Transit Ostend / Remember Marvin Gaye [shortened] (Richard Olivier, 1981 / 2001)
At the beginning of the 1980s, Marvin Gaye’s life and career were on the skids. Two poorly received albums, two failed marriages, a strained relationship with his label and serious troubles with the IRS had fueled a spiraling cocaine addiction and left the Prince of Soul a shadow of himself. Following a chaotic European tour, Gaye, increasingly despondent and paranoid, had relocated to London where he let his self-destructive tendencies run wild. Upon learning that Gaye was living across the Channel, Freddy Cousaert, a Belgian local promoter/boxing gym owner and soul music aficionado from Ostend took upon himself to convince the singer to trade London and its poisonous influence for the Belgian seaside and to help him get his life back on track. Against all odds, Gaye accepted the invitation, he would later comment that he “didn’t even know where Belgium was” but that he “left it to the hand of God”. And so, in February 1981, Gaye boarded a ferry and found himself headed to the city of Ostend, a modest port town and faded seaside resort once prized by the European upper class.
The change of scenery proved providential if incongruous. Gaye readily embraced the laidback rhythm of the city. Speaking neither Flemish nor French, he saw himself a monk in retreat and found in his self-imposed exile a soothing detachment and a welcome anonymity. With the help of Cousaert, Gaye kicked his drug habit, started exercising again and soon he was working on what would become Midnight Love. Gaye ended up spending nearly two years in Ostend, living first with the Cousaert family and eventually moving into a small flat on the seafront, there he penned the centerpiece of his new album: Sexual Healing (with a music video partly filmed at the Ostend casino). The release of Midnight Love to great acclaim in fall 1982 prompted Gaye’s return to Los Angeles to the disappointment of Cousaert who had nourished hopes of promoting a local tour and whose fears of a relapse for the singer would soon find tragic confirmation…
Filmed on 16mm film with little to no budget by a young Belgian filmmaker who barely knew who Marvin Gaye was at the time, Richard Olivier’s Transit Ostend (recut in a longer 56 minutes version in 2001 as Remember Marvin Gaye) remains today a unique and sober record of Gaye’s strange Ostend interlude. Part reenactment for the camera, part Gaye’s musings, part fly on the wall footage, the documentary filmed in just a couple of days captures the incongruous ordinariness of Gaye’s everyday activities and delivers a couple of musical gems (a piano solo version of Come Get to This and Distant Lover, a rehearsal of I Want You and an a capella rendition of The Lord’s Prayer in front of a couple of amused churchgoers).