And now this pear-shaped English bird and her inscrutable French partner have added sound to public sex
Vital Information : English actress, 23, fully bared in orgy scene of first picture, Blow-Up; seven pictures since, suffering explicit rapes, death from dope, murder, suicide, etc.; pipy-voiced chanteuse of Je t'aime… moi, non plus, lovemaking duet with actor-composer, her partner, Serge Gainsbourg, 42. Song added dimension of sound to public sex. Denounced by the Vatican. Banned by the BBC. Earned Serge $400,000 for four hours' work. Jane billed as sex symbol of the '70's. Measurements 32-24-37. Mortal fear of public shower rooms.
First Impressions : Surprise and relief that she has a mind--agile, fast, too fast for notes, ideas in torrents, a funny, gawky, fresh, frank, joyous, nervous, sensuous human being, "this bandy-legged, flat-chested girl," to borrow her own hard scrutiny, afraid only that spectators on the set would laugh at her when they saw what she had as David Hemmings and the other girl ripped off her clothes in the Blow-Up orgy scene.
Just hours later, her idol, Yul Brynner, was telling me what she'd told him about her terror in the common shower at her old English boarding school, the groups of girls gathered around her, laughing at her body, no breasts, a big bottom (not too big now) and those bandy legs. Until very recently, she would cry when she'd tell the story, and for a long time, the fear of being laughed at was the fright of her life.
"When I was with taxi drivers, I used to tell them these terrible lies. I used to want to be other people all the time. It's only just now that it's been all right to be just me." And just now, "just me," of all people, is our new symbol of sex.
For a girl who wanted to be a boy, and who wore boy's swim trunks until 14, life has taken some surprising turns. Top, a sprint with her lover in Paris. Center, dubbing a film in London. Bottom, shivering for photographer.
Tale of two cities: Serge and Jane commute between his home in Paris' Latin Quarter and her little house in London's Chelsea, where Serge, a Paris celebrity, baby-sits Jane's daughter Kate, and cooks and reflects, “Here, I'm unknown. It's not bad to be unknown. It returns modesty." He bears his role with humor and grace for the most part. But I carry in my mind one flashing moment, Jane on the floor, holding a stuffed animal, or perhaps it was a pillow, which Serge began to tap playfully with his foot, and then a little harder and then much harder and suddenly there was one uncontrollable flicker from that baffling dark side of love and he kicked that pillow like hell. And Jane cried, "Serge! " and he stopped
A young and vulnerable girl, intensely caring for lovers, causes, children and see-through blouses
Kate is Jane's by first husband John Barry, who composed score of Born Free. Serge is hers because her openness complements his cynicism. See-through blouse is hers to wear only when Serge is on hand. He considers it imprudent for a man to leave his woman alone.
Jane: She enters a relationship so forcefully that it obliterates everything else around her.
We had gone to a boutique with a fetching little three-quarter shelter in the center, its opening covered by a quilt, which, of course, I watched mesmerized as it slipped slowly beyond its fragile moorings until there stood Jane in white bikini panties and small but perfectly serviceable breasts. A salesgirl hastily put the quilt back up, and Jane screamed, but I don't think she cared, because moments later she came out in a transparent blouse to show Serge, and we all now saw her breasts, but all she saw was Serge. And you saw how she absolutely, positively, cross your heart digs this guy, and why, you wondered, why?
Inevitable Question: "How do you feel about being with a 42-year-old man?"
"I love it. You can be the person who knows nothing. I love men with lines on their faces and full of complexes, who worry about who you are and what you want to be. I find that more interesting than a beautiful boy of 20."
Paris: We were at lunch, alone, drinking wine, and Jane was remarking how it gently broke down social barriers. And somehow this led to drugs, and she went into this stunning tale of Khatmandu, where they'd made a dreadful picture, about buying some "expensive stuff" that turned out to be boot polish, and finally getting some real stuff and trying it with Serge, putting a scarf over the light, thinking it would be sexy. But it was a nightmare, each alternately losing his wits, Jane feeling hair at her mouth and moving it away and finding she was trying to claw the side of her mouth off, and Serge puking into the toilet and she trying to push his head down, and the moments of lucidity in between, terrified that they might go off at the same time and destroy one another, clinging together against that moment, finally out of it, and never since. One night, much later, Serge was composing music for the dreadful film, and it so powerfully reminded him of the experience that he froze. Jane shuddered as she finished the story. "It panicked me to think that when I was really in a panic, I thought only of myself. It was like giving a bottle of gin to a baby."
London: A dubbing studio. Jane is screaming the way one screams when one is being kissed and doesn't want to be. On the screen, she is being kissed. She is also being raped. An Italian boy is kissing her. An English boy is raping her. Two others hold her. The picture is May Morning, an Italian image of life at Oxford. Jane plays the daughter of a latently homosexual Oxford don and a latently lesbian mother. In the last scene, she pushes the Italian into the river and bangs him on the head with a canoe paddle until he drowns. But that is later. Now there is that rape scene, looped over and over again until Jane synchronizes her screams, and it occurs to me that between the pleasurable gasps of the record and the shrieks of the raping, I have now absorbed the full range of her sexual sounds. But after the fifth rerun, I can no longer joke, and after the twentieth, we adjourn gratefully to a restaurant for a badly needed martini. "Why the hell do you play crap like that?" I demand. “I love working," she pleads. "I don't get offered good parts, only these mini-skirted, long-hair, dumb things. So I keep working and working and just hope I'll end up working in a good play or film." In my notes taken at that lunch, there is a wistful fragment I can't connect but that speaks for itself. It is Jane's "….all the people I admire who never admire me."
At last: A big part in a decent film--Abraham Polonsky's Romance of a Horsethief. The horsethief is Jewish and the heroine is flat chested, and might not these two together say a little about our times? Perhaps we are willing at last to see the world a little more as it is, where nice Jewish boys can steal horses and pear-shaped women can be sexy. Because the message Jane Birkin conveys is really the message of her age:
"It's all right to be just me."