Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Underground (1928): Anthony Asquith

LFF: Passions run deeper than the Northern Line in Anthony Asquith's tale of love, jealousy, treachery and murder on the London Underground. Eighty years later, your average tube ride might not be quite as eventful, but anyone who has exploited the city's public transport system to romantic advanrage will find much to recognise. Restored by the BFI National Archive and presented with a live performance of Neil Brand's new score by the Ptima Vista Social Club, Asquith's working class love story is one of the great British silen feature films. It is also one of the great films about the capital - a journey through the Underground (many of the scenes were filmed at Waterloo) via old London boozers and open-topped buses to a climactic chase through Lots Road power station that magnificently reveals the smoking roofscape of the coal-fuelled city. In the late 1920s Asquith, along with Hitchcock, was one of the most audacious talents working in British film. At the age of only 26 he demonstrates and assured and spare style with some remarkably cinematic flourishes clearly inspired by contemporary German and Russian filmmakers. For many years restoration of 'Underground' presented insurmountable difficulties. With recent developments in digital technology available to the BFIO's film restoration team we have now been able to make a significant improvement to the surviving film elements.

MGP: Let me get the gripes out of the way first. A pair of boring, self-congratulary speeches are possibly par for gala performances but added nothing except annoyance at the delay. The Prima Vista Social Club (how banal) did nothing to help the film - quite the contrary; they played between forte and fortissimo almost the entire time. The scenes in the store and the picnic scene would have been better off with hardly any music at all rather than the overpowering noise there was. This left me feeling less generous towards the film than I might have been. The story is trite and melodramatic, the acting wooden and the camerawork nothing out of the ordinary though I am prepared to accept that some of the angles may have been innovative in Englsh filmmaking. The location shots did add something, particularly at Lots Road, though I could not work out the link between that location and the final shots on the Underground as the nearest line is some distance away. I suppose having an 80 year old film is watchable condition is something to be praised but it is no masterpiece.

1 comment:

pppatty said...

I think it's true that your annoyance at the very delayed start and your dislike of the music contributed to your indifference to this film. While I agree with the above distractions, I did find it of great historical interest and therefore well worth the view. I'd have no qualms watching it again on DVD -- and one could always turn down the music if it was as intrusive.