This virtuoso display of editing weaves together a staggering volume of footage of contemporary London, addressing a wide spread of themes and geography with knife-sharp monochrome cinematography. Though orchestrated by a team of five, the clips and compositions fit together as a meaningful whole, while avoiding like-for-like repetition.
Set to a continuous score by James McWilliam, Alex Barrett’s city symphony understands and joyfully exploits the power of music. Sound and image are paired symbiotically, with staccato rhythms accompanying spiky architecture and repetitive strains amplifying the monotony of rush hour. Despite inevitable inclusions – glimpses of the Underground, West End, and Olympic Park – London Symphony is far more than tourist trail. Much of its imagery comes from the people’s London, where the banality of litter or identikit suburban streets counters the celebratory notes of the opening movement, composed mainly of close-up views of grand architecture.
When the music is faster, the relentless stream of images can be hypnotic and even dizzying. Briefer shots frequently leave behind the desire to look for longer, but the filmmakers are clearly trying hard to keep a thin premise absorbing. They do remarkably well, though don’t manage to prevent the hour-plus of silent footage (with no conventional narrative structure) from dragging.
As London Symphony continues its techniques become increasingly adventurous, incorporating split screens, irises, and double exposures which evoke and play tribute to the era of silent cinema Barrett is surely inspired by. Used as rarely as they are, such flamboyant effects jar, yet like the metatextual inclusion of the film’s title signed in a museum visitors’ book, they are pleasant surprises.
A beautiful yet not idealistic celebration of London, and an historical record for the future. It would make for a thought-provoking double bill placed alongside the much more verbose Citizen Jane: Battle for the City.
CAST: Adam Hickey, Pamela Hutchinson, Phil Abel
DIRECTOR: Alex Barrett
WRITER: Rahim Moledina
SYNOPSIS: A brand new silent film and a poetic journey through the city of London.