Tuesday, 27 October 2009

London Film Festival: Underground

Last Friday the London Film Festival justified its existence by showing Anthony Asquith’s Underground, a 1928 silent film about a love quadrangle between four London folk whose paths cross on the London Underground. Kate loves Bert, but Bert loves Nell, only Nell loves Bill. Nightmare! To further complicate matters, Bert is as nutty as a deluxe gift box of Ferrero Rocher, which is presumably why he’s been given a job at a power station working with gazillions of volts of electricity.

What starts off as a charming, funny romantic farce soon descends into madness and murder, culminating in a thrilling, Hitchcockian chase around the Lots Road Power Station. In fact the whole film is reminiscent of Hitchcock’s work; Asquith could have gone on to be as great as the master himself if he’d turned out more gems like Underground instead of adapting stage-bound plays for the screen. Also that nasty alleged business with the mask and Christine Keeler probably didn’t help.

What was particularly great about Friday’s screening was that it was the result of a massive and eye-wateringly expensive restoration by the BFI, who The Incredible Suit would like to give a gentle pat on the back for being so super. They showed examples of the old footage, which looked like it had been dragged round the Circle line behind a train a few times, and the spanky new print, which was like comparing vinyl to CD. The new version, pristine as it was, was almost too good; it could have done with a few more scratches and hairs in the gate if you ask me.

Anyway the film itself was a lovely surprise, as are all films you’ve never heard of that turn out to be good. It was great to see a document of city life in the 1920s too, if only to be reassured that your fellow tube passengers have always been annoying, self-centred idiot faces, even when they wore hats and buttonholes. They still moaned about standing up for a lady even in those polite days, although what 90% of them did that 90% of us now don’t is walk up the escalators instead of being lazy fattards.

The other highlight was the live musical accompaniment, courtesy of the legendary Neil Brand and his five man band, The Prima Vista Social Club. I’ve banged on before about Brando (not that one) and his magic fingers but when he gets together with his obscenely talented musician chums it’s like sitting in a hot bath of brilliance with 500 strangers. Fully clothed, obviously. Their music fit the action on screen like a beautifully tailored suit, to the point where one of them produced a tin whistle from nowhere and played it at the same time as a character in the film.

So hurrah for Underground, huzzah for The Prima Vista Social Club and huffah for the BFI. ‘Huffah’ will be appearing in an Oxford English Dictionary near you soon.

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  1. "Like vinyl compared to CD"??
    Don't get me started...

  2. Pros and cons with both, my funk soul brother.