Today: April 17, 2024

London Symphony

Back in the early 20s, a genre emerged during the era of silent film-making that has largely been ignored ever since. Poetic and experimental documentaries began cropping up in the form of ‘city symphonies’; doing little more on the surface than presenting ordinary, mundane life to music but, in doing so, capturing something of the location’s spirit and people. These films, such as Berlin: Symphony of a Metropolis, turned cities into living, breathing creatures – but, largely, these excellent pieces of work are forgotten. Director Alex Barrett breathes new life into this genre with London Symphony.

Across four ‘movements’ in the spirit of a musical symphony, Barrett brings London to life with the help of an utterly gorgeous score by James McWilliam and some truly mesmerising black and white imagery that, even when presenting footage of technology and public transport, makes London feel like something from a long-forgotten past. But this is the London of now, and it has never seemed more beautiful. The utterly breathtaking cinematography – a team effort between Alex Barret and others – is wonderfully nostalgic in its delivery. Presented in a traditional 4:3 ratio, the film throws the viewer back in time, with the black and white palette giving the whole of London and its people a shared identity. Colour, religion and class are irrelevant.

The stunning film crams a lot of emotion into its short runtime of 75minutes – the evocative music powers our thoughts as we are presented with imagery of art, architecture and diversity. London, an ever-changing city that has been described by scholars and experts in countless books, is described here more accurately than ever before without a single word uttered. While films like Godfrey Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi arguably served as a mirror to society and a chastising of what the human race has done to the world – London Symphony is, although open to personal interpretation, seemingly a more positive outlook. Here’s a visual love letter to a city and the people who inhabit it.  

London Symphony is a stunning piece of work. Visually spectacular, any frame of the film could be lifted and mounted on the wall of a gallery. With swift pacing thanks to Barrett’s confident editing, the film flies by in what feels like minutes – and we’re left with a feeling that, before seeing the film, we never truly knew London. In resurrecting a genre from a bygone era, Barrett has crafted a remarkable film that succeeds admirably on its own merits and manages to be something different in a world dominated by mainstream cinema.

Find a screening near you here

 

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