It’s safe to say that the older I get the more I become interested in film history and appreciate the early efforts they made to entertain the masses. I can only imagine what it was like being there at the beginning witnessing something so incredible and different. There’s something challenging about silent film that makes movies seem all too easy these days in some ways. One thing that has carried through the years however is the importance of music in film making. The best composers can toy with your emotions and make you smile or cry simply with a few notes and turn a good movie into a truly great one. Some of the most iconic scores are arguably more famous than the scenes they play over and that’s a testament to the power of music.
Alex Barrett, the director of London Symphony, understands this completely. He has a respect and love for the films that came before and paved the way for the cinema of today. But does our modern approach to creativity mean we have to lose what we loved previously? Barrett doesn’t think so and this inventive approach to making film aims to prove that black and white imagery and a musical symphony can have just as much impact today as it ever did. It’s true to say that it won’t be to everyone’s tastes and it’s a wild departure from the bombastic nature of Hollywood blockbusters but that’s the special thing about film. It allows creativity and many ways of expressing ideas and emotions and London Symphony will mean something different to each viewer.
James McWilliam’s score tells a story perfectly timed with Barrett’s imagery. For a film that took years to put together you can really see how each frame was put together with care and attention and the images chosen all need to fit together somehow. While there is no conventional story told as such, London Symphony instead focuses on ideas and shared views of London through each part. The first gives a close up look at the buildings and the ever changing face of London from old buildings to new. It’s a landscape that looks familiar and yet always has something new popping up and the construction never ends. No two visits to London are ever the same and the vast amount of different buildings and uses shows the history and future all at once.
Beyond the hustle and bustle of transport, sport and work we are transported in the second part to a more peaceful and tranquil look at London. It can often be strange to be on a packed Underground train one minute and then finding yourself on a peaceful hill overlooking the world. Barrett captures this perfectly, showing the contrast between the busy and the calm and why so many people love the place. That admiration of London from a tourist perspective is highlighted in the third part which focuses on culture and museums, some of the most popular areas of the capital, along with shopping, religion and education. This is perhaps the most versatile part of the film, allowing Barrett to capture a wide range of people, places and ideals that really show London for the multi cultural place that it is.
The final part acts as a love letter to the Thames looking at the differences in the bridges and surrounding areas and feels like an appropriate end to our visit to London. The Thames is a huge part of the city and brings it all together so you can see why Barrett has a fascination with it. But for all of his heartfelt work in capturing London it wouldn’t be half as effective without McWilliam’s score taking us on that emotional journey. That’s the real highlight of London Symphony for me and something I didn’t expect to enjoy quite as much as I did. A city symphony like this isn’t easy to review with its less traditional approach but if you appreciate something different or just enjoy the city then Alex Barrett’s film is certainly worth your time. It’s a reminder of just how special London is and why so many fall completely in love with it.
London Symphony is out now on DVD.
Dir: Alex Barrett
Scr: Rahim Moledina
Prd: Katharine Round
DOP: Alex Barrett, Diana Olifirova, Keifer Nyron Taylor, Jackie Teboul, Simon Thorpe
Music: James McWilliams