Preview: Filmic, A Festival of Film & Music

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Whether it filled you with rapture or ennui, by far the stupidest reaction to The Artist was that of several cinemagoers at a Liverpool Odeon, who demanded ticket refunds upon discovering that Michael Hazanavicius’ nostalgic awards-charmer was a silent movie. But of course, Scouse philistinism aside, the fact is that it isn’t actually silent – a detail to which Ludovic Bource’s Oscar nomination for Best Original Score is testament. Indeed, the term ‘silent cinema’ has always been a misnomer, ever since the advent of projected film as a form of public entertainment. Whether it was just a bloke with a piano, a small band, or even a full-scale orchestra in some of the most upmarket picture palaces, film was always accompanied by music. And when the first feature-length film with synchronised sound was made – 1927’s The Jazz Singer – it was a musical.

From its very inception, then, music has been intrinsic to the experience of what is commonly regarded as a visual medium; something the lovely folks at both the Watershed and St George’s in Bristol have decided is worthy of a two month season of events they’re calling Filmic. Starting this weekend, the season is focused on the work of two of the greatest film composers: Ennio Morricone, without whose searing, anachronistic electric guitars and ironic sound effect-laden scores the spaghetti western would be entirely inconceivable, and Michel Legrand, whose beguiling Gallic melodies lace such French New Wave classics as Cléo from 5 to 7 and A Woman is a Woman, and many more besides.

Our picks of the season include Sergio Leone’s magnificent Once Upon A Time in The West, a knotty tale of revenge which pits Charles Bronson’s enigmatic harmonica-playing stranger against Henry Fonda’s blue-eyed sadist, propelled throughout by the kind of typically stirring score that helped Morricone and Leone redefine the Western. Here’s a spoiler-free clip of the film’s glorious, drawn-out showdown – you can see the whole thing in all it’s 175-minute majesty at the Watershed on Sunday 26 February.

The other standout highlight is Michel Legrand himself in concert at St George’s on Saturday 31 March, where he’ll be performing a selection of his finest compositions for film. As a taster, here’s the finale of Jacques Demy’s wonderfully parodic New Wave musical The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, featuring a Legrand score that beats you round the face with its crushingly bittersweet loveliness.

And if that wasn’t enough to get you inspired, I leave you with a quote from American philosopher Suzanne K. Langer, whose fascinating musings upon the evocative capacity of music might provide us with one way of thinking about how much all those treasured cinematic moments are predicated upon the powerful interaction of music and film:

‘The tonal structures we call ‘music’ bear a close logical similarity to the forms of human feeling – forms of growth and of attenuation, flowing and stowing, conflict and resolution, speed, arrest, terrific excitement, calm or subtle activation or dreamy lapses – not joy and sorrow perhaps, but the poignancy of both – the greatness and brevity and eternal passing of everything vitally felt. Such is the pattern, or logical form, of sentience; and the pattern of music is that same form worked out in pure measures, sound and silence. Music is a tonal analogue of emotive life.’

Filmic begins on Sunday 5 February and runs until Saturday 31 March, at both The Watershed and St George’s, Bristol. Further info and full list of events available here.


Tim Rogerson


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