«The» very first “talkie” was Alan Crosland’s The Jazz Singer: a musical drama that revolutionised the film industry and marked the beginning of all-talking pictures, many of them featuring singing scenes. With it came a flurry of new singing and dancing stars with experience in theatre, on Broadway and in nightclubs.
Champagne, as a symbol of nightlife par excellence, was the ideal wine to put the fizz into this new music scene. Sparkling and eminently quaffable, Champagne had that light, airy touch of so many of the musicals themselves – many of which were set in France, the iconic home of Champagne.
The opening credits for one of the very first musical comedies, Ernst Lubitsch’s The Love Parade (1929), presents a stylised image of Paris featuring two bottles of Veuve Clicquot. The film stars Maurice Chevalier, who also appears in Vincente Minnelli’s Gigi (1958), a feature-length musical film adaptation of the novel by French writer Colette, starring Louis Jourdan and Leslie Caron as Gigi.
Before that, Caron co-starred with Gene Kelly in Minnelli’s An American in Paris (1951), a masterpiece of the Hollywood musical tradition about a struggling American painter (Kelly) who falls for a young French woman (Caron). Both films are set in Paris and both put the spotlight on Champagne. In Gigi, Leslie Caron play’s a young French woman who discovers life, men and Champagne – the inspiration for her song, The Night They Invented Champagne.
Still in Paris, Blake Edwards’ Victor/Victoria (1982) takes place in a 1930s transgender bar where Champagne flows non-stop and coloratura soprano Julie Andrews has a High C that can shatter glass (not to mention bottles).
French and European films meanwhile, unlike their Hollywood counterparts, rarely qualify as musicals. The only notable exceptions are Jacque Demy’s Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (1964, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg) and Les Demoiselles de Rochefort (1967, The Young Girls of Rochefort); and Alain Resnais’ On Connait la Chanson (1997, Same Old Song) where an all-star French cast (Sabine Azéma, Pierre Arditi, André Dussolier, Jean-Pierre Bacri and Agnès Jaoui) lip sync to popular French songs and Champagne flows a-go-go in the final scene.
Musicals still draw crowds, as shown by the success of Phyllida Lloyd’s smash hit Mamma Mia! (2008), an Abba-inspired musical romance starring Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan and Colin Firth in a story about a wedding where Champagne conquers all. Another crowd pleaser was Damien Chazelle’s La La Land (2016): a glittering homage to the golden age of musicals perfectly in tune with the shimmering tones of Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label. The film won 6 Oscars, including Best Original Song.
Three years later, Tom Hooper’s musical fantasy adaptation of the Broadway mega-musical Cats paid purring homage to the House of Piper Heidsieck with the movie tagline “Pi-purr-Heidsieck” for Piper Heidsieck.