One man’s garbage is another man’s treasure. It’s an old clique, but nothing truer could ever be said than French composer and filmmaker Jean-Pierre Mirouze’s 1971 original score to the film “Le Mariage Collectif.” This astonishingly good piece of music nearly went unheard and forgotten if not for an urban treasure hunter who literally picked it out of a pile of garbage, saving it from being lost forever. It was a lucky accident, with the payoff being the rediscovery of a fantastic album we nearly never heard.
Have any of you seen the film “La Mariage Collectif?” I haven’t. This film, if copies of it even continue to exist, seems to be obscure. It doesn’t seem to have ever been released on DVD, you can’t’ download a torrent of it anywhere and I can’t even find any clips of it on YouTube. Not even a trailer. These days more people have probably heard the soundtrack than ever saw the film, but even then, the music has only caught on to a small group of retro music fans and audiophiles. That may sound bleak, but what it actually means is that there is still a world of people out there who get to discover this album for the first time. I always find that sort of exciting! If you’ve never listened to this album, I hope it’s my gift to you!
The way I discovered the music of “La Mariage Collectif” was purely by algorithms (yes, Virginia, algorithms do work). A number of years ago I was working in an office at the front desk, and I was told by the management that as long as it was low and instrumental, I was allowed to play music on my computer. This was before Spotify was a thing, so I would stream music via YouTube. Primarily I streamed jazz greats – Davis, Coltrain, Monk, Dizzy and such. But I’d also move into film soundtracks and that meant one of my absolute favorites, The Vampire Sound Inc.’s soundtrack to “Vampyros Lesbos.” But after the soundtrack completed, as YouTube searched for something similar for me to listen to, it’d go directly into “La Marriage Collectif.” After a number of afternoons of stumbling across this remarkable soundtrack, I realized I had a new favorite. I may never see the movie, but damn I just love the music! With my next paycheck I I got on Discogs and found a vinyl copy of the album which I had shipped directly from France. I paid a pretty hefty price for it, but it was worth it. It goes hand in hand alongside “Vampyros Lesbos” with one of my favorite film soundtracks, and one of the albums I often put on my turntable when I have company. But when going down the rabbit hole about the history of this soundtrack it’s a wild tale of how it was almost lost to the world and how we found it.
“La Mariage Collectif” was a sexploitation film directed by Herve Lamerre and released in 1971. A film about open relationships and free sex, it seems to be one of those soft-core Eurotrash films that were coming out of continental Europe around that time, which I must admit that I used to collect on DVD in my 20’s. Although exploitative in nature, they often are filled with high style, beautiful women, imaginative cinematography and great soundtracks. I can only guess what “Le Mariage Collectif” was like, but according to the synopsis on IMDB, the plot went something like this:
“A married couple is having sexual difficulties. The husband acquiesces in his wife’s having a lover who visits her every Friday. The lover participates in a collective living arrangement, where sex as well as household chores are shared. Thinking that they will benefit from a similar scheme, the couple starts their own collective. However, the wife dislikes it when her husband begins to spend time with a younger woman in the collective, and the collective frowns on her having an outside relationship (her Friday lover).”
Well, upon completing the film Lamarre was looking for a modern psychedelic soundtrack. At the time there was a very hip show on French television called “Dim Dam Dom,” which was a news program aimed at women focusing on fashion and music. Clips of “Dim Dam Dom” are on YouTube and the show is very chic. Anyhow, one of the unique standout elements of “Dim Dam Dom” was the original music composed for the individual segments and noticing the modern but unusual feel of the incidental music, Lamarre ought out the musical director, Jean-Pierre Mirouze, to compose an original score for his film.
Although he seems to be a colorful figure who had an interesting life, Mirouze achievements as a musician, filmmaker and artist has seemed to have gone overlooked and, like “Le Mariage Collectif,” has also fallen into obscurity. Born in Nice, Mirouze was the son of an orchestra conductor and quickly gained an early education in music, which gained him attention and had him winning awards by the time he was fifteen. However, upon graduating school, Mirouze had seemed to have lost interest in music and sought a career as a documentary filmmaker. Throughout the 1960’s Mirouze travelled through Africa and the Middle East with a handheld 16 mm camera, shooting for Paris’ “Museum of Man.” But by the middle of the decade, he was back in Paris making films for a fledging company called Opera Films. While there, producer Jean-Christrophe Averty learnt about Mirouze’s original background in music and recognizing him as being innovative and worldly, hired him as the musical director to “Dim Damn Dom,” which brings us back to “La Mariage Collectif” and Herve Lamerre.
When Lamerre met Mirouze, he got the composer’s interest in the project, but unfortunately there was no money in the budget for him to be paid. Mirouze suggested they make a meeting with Bagetelle, a Paris based publishing house that helped create and distribute film soundtracks. Mirouze had, a little instrumental had written called “Together,” and he pitched it as the film’s opening theme. The people at Bagetelle loved it and commissioned nine songs for the use of the film. “Together” would be finished with English lyrics and a singer named Barry Green was brought in to record it. It’s a very surreal sounding ballad and sets the tone for the rest of the music perfectly, making it one of the standout tracks on the album. The soundtrack also contains a moody instrumental version of the song at its conclusion making “Together” a pair of perfect bookends.
For the next month Mirouze assembled a group of reliable musicians, many who had worked with him on “Dim Dam Dom” and created a wonderfully hip soundscape filled with organ, bass, African drumming, fuzz guitar, jazzy chaotic hors, harpsicord, psychedelic woodwinds and the occasional sitar. Very groovy, very modern for its time, it’s a phenomenal piece of music that drips of sex and acid. However, as history would prove itself, the music seemed to be too good for the movie. This is a fate that happens so often (i.e., “Xanadu”) but in this case the music would suffer from the unpopularity of the film.
After the completed score was added to the film, the music was pressed on acetate and given back to Bagette who would be in charge of distributing it. But the film itself was a box office flop. Why did it fail? I don’t know. I haven’t seen it. Nobody I know has and I can’t even find any reviews of it. But as a result of the film’s failure, record companies didn’t seem interested in taking a chance on the record to release it – except for one. A small French label, AZ, released “Together” as a single with the albums stand out instrumental, “Sexopolis,” as the B side. However, underpromoted and overlooked, the single did nothing. Eventually the whole project was forgotten. Lamerre went on to his next project, never becoming a major name in French cinema, Mirouze didn’t compose another film soundtrack although he reportedly did attempt to write some stage musicals, and the soundtrack to “La Mariage Collectif” never got made or distributed. Instead, the few acetates that were pressed went discarded and ignored, collecting dust in some office or warehouse until they eventually were tossed in the trash.
And that’s where they sat for nearly forty years until 2010 when an unnamed urban treasure hunter was hunting through a Parisian garbage dump, and he came across a mysterious old acetate om a blank sleeve with handwritten notes. Curious enough to pull it out and bring it home, he was the first one in decades to hear this remarkable piece of music. I can’t imagine what he must have thought to hear such incredible unknown music which he had found lying in a trash heap. It was like finding lost art in a wasteland!
Little information exists on who found the record, or the search that went into finding exactly what it was, but eventually the acetate found its way to Paris based independent label Born Bad Records who pressed and distributed “Le Mariage Collectif” for the very first time for public consumption in 2012. I wish I knew more about the distribution or the success of the record, but it seems to have only created a sort of cult following amongst music hipsters and audiophiles and still hasn’t found its place in the mainstream. But it seems that the people who have heard it love it and it has a community of devotees who hail it as one of the best film scores of all time.
With every listen to this disk, I am stunned at how an album this good nearly never got heard. It makes me wonder how many other incredible albums are out there that the world has never heard rotting away in old warehouses, closets, basements, or trash heaps. I’m not suggesting that everyone starts digging through garbage dumps for old physical media, but it is a miracle that we are able to listen to “La Marriage Collectif” today.