'Revolution is war," reads the caption from V I Lenin on the huge screen in front of Nelson's Column. "Of all the wars known in history, it is the only lawful, rightful, just, and truly great war. This war is not waged in the selfish interests of a handful of rulers and exploiters, like any and all other wars, but in the interests of the masses of the people against the tyrants, in the interests of the toiling and exploited millions upon millions against despotism and violence." To see these still-resonant words projected in a public space with clear sightlines to the seat of government in one direction, and the residence of the monarchy in the other, at the foot of a monument to an imperial warlord, and as the bloody aftershocks of Britain's latest lawless, wrongful and unjust war continue to be felt, is an improbable and invigorating experience.
The idea of re-scoring Sergei Eisenstein's silent 1925 masterpiece, Battleship Potemkin, first came from Philip Dodd, director of the ICA, who approached the Pet Shop Boys and the Dresdner Sinfoniker string orchestra about putting on this free event in Trafalgar Square. Eisenstein himself believed that Battleship Potemkin should have a new soundtrack every 10 years, and Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe are not new to this - they have previously recorded a piece of music to accompany 1999's solar eclipse, not to mention the Closer to Heaven album and the score to their own It Couldn't Happen Here. They are an inspired choice for this latest attempt, having already brought together gay disco and Soviet high camp on their video to "Go West".
Before tonight's screening, Simon McBurney of Complicite (who helped stage the event) makes a rabble-rousing speech - although, in all honesty, the nice thirty- and fortysomethings (plus a scattering of Yentobs, Rushdies, Street-Porters and even Mel Brooks) who form the majority of the throng could hardly be described as a "rabble" - accompanied by a montage tracing the Square's history as an arena for political protest, from Stop The War via Aldermaston and the Miners back to the Suffragettes, although the continuing relevance of Eisenstein's film, like Lenin's words, barely needs stating.
Based on real events, Battleship Potemkin tells the story of a Bolshevik-led naval mutiny. The largely instrumental score from PSB and the 26-strong Sinfoniker, sheltered from the mild drizzle under the screen itself, consists of dark, complex synth music, often reminiscent of Giorgio Moroder's score for Midnight Express, or early Kraftwerk, interspersed with restful piano interludes. Early on, Tennant delivers an extract from the Lord's Prayer, plaintively sings "Brothers, we are your brothers..." during the firing squad scene, there are sampled voices chanting "Da! Nyet! Da! Nyet!" at the height of the conflict, a lament with the refrain "this is no time for tears" at the death of ringleader Vakulinchuk, and another with the repeated line, "If you don't really understand the cause..." during the Cossacks' brutal shooting of the rebels on the steps of the opera house.
Some elements, inevitably, have dated badly. And despite the intrinsic drama of the subject-matter, the film often drags: the approach of the Potemkin to the rest of the Russian fleet, sent to crush it, almost seems to happen in real time (and PSB do a sterling job to speed things along, with music mimetic of machinery, engines gradually hitting full speed). Nevertheless, seeing it again, in this context and with this music, was a revolutionary experience. More please.
Suitably sober and soberly suited, black shirt, black tie, I head out to see Interpol. It's only right. Here are the young men, the weight of their guitar straps on their shoulders. They won't thank me for saying it, but Interpol are a hoot. Despite, or more likely because of their carefully-calculated air of sombre seriousness, the NYC mood-rock quartet are inescapably amusing. When singer Paul Banks declaims words like "stabbing ... yourself ... in the neck!" or "subway is a porno!" in his best Stars in Their Eyes' Ian Curtis, it's difficult not to giggle.
It's been said before, but Interpol want to be Joy Division so much it hurts. And to emulate Mancunian indie in general. We can talk about "influenced by" and "informed by" all day, but we all know that when they made "Say Hello To The Angels", Fogarino turned to bassist Carlos D, guitarist Daniel Kessler and drummer Sam Fogarino in the studio and said "OK guys, you play 'This Charming Man' by The Smiths, change it a bit, and I'll sing something over the top." Banks is not Interpol's most watchable member, by the way. That's Carlos, with the severe Gestapo haircut, and matching crimson tie and armband. He's fascinatingly ugly-pretty, like a greasepainted B-movie villain, or a fairground-mirror Molko. Underneath his armpit, somewhat worryingly, is a leather holster. Carlos aside, Interpol's only concession to showbiz is the elongated pause in "PDA". All that's left is the music. Which, on the material from Turn on the Bright Lights and the new album Antics, is elegiac, sometimes energising, but always a background noise. And this is why, ultimately, while Interpol may enhance lives, like a good drink or an average drug, they'll never change them. At best, they'll change dress senses.
In last week's column, I attributed a homophobic comment about Will Young to Kasabian. In fact, it was Mani (Stone Roses/Primal Scream bassist), not Kasabian, who made the remark in a joint NME interview. Apologies.Reuse content