This October, silent film ‘London Symphony’ will be showcased at Wimbledon’s stunning Shree Ghanapathy Temple alongside a live orchestra.
Taking a poetic journey through the city, ‘London Symphony’ looks back to 1920s filmmaking to combine stunning imagery with stirring music in a new film that explores cosmopolitan life.
Filmed in over 300 locations across every borough of London – including many local to Wimbledon – this cultural snapshot is a celebration of diversity and modern life in the city. Inspired by city symphony, a genre of film that flourished in the 1920s, London Symphony builds a poetic portrait in black and white film accompanied by music composition by James McWilliam.
The film, which was nominated for the Michael Powell Award for Best British Film, will tour in over 35 venues spread throughout the UK with a special live music event taking place right here in Wimbledon at Shree Ghanapathy Temple on 28th October. Music will be performed live by the Covent Garden Sinfonia, conducted by Ben Palmer and followed by discussion featuring the filmmakers.
Sunna Naseer interviews director, Alex Barrett, to find out more.
S: What is it about silent cinema that draws you in?
A: I think it’s a different art form from sound cinema. There’s something more expressive about it. Primarily cinema is a visual medium and I have an interest in what I call ‘pure’ cinema – cinema that isn’t necessarily massively story led and is as much about the use of the medium.
Silent cinema really hit its stride when people were experimenting and discovering techniques, inventing the foundation for what was to come. In the 20s it really exploded and I think it was the best decade of cinema. As narrative and sound took over, I think some of that experimentation seeped away. But that play with form is what I really like.
S: If there’s less of a narrative, what do you think makes people keep watching?
A: I think that’s a very good question and something that was on my mind. There isn’t a narrative in the conventional sense but there are mini-narratives and an overall structure to the film. The majority of city symphonies follow a day-to-night structure. In our case, our composer wrote a structure for his music and that became the foundation for everything we did. The whole film follows a musical pattern.
Even if we don’t have a story, the film explores quite a few themes. When you don’t have commentary or text, you convey your theme through the images and the montage. We have created interesting juxtapositions with the images that will trigger associations in the viewers’ minds. So they’ll be engaged because we’re giving them something to think about.
S: What will the viewer takeaway from the film?
A: The edit has been finished on the film for about a year and then over that time composers have been finishing the score ready for release. A lot has happened to London in that year and that’s quite interesting to see. What we wanted to do with ‘London Symphony’ was to shine a light on what the city is like today, looking at it through the lens of the past.
What we hadn’t taken into consideration was how quickly London changes and that’s quite shocking. It’s changed in ways that we hadn’t anticipated but that allows viewers to meditate even more on life today and what’s happened since filming.
S: Is Wimbledon in the film?
A: Wimbledon’s in it quite a lot actually. Look out for Wimbledon Library, the High Street, Centre Court, the statue outside it, and then slightly further down, Merton Abbey Mills makes an appearance. There’s a lot of Kingston as well and around the local area.
London is thought of as Central and East or North – they’ve been very photographed. But I live South West and there are places around here that haven’t been photographed as much so we wanted to capture that side of London.
S: If you had to convince people in Wimbledon to go and see the screening what would you say in a couple of sentences?
A: I’m so excited about the Wimbledon screening because the location is absolutely amazing. The temple was the first fully consecrated Hindu temple in the UK and this is the first time they’ve opened their doors for a film or Western classical orchestra. It’s a beautiful place and there’ll be live music so it’ll be a really special event.