Newsreel 1, Sadler's Wells, London

 

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The Independent Culture

The Newsreel series, a new venture by film-maker Alex Reuben, has a very appealing concept. Each film will record social, cultural and political events from city streets, edited up to the last minute and rushed into the cinema. The first film shows the scope of Reuben's film-making, but also the pitfalls of his project.

He is best-known for Routes: Dancing to New Orleans, an acclaimed road movie that recorded American music and dance on its way to New Orleans. The film had no commentary, simply showing the performances and their social context.

The first Newsreel, also without voiceover, focuses on movement, from protest marches to community events. Though speed and immediacy is the goal of the series, this first film covers Reuben's backlog, with material going back several years. At its best, the apparently neutral recording of passersby can be memorable. Two men lie asleep on a sunny pavement, oblivious to traffic and crowds. A wedding party crowd around the bride and groom, sliding from congratulations to dance and back again. The inhabitants of a block of flats make hanging baskets.

Reuben's no-comment approach can be self-conscious. There are long close-ups of brick walls or moving leaves. His camera lingers on hands or feet rather than faces. The crowd sequences can feel determinedly upbeat. (Reuben did film the recent riots, but there's no footage: he lost his camera in the disorder.)

If the filming style is self-conscious, it can make some of the events look downright arch. Newsreel 1 records several arts events, from a pub singsong to people dancing in fields. Reuben clearly celebrates community art, but these scenes are strangely unspontaneous.

There's a bigger problem with Reuben's recording of Swarm, a large-scale community event at the Barbican. Amateur participants and members of Orlando Gough's ensemble The Shout move through the arts complex, singing and gesturing. Reuben films them from the crowd, almost the whole performance, without editing – he refuses to impose his own narrative on the event.

The event is cramped by the camera, missing the scale of a live performance – but Reuben's refusal to edit here means that it doesn't have the drive of conventional film-making. It's like being stuck at the back of the crowd, and it goes on for ages.

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