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BBC’s Sound of Cinema season – September 2013


This week, I was lucky enough to attend the launch of Sound of Cinema, a new cross-channel season from the BBC exploring film music in all its variety. The centrepiece of the season, arriving in September, is a three-part documentary on BBC4 by silent film composer Neil Brand called The Big Score. I’ve had a sneak preview of the series and it’s seriously fascinating stuff, with Brand tracing the development of film music from the silent era onwards, explaining exactly how classic scores work their magic on the viewing public and interviewing movie composers and big-name directors. Vangelis discusses the creation of his classic score for the most famous slow-motion sequence of them all in Chariots of Fire; Martin Scorsese talks us through his use of Jumpin’ Jack Flash in Mean Streets. In the first episode, Brand talks to silent film accompanist Bernie Anderson at Loew’s Theatre in Jersey City – and has a go on the magnificent in-house organ there.

Other elements in the season include stars discussing their favourite film music moments on BBC Radio 6; a documentary about the relationship between hip-hop and cinema on BBC Radio 1; Bobby Friction exploring Bollywood music on the BBC Asian Network; and a BBC Radio 2 documentary made by Mark Kermode called Soundtrack of my Life, which promises to be very entertaining. There’s absolutely masses planned on BBC Radio 3, including Sound of Cinema downloads by Brand and a a week of programmes hosted by Matthew Sweet. You can read more here (PDF). Radio1 film critic Rhianna Dhillon talked to me about the intriguing possibility of getting some pop acts to have a stab at scoring a film – perhaps they will get a taste for it and we’ll find some new names added to the list of regular silent film composers!

Because, yes, this all sounds a bit “talkie” for Silent London, but I’m sharing this with you because this series promises “a deep understanding of what music does for film”. It’s a subject that silent cinema fans discuss animatedly after every screening – we’re in the now unusual position of watching the same film again and again with different scores, which can make a huge difference to the experience. Perhaps, after dipping into this season. we’ll have an insight into the influences, theories and ideas rushing through the film accompanist’s mind at the next screening we attend.

Silent film on Radio 4: Hollywood – the Prequel, 18 January

Cabiria (Giovanni Pastrone, 1914)
Cabiria (Giovanni Pastrone, 1914)

In 2011, many people use Hollywood as a synonym for the film industry as a whole, but in the early days of cinema, California was a long distance from the heart of the action. Hollywood – the Prequel traces the geographical shifts of the silent film industry across Europe – at different times, Britain, France, Denmark and Italy could all claim to be the centre of the cinematographic world. This absorbing documentary is presented by Francine Stock and features contributions from film historians including Kevin Brownlow, Ian Christie, Kristin Thompson, Neil Brand (with his piano) and Frank Gray. The experts take a chronological approach to early cinema, but focus on different genres in turn:

If you think the stick-em-up, the rom-com and the sword-and-sandal epic began life in the United States, then think again. The French gave the world a kinetic form of film comedy, and not only did the Danes perfect the art of the thriller, they gave the world its first bona fide movie star, Asta Nielsen, who scandalised cinema-goers everywhere with her erotic dance in 1910’s The Abyss.

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