Music journalist Christophe Conte seems haunted by the most illustrious and cursed of French recording studios. After co-writing, in 2015, David Bowie, the man with a hundred faces or the ghost of Hérouville, he is doing it again with Le Château d’Hérouville. A French rock madness, narrated by Lou Doillon.

Or the fascinating story of a pure utopia from the 1970s: the establishment in a village in Val-d’Oise of what will be one of the first residential places (garden, swimming pool, restaurant with chef) for this activity and will welcome the British pop aristocracy of the time (Pink Floyd, T. Rex, Elton John, David Bowie…). A utopia that will regularly turn into a nightmare. Until tragedy struck, with the suicide in 1984 of its creator, the composer Michel Magne.

In fifty-two minutes, the documentary embraces this saga with never-before-seen images and multiple testimonies, starting with those of those close to Michel Magne, his wife, Marie-Claude, or the sound engineers Dominique Blanc-Francard and Laurent Thibault.

“Romantic and wacky”

It all began when the future author of the original soundtracks of Fantômas (1964), Angélique, marquise des Anges (1964) or Tontons flingueurs (1963) became lord by acquiring, in 1962, with his painter friend Jean-Claude Dragomir (died three years later in a car accident), the old coaching inn which saw Chopin and George Sand pass by. “Romantic and eccentric” as he admits, Magne goes there in a Porsche to work in the music room he has set up. In 1969, the fire in a wing changed the destiny of Hérouville: the musician, who lost his youthful work in the disaster, decided to incur colossal costs to build a recording studio there.

The first customers were locals (Gong, Eddy Mitchell), then Hérouville’s reputation soon spread across the Channel and even the Atlantic. In June 1971, the Californian group Grateful Dead, visiting for the Auvers-sur-Oise Festival – a “French Woodstock” quickly canceled by bad weather – gave a lysergic concert there (under LSD), which would make the reputation of house parties.

In 1972 and 1973, years of glory, Pink Floyd (Obscured by Clouds, soundtrack to the film La Vallée, by Barbet Schroeder), Marc Bolan (The Slider, album by T. Rex) and David Bowie followed one another. (Pin Ups). The most diligent is Elton John, who recorded Honky Château there (in honor of the place), Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player and the masterpiece Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. The pianist likes to imagine that the house is haunted and assures that the keys of his keyboard are pressed without human intervention…

Bee Gees, Bowie et Iggy Pop

The documentary unfortunately does not dwell on a more prosaic reason for the British craze for Hérouville, which David Gilmour, guitarist of Pink Floyd, recognizes: in Val-d’Oise, “taxes are less heavy” than in London .

Riddled with debt, Magne cedes management of the studio which is in decline and reborn thanks to Laurent Thibault. For a second golden age bringing together the Bee Gees (Saturday Night Fever), Jacques Higelin or the infernal duo formed by Bowie (Low) and Iggy Pop (The Idiot). A respite interrupted by the death of Magne.

Listed, the castle then entered a long sleep of thirty years, before being reborn once again as a studio in 2015. It is up to current musicians to perpetuate the legend.