterial European Orchestra in 1988, and continues to play free improvisation as part of an ongoing personal research. Free playing is one of many music-making methodologies that Sclavis employs; he also makes use of elements and influences from European art music from the renaissance to the 21st century, and of folklore real and imaginary, as well as the jazz tradition. He's as likely to pay homage to Rameau as to Ellington, and has done both in previous projects. His numerous musical associations have included work with Trio de Clarinets (with Jacques di Donato and Armand Angster), Pierre Favre, Aldo Romano and Henri Texier, Dave Douglas, Jean-Marc Montera, Arkady Shilkloper, Daniel Humair, Dino Saluzzi, Fred Frith and many others. His primary musical commitment at present is his "L'Affrontement des prétendants" quintet (see ECM 1705), with Jean-Luc Cappozzo, Vincent Courtois, Bruno Chevillon and François Merville - the group continues to tour widely.
Sclavis, however, has long drawn influence from all the arts and made contributions to several; he is particularly interested in theatre and in film and photography. From 1980 he worked regularly with theatre company Image Aigue and with theatre producer/director Jean-Louis Martinelli and with film director/writer/producer and former editor of "Cahiers du cinema", Jean-Louis Comolli. Since 1982 he has collaborated with photographer Guy Le Querrec on numerous performances and publications. In the last decade, Louis Sclavis has written original scores for the movies "Alisée" by André Blanchard, "Mirek n'est pas parti" by Bojena Horackova, "Pour l'amour du Louvre" by Yves de Peretti, "Grands comme le monde" by Denis Gheerbrant, "Ça commence aujourd'hui" by Bertrand Tavernier, and "Kadosh" by Amos Gitaï.
Sclavis's soundtrack music for Bertrand Tavernier's "Ça commence aujourd'hui", released by Sony in 1999, was highly successful in France and acclaimed by international critics.
"Dans La Nuit" is Louis Sclavis's fifth recording for ECM. It follows "Rouge" (recorded 1991), "Acoustic Quartet" (recorded 1993), "Les Violences de Rameau" (recorded 1995/96) and "L'Affrontement des prétendants" (recorded 1999).
CD package includes three-language booklet with liner notes by Betrand Tavernier plus stills from "Dans Le Nuit"