London Symphony Review
London is a city like no other, a sprawling metropolis which has been a major settlement for two millennia, rich, full of history, life, and a hub of culture and arts referred to across the globe. The city is home to an estimated 20 million people, with more than 300 languages spoken in the area. Many films have been set in London, but nothing has managed to capture the mystery and the beauty of the city like Alex Barrett's London Symphony.
Barrett having previously shot Hungerford: Symphony of a London Bridge in 2010 launched a Kickstarter campaign for London Symphony. What makes his work so memorable is the fact that he is a silent filmmaker, and as a lover of silent cinema I find his work so refreshing and welcoming. Barrett himself describes his film as “a poetic journey through the city of London, exploring its vast diversity of culture and religion via its various modes of transportation. It is both a cultural snapshot and a creative record of London as it stands today. The point is not only to immortalise the city, but also to celebrate its community and diversity.” This, he manages to accomplish in spades.
The film may be silent, but don’t let that put you off; this is more than just a flashy art piece, it’s a film that shows beauty in a mundane world that surrounds us. It is epic in scale with the filmmaker exploring over 300 locations in London, accompanied by the musical score by James McWilliam. London Symphony is a throwback to the silent era where many cities were featured in “symphonies” such as Berlin and Paris, however, London never received the honour of being the focus of a symphony. It is McWilliam’s moving score which really helps bring life to the images we see onscreen, stating in an interview that “Music plays an important role in silent cinema [and helps] take viewers on a journey through modern-day London.” Certainly we are transported on a magical journey throughout the city, not only exploring historical landmarks but also the backstreets and inner Estates that we may have never encountered before. The film is a montage of black and white stills and film which encapsulates modern life within the city whilst also referencing and remembering the past.
The film consists of four “movements” which transports us directly into the world of the city, and it’s astonishing how Barrett and writer Rahim Moledina can make something as trivial as a tube ride seem thrilling and new. The stunning cinematography presented in a traditional 4:3 ratio throws the viewer back in time and it is these echoes of nostalgia which resonate. Barrett also offers the viewer something profound, which is the concept that all of the people living in London have a shared identity. Their race, ethnicity, religion, gender and class visible and celebrated as the film depicts the essence of community and solidarity.
London Symphony hasn’t been ignored by critics and festivals either and has been nominated for the Michael Powell Award for Best British Film at the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2017, and was the winner of four categories in the Silent London Poll of 2017 including Best Modern Silent of 2017 and Silent Hero of 2017 for director/editor Alex Barrett. It may not be to everyone's tastes, but this black and white, silent film deserves a watch. It’s a film which both dazzles, entertains and pays homage to a city that we think we know, when in fact there is far more to London and its rich diversity of culture, architecture and religion.