Pet Shop Boys/Battleship Potemkin, Trafalgar Square

An electronic revolution on board Battleship Potemkin
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The Independent Culture

Fifteen years ago, Trafalgar Square looked more like downtown Beirut, greeting you with smouldering cars, smashed-out shop-fronts and wailing sirens that were the soundtrack to the Poll Tax riots of April 1990. Last night, in its new, traffic-free piazza guise, it combined revolutionary cinema, electropop and a classical orchestra, as the Pet Shot Boys debuted their soundtrack to Eisenstein's cinema classic Battleship Potemkin.

Fifteen years ago, Trafalgar Square looked more like downtown Beirut, greeting you with smouldering cars, smashed-out shop-fronts and wailing sirens that were the soundtrack to the Poll Tax riots of April 1990. Last night, in its new, traffic-free piazza guise, it combined revolutionary cinema, electropop and a classical orchestra, as the Pet Shot Boys debuted their soundtrack to Eisenstein's cinema classic Battleship Potemkin.

The film's most famous scene, on the Odessa Staircase with the pram and the screaming woman, was an inspiration to the likes of Francis Bacon, and now to one of England's most consistent purveyors of archly intellectual pop hits.

It's a blustery, wet autumnal evening that welcomes the crowds to this artistic rebranding of a traditionally political rallying point, with the meteorological tailback of hurricane Ivan adding its own soundtrack as the film opens.

Working with the German composer Torsten Rasch and the 26-strong Dresdener Symphoniker, the soundtrack includes three new songs in a largely instrumental score, and it is all a decidedly internationalist enterprise.

Musicians cluster under the high screen, Nelson with his back to them, disdaining this business of insurrection. The Pet Shop Boys stand to the side barely visible. What accompanies the opening images of the ship and its men is an update on systems music, Ashra-tinged guitar, a superlative clubland take on the Kosmische music of the 70's, with its spirit of uprising and entrancement. It provided a superlative musical pulse to accompany Eisenstein's visual and editing genius. Today's pop video universe lumbers besides any of the scenes from Potemkin.

A roar goes up from the crowd when the firing squad refuses to shoot the mutineers and a deep baseline opens the mutiny scenes. The music works best approaching a crescendo of action rather than reaching it. The more ambient, building passages prove the most effective but with images this good - even Gallowglass security teams watch the screen more than the crowd - you'd have to go seriously wrong to lose your audience.

The Odessa Staircase scene comes with one of the soundtrack's signature songs with its refrain "why did we go to war'' as the townsfolk cheer on the Potemkin. With a crowd estimated at 25,000 this must be the largest audience for an art movie ever recorded. I'd like to say that afterwards, seized by revolutionary fervour, the crowd descended upon Downing Street to deliver some revolutionary justice. But that didn't happen.

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