French Fridays guest curator Laure Chapalain unearths another forgotten gem from the treasure chest of French title design history. For the comedy L’Aile ou la Cuisse, title designer Michel Saignes, who once stated that title designers are “prisoners of the medium’s stereotypes,” drew inspiration from the revolutionary work of Douglas Trumbull, the VFX pioneer who was responsible for the psychedelic sequences of 2001, A Space Odyssey.
L’Aile ou la Cuisse (English title: The Wing and the Thigh) is a French film by Claude Zidi featuring the legendary French comedian Louis de Funès. Funès plays the lead character, Charles Duchemin, a director of a world-renowned gourmet guide, who decides to retire as the latest edition is about to be published. He is preparing his son Gérard to take over. But Gérard does not share his passions, preferring to work secretly in a small circus troupe. Duchemin is a stalwart of traditional cuisine and fine quality produce. He wants to mark his departure by taking part in a TV show where he will take on Jacques Tricatel, the CEO of an industrial food chain.
This comedy reflects the growing concerns around junk food culture. Tricatel‘s character was inspired by Jacques Borel, the industrialist responsible for creating France’s first fast food chain in 1961, and developed his empire the nation’s highways.
To introduce the subject, Michel Saignes creates a jubilant dance of crockeries, that appear in stark contrast to images of mechanical meal-trays in cold white plastic, and solitary highways, in bright, artificial colors.
We find ourselves in France, ensconced in a first-degree comedy, and yet Saignes draws inspiration from a film of great visual and intellectual demands: 2001, A Space Odyssey! Indeed, this airborne crockery, these weightless spacecraft, and images of solitary highways are reminiscent of the psychedelic sequence created by the great Douglas Trumbull, a pioneer of special effects. Saignes takes this aesthetic and adapts it to a visually comedic style. To do this, he applies warm colors and ultra-poppy typography, particularly to the title itself, and mixes in catchy music composed by Vladimir Cosma, leaving the audience in no doubt that is a veritable comedy. Then, very subtly, he hints at a slightly scary secondary meaning in the credits, depicting a vision of a sanitized future.
In an article in issue 313 of La Revue du Cinema (January 1977), Saignes stated that title sequence designers tend to become “prisoners of the medium’s stereotypes” – the inevitable production company logo, the credits, and even film’s title itself. He believed that title sequences, un-bound by an intrinsic logic or constraint, had the potential to offer complete creative freedom. He resented the way in which lists of names would be sent along with a note from the producer’s secretary, stating their preference to appear on the left, right or center of the screen. He regretted the lack of money spent on title sequences in France and compared it to the situation in the United States where Saul Bass, for Exodus, would be paid US$ 25,000 just for research. Unfortunately, these remarks suggest that the situation has not changed much in 30 years…
Text: Laure Chapalain, © SubmarineChannel 2011
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About Michel Saignes
Very little is known about about Michel Saignes. He studied graphics and animation at l’Ecole Estienne and the Métiers d’Art, focusing on advertising and airbrushing practices. After graduating, he was introduced to animation by joining a member of the team who participated in La bergère et le ramoneur by Paul Grimault. He produced animated commercials, explaining, “I was already more a filmmaker than a graphic designer”. Michel Saignes returned Eurocitel in the early 70s. Although deeply inspired by the work of Saul Bass, he aimed to define his own style, creating title sequences for television and film. He occasionally collaborated with Claude Lelouch, Jean-Pierre Melville and Claude Zidi.