Duke of York’s Cinema, Brighton, 17th October
Since Siouxsie and the Banshees disbanded in ’96, founder member Steve Severin has carved out something of a career for himself as a soundtrack artist. This was but one of many things in life which passed me by, until he came to Brighton to provide a live soundtrack to one of my favourite films - Jean Cocteau’s ‘Blood of a Poet’.
As were many, I was a big fan of the Banshees back in the day. But of course it’s cool (and probably truer to their spirit) for Severin to be doing something new and different, and not playing ’Hong Kong Gardens’ to the nostalgia circuit. So you’re better off forgetting all you’ve heard before and listening afresh to what’s happening now. And yet the promise of the name can’t be banished, it continues to stir up expectations. You may want to hold that thought while reading the rest of this review...
I did at times wonder if the piece was devised as a kind of musical sweet and sour, alternating between rolling synth washes and outbreaks of industrial clatter. Yet this would suggest that the film somehow swaps between dream and nightmare sections, while the whole point to me is that it’s some unnerving combination of the two.
Cocteau is often depicted as the dreamer against Bunel’s nightmare visions, the Jung to his Freud, but this debut film is actually astonishingly savage. (The ‘flying child’ sequence alone is enough to give me the heebie jeebies!) It’s all about artists being compelled to create works which then entrap them, like devil imps. Or how love for the other is but a sublimated eroticised death wish... truth to tell, I’ve no real idea what it’s about, but of course that’s all part of its compelling quality!
Ultimately the soundtrack didn’t really capture the film I was watching. It was all perfectly serviceable. But is serviceable enough for such a film? Don’t we need something mad or else the soundtrack will simply act as the straight man?
Like lot of live soundtracks, I also found it lacked silence. It’s like the way workmen will always act busy when the boss shows up, put a musician before a live audience and they want to be seen to be doing stuff all the time. Yet a great artist knows the value of not doing something. In Georges Auric's original score, the scene where the Poet falls through the mirror into endless blackness is kept eerily silent. Any sound simply stains the impact of such as scene!
I may perhaps be skeptical about the use of electronics at all. Cocteau used the bare rudiments of film, but grasped them with such deranged determination that he shook life into them. Perhaps the ideal soundtrack would be similarly rudimentary, music concrete or something utilizing the simplest of music room instruments – recorders and triangles bent into something sinister.
Of course, with a film that so determinedly defies interpretation, you could have a dozen wildly different soundtracks and none of them be ‘wrong’. But the ideal accompaniment for me might come from the sadistic tape loops of Nurse With Wound. Or, were they not so all-fired English, the pared-down, cut-up menacing whimsy of Volcano the Bear.
Coming soon! More of this sort of thing...