Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Pet Shop Boys 'Battleship Potemkin' - Meltdown 2013

This evening I was lucky enough to see the 1925 film, 'Battleship Potemkin' with the Pet Shop Boys soundtrack at the British Film Institute as part of Yoko Ono's Meltdown. Apparently this was a world first to see the film with the soundtrack as a film, rather than as a PSB performance.

It opened with a 20 minute interview with Neil Tennant about how they came to write the soundtrack and stage it with a full orchestra, first in London and then in other cities around Europe. It sounds like an amazing challenge and he described watching the film on DVD for the first time with Chris Lowe at his home in Durham with the sound turned off so they wouldn't be influenced by the existing soundtrack.  Neil then took his seat in the audience and the film started.

'Battleship Potemkin' is a silent film from 1925 with a cast of thousands (literally). It is masterfully directed by Sergei Eisenstein and tells the tale of the rebellion of the crew of the battleship in 1905 in support of the first Russian revolution, their support by the people of Odessa who are cruelly mowed down by Cossack bullets  and ends on the high of the battleship sailing unharmed through the squadron of ships sent to end its rebellion. I've never seen it before but it was marvellous.

It's a powerful film with so much going on I wouldn't dream of listing all of it. So many film techniques were used in this film and have been copied ever since. Like the baby in the pram bouncing down the Odessa steps, the Cossacks marching relentlessly down the steps like Cybermen, close-ups of maggots in the meat and so much more. At one level a simple story and at another a metaphor for so much more. A tale of minor grievances escalating into nationwide revolution. I was mightily impressed.

At the BFI you get a printed A4 narrative about films and the cast as you go in and so I am pleased to name some of my favourites in the film. All probably long-ago left us, but their names and images live on.  I liked:

- Aleksandr Antonov as Vakulinchuk, the sailor who starts the rebellion on the battleship and whose dead body on the pier of Odessa starts the revolution in the city;
- Beatrice Vitoldi as the 'woman with a pram' who is shot down by the Cossacks on the Odessa steps and who looked like a young Siouxsie;
- Propkopenko as the mother of the boy who is shot on the steps and carries his body boldly towards the Cossacks only to be shot herself; and
- N. Poltavtseva as the teacher with pince-nez who encourages people to approach the Cossacks as brothers and ask them to stop shooting only to be shot down herself.

They gave some powerful performances and I want their names recorded in this blog. It is a film of terrible beauty and power.

And the music? Pet Shop Boys have done themselves proud, with the soundtrack adding another level to the film. My favourite section was when the revolution whipped itself up to the music of 'Nyet' which was instantly re-named 'Disco Revolution'. Another favourite section was when the battleship sailed out to engage the squadron of ships sent to capture it and the music slowly speeded up the closer they came to ultimate engagement... and I won't tell you what happened next.

Thank you to PSB for taking on the challenge of writing the soundtrack ten years ago and thank you to Yoko for adding this to Meltdown. I've had my eyes and ears opened. That's a good thing.

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