Soundtrack: Michel Legrand / Bay of Angels

Few film composers are recognizable (to me, at least) from the very first bars of the score. In Jacques Demy’s Bay of Angels (FR: La baie des anges) however it took me only seconds into the credits sequence to guess: Michel Legrand

And what a credit sequence it is, too: 

Too bad the film that follows it – a slight story about gambling addiction among a small group of decidedly unlikeable characters – isn’t half as dynamic and innovative as this opening sequence. If it was, it might have been quite a film. 

In most films scored by Legrand the music has an outsized presence. Not so here; most of the film is sans musique, which makes the grand gestures of the Legrand style all the more explosive when they appear: bravura piano arpeggios seemingly played by a manic-depressive concert pianist experiencing an ‘up’ cycle. The action of Bay of Angels – mostly taking place in casinos and hotels of the French Riviera – is intensely focused on the moods of the main characters as they experience the highs and lows of winning/losing big, and Demy wisely used the cues sparingly and solely as punctuation; underscoring here would only be a lurid annoyance.

There are two cues that stray from the formula: A diegetic sequence mimed by a band playing at one of the casinos frequented by the gambling-addicted main characters, and a jazzy sequence in a hotel room that seems like it may have been planned to be diegetic, but either Demy or the continuity person dropped the ball and neither of the actors in the scene are shown turning on a radio or record player. So the music appears as background which seems to stray from the scoring plan. 

All of this minimalism is in keeping with the musical conventions found in nouvelle vague cinema, but here the style is taken to the extreme; I wasn’t running a stopwatch but I’d be surprised if the runtime of music scored for this effort tops 5 minutes.