Sonic Cinema: Drifters (1929) with Jason Singh at the BFI

Drifters (1929)
Drifters (1929)

UPDATE:  This event has been rescheduled for 5 November 2012.

In November, the BFI will release a dual-format DVD/Blu-Ray edition of an intriguing double-bill: Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin (1925) and John Grierson’s Drifters (1929). It’s the second instalment of the BFI’s The Soviet Influence series, which has the stated aim of revealing the impact of 1920s Russian films on later British film-makers.

Drifters premiered at the Film Society on November 10, 1929, on the same bill as Battleship Potemkin, which was receiving its British premiere. Grierson had previously produced an English language version of Eisenstein’s film for its American screening and the influence of Eisenstein is clearly revealed in Drifters.

To tide us over until the home video release, we have a screening of Drifters, a film about herring fishing, and fishermen, directed by the father of the British documentary movement, John Grierson:

Like Potemkin, Drifters employs montage in an expressive manner, creating dramatic tension in the absence of any psychological characterisation. Both films also use ‘types’ (non-professional actors) instead of actors in order to create a more ‘authentic’ reality, and both films make use of extensive location shooting. Grierson, nevertheless, always stressed that he was keen to make a film with distinctively ‘British’ characteristics, which he saw as moderation and a sense of human importance. Drifters is, therefore, slower paced than Potemkin, and focuses on more mundane, less inherently dramatic events. (BFI Screenonline)

I am resisting making a “red herring” gag, but you should feel free to do so. This NFT1 screening of Drifters will be accompanied by a live score from Jason Singh, a recording of which will also be presented with the film on the disc. Singh is a “beatboxer, vocal sculptor and sound artist”, and his score combines both live and prerecorded vocals with all manner of processing and sampling. You can read more here, and watch a snippet of Singh in action below. I think you’ll agree it’s very atmospheric.


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