Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The Battleship Potemkin

Pet Shop Boys and the Northern Sinfonia perform Battleship Potemkin Score in Newcastle/Gateshead

I found myself in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, England, on Mayday afternoon, having left Edinburgh just before lunch, stopping, e
n route, in Eyemouth for some chips and an ice-cream at Giacopazzi's.

Newcastle, namely the Swan Hunter shipyard at Wallsend in Gateshead was the venue for the screening of Sergei Eisenstein's classic masterpiece The Battleship Potemkin with an updated score performed by Pet Shop Boys and the Northern Sinfonia.

The location brought the movie into sharp focus - industrial and brutal, wet, cold concrete underfoot and a battleship under construction providing an iconic backdrop.

The event was free and standing only, so, in order to get a good place, the time of arrival was just after seven o'clock. The seventy-minute film wasn't due to start for another two hours. Standing in the cold with the occasional rain shower didn't make for fun and fabulousness, but it was worth

The movie is the story of the crew of the battleship Potemkin, the revolt of her crew and the resulting sickening massacre on the Odessa Steps.

A soundtrack
for an eighty one year old film by a synth-pop duo doesn't sound like a marriage made in heaven, but indeed it was and is.

Mr Eisenstein did comment that a new score should be made and used every ten years to update the film and make it feel fresh and current. This really never happened, but at
long last it has.

Pet Shop Boys are best known for their synthesizer pop laced with strings and outlandish videos. Therein lies the success of their pairing with the film. The orchestral arangements, strings and traditional instruments provide the movie's link with the past, the electronic sounds bring it bang up to date. Electronica is not just the bastard child of disco. Indeed, it can provide a rich, luscious sound as well as something more industrial and harsh. This worked well with the film: the rhythmic hacking of the meat with the cleaver; the machinery of the ship and her engines; the cossacks shooting into the crowd.

The new score complimented the film brilliantly, but one could also go as far as saying the film complimented the music. It was a very radical piece for its time and radical still, even by todays standards. Quite shocking in parts, overtly political, full of symbolism, brutal, beautiful, anarchistic, revolutionary (in every sense of the word) and progressive. The socialist agenda was far from a sub text, it hit one in the face. But so hard hitting was it, that the fist flying at you was unseen. Anyone, from any social background would see how unfair life in Russia was at the beginning of the twentieth century. Unbiased, though, the film certainly was not, though one fails to see any kind of flip-side to the story. Sailors made to eat meat crawling in maggots and about to be shot for refusing to do so. An understanding is soon found in why the sailors revolted and why, ultimately there was a successful revolution.

The cinematography felt quite contemporary. Anyone ignorant of Battleship Potemkin might assume it had only just been shot or made in tandem with the new soundtrack in a retro style, perhaps something Sam Taylor-Wood might come up with; the panoramic newsreel-like sequences being inter-cut with close-ups of heartbreaking, scary, painful, traumatic and harrowing details. Not things one might normally associate with a silent movie.

Pet Shop Boys fans might say it was a classic PSB video.

One thing about the movie that really struck me as being overtly Soviet were the physiques of the sailors. Very much the body-beuatiful, strong and muscular - whereas the officers and commanders were old, withered and weak. Made for some fabulous eye-candy. How shallow am I?


Geordies are notoriously hardy people. Young men and women were found wandering the streets, just after midnight, when the temperature was around two or three degrees centigrade, wearing jeans and a t-shirt or a very skimpy dress and nothing else at all.

Booze flowed like milk and honey did in old testament Israel. If I was so inclined, a sip of the Tyne might have had me intoxicated. I'm sure it's 50% proof. I'm also sure it's 90% urine. You know what drunks are...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wonderfully done.

Your account is on spot-on. I loved the pics you put in, too.

I was eight steps from center front stage and got some incredible footage on the videocam.

Your faithful PSB brother in San Diego, CA (quite a trip for this kid).

The Scar