Song of the Day: Eric Serra “It’s Only Mystery” (feat. Arthur Simms)
French bassist and composer Eric Serra is probably still best known for his work with French pop auteur director Luc Besson. Indeed, Serra worked on almost all of Besson‘s films to date. As a composer, Serra works in synths and popular music forms, but he can really get around on his bass, often offering up a slice of raw funk to go with his more stately material. To this end, Besson has made a point of featuring Serra‘s work prominently across his body of work.
Indeed, Serra‘s music features so prominently in the Besson‘s debut film, Subway, that he even has a cameo part as an intrepid bassist and bandleader. A highlight of the film comes when Christopher Lambert‘s lead character assembles a band of ragtag, subterranean vagabond musicians and gets them a (stolen) gig performing Serra‘s music. Arthur Simms serves as the vocalist of for the band’s non-instrumental numbers, turning in a solid performance.
Subway, released in 1985, is still a blast of raw pop energy. The plot, which centers around a safe cracker named Fred (played by Lambert) who flees into the Paris Subway system and he is pursued by both a bumbling police force as well as Héléna, the victim of one of his safe heists, a bored socialite in a bad marriage who is played by the force of nature that is actress Isabelle Adjani. Héléna will of course, shortly thereafter become a romantic interest for Fred, leading to a strange game of cat and mouse. The other key characters in the film are the strange and diverse cast of characters who also inhabit the Paris underground, from a rollerskate equipped purse snatcher, to a benign muscle man, to a wisdom-dispensing flower-vendor/ co-conspirator of Fred’s.
While the plot of Subway doesn’t really make a lot of sense, the movie is still a lot of fun. You end up enjoying spending time with the characters and the film was a key entry in the then nascent cinéma du look film movement. Cinéma du look films mixed gritty realism, pop culture, music and elements of the French New Wave and were key to the French (and eventually, global) counterculture of the ’80s. The musical stings in the movie really make that tie to the counterculture explicit. During the course of the film, the performance of “It’s Only Mystery” feels like a moment of transcendence. It is a pure joy.