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Last Updated: Monday, 13 September, 2004, 16:31 GMT 17:31 UK
Pet Shop Boys' score disappoints
By Finlo Rohrer
BBC News Online

Battleship Potemkin was once considered so incendiary that governments across the world, even the Soviet Union, banned it.

Battleship Potemkin screening
Thousands turned out for the screening
The powers-that-be feared cinema audiences would react to Sergei Eisenstein's 1925 silent masterpiece by rising up and overthrowing their oppressors.

Either the Londoners who attended the ICA's Trafalgar Square screening on Sunday night were a particularly inert bunch, or the tale of a mutiny during the 1905 Russian revolution has lost some of its power.

There was no attack on nearby Downing Street. Despite cheers for the compere's roll call of Stop the War demonstrations that had taken place on the same spot, everybody trooped home quietly afterwards.

And the irony of the screening of a classic piece of communist propaganda being sponsored by a business consultancy firm, CapGemini, and a Russian beer, Baltika, was probably not lost on them.

The occasion for the screening was provided by a Pet Shop Boys' performance of their new score, accompanied by the Dresden Sinfoniker.

The film itself was a watershed in cinema, perhaps the greatest of the silent age, a staple in critics' top 100s, and full of scenes famous even to those who have never seen it.

Battleship Potemkin - BFI

Its Manichean story of sailors rebelling, provoked by being offered maggot-ridden meat, pulls at the emotions.

The sailors are supported by the population of Odessa, before the civilians are brutally attacked by Tsarist troops, and the mutinous Battleship Potemkin has to face a squadron of the Russian fleet sent to punish it.

The massacre on the Odessa steps has been referred to by many other film-makers, and has a slew of powerful images.

The woman shot through the eye, the falling pram, and the woman holding her fatally wounded child in the long shadows of the faceless troops stand against any in the history of cinema.

And the film's three glorious crescendos, the rising on the ship, the steps massacre and the approach of the flag squadron, still grip.

The Pet Shop Boys' new soundtrack is decidedly ho-hum and noodly

Despite being 80-years-old, Eisenstein's film shows a mastery of the art of montage, and quick cutting that would not be out of place on MTV.

But like all films from the early period of cinema, its techniques have been so widely cannibalised that it is now more likely to inspire fascination than awe.

Many have tried their hand at scoring the film, something Eisenstein himself supported.

But the Pet Shop Boys' new soundtrack is decidedly ho-hum and noodly, somewhere between being at an Orbital gig where the background video has taken over, and listening to a substandard Tangerine Dream score.

The compere had ratcheted up the atmosphere in the September drizzle, recounting the history of political protest in the famous square, and showed why Trafalgar Square was such an appropriate venue.

And despite the patchy synthesiser score that accompanied it, Battleship Potemkin showed it still has power over the masses.

This debate is now closed. You can read a selection of your comments below.

Well the inclement weather certainly didn't help the evening, but the score and the event as a whole really worked well. We were encapsulated by the experience as a whole and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.
James & Jan, UK

I had a great night. The film was all the more powerful for being on the big screen with fantastic fidelity. I thought the score did work well, especially at the beginning where it heightened the tension and pent-up aggression of the film. The three songs held the score together and worked very well, especially on the steps. A thoroughly well done event.
Jenny, Cambridge, UK

I was there and I think the Pet Shop Boys' soundtrack was excellent. It complemented the film very cleverly. It was suitably moody and dramatic and never distracted attention from the film itself. All in all a very moving and fascinating experience in drizzly Trafalgar Square.
Joss Vamplew, London, UK

I was at the screening last night and thought it was an epic theatrical and political event. The whole surrounding crowd was captivated. I thoroughly disagree that the music was stale or inappropriate and think that the Pet Shop Boys brought a personal perspective to the film using their distinctive style. It is too easy to criticise what I believe was a musically brave and innovative piece of work. Brilliant.
Nathan Cresswell, Southend-on-Sea, UK

I thought the music was absolutely amazing. I'm not into silent films at all but the music was so good that I soon lost myself in it. I don't see how anyone could have thought any differently - it blew me away. Well done to the Pet Shop Boys!
Melissa Milham, London, UK

Was I at the same concert as your reviewer? The score was as gripping as the film, made more dramatic by the setting - even the light rain added to the feeling of being on a battleship in a storm. The famous Odessa steps scene reduced me to tears - I would love to see the spectacle repeated or at least released on DVD.
Ros Southern, Newcastle, UK

I was at the concert and felt that the soundtrack to the film was nothing short of fantastic. It merged the 1920s with the 21st Century perfectly and I feel that the score has proven once and for all just how talented Tennant/Lowe (aka Pet Shop Boys) really are as songwriters/composers.
Dan Johnson, Canterbury

I thought the whole event was fantastic. The Pet Shop Boys new score brought out the tension, drama and atmosphere in the film and enhanced it too.

The score was powerful, dark and haunting - just like the film. the music and the songs fitted the film perfectly and has given the film a fresh and new lease of life which will keep the film going for another 100 years!!!
Steve Higgins, Essex.

As usual the critics get it wrong. I drove for four hours from the south coast to see the live performance last night.

I had studied the movie at film school and knew of the emotive power the movie contained. The score was haunting brilliance and a contemporary twist on a classic masterpiece.

Everyone I spoke to commented on how much they enjoyed it and were looking forward to buying the score when released.
Steve Crabb, London

I, like 25,000 others, gathered in the square to watch the film, and like many of the others I cheered at the end to what was a wonderful soundtrack to a classic film.

At times, the score did go on a bit, just like the movie, and at times there seemed to be music for music sake, but overall, the Boys succeeded in providing a new and at times exciting piece of music for an over-rated and often at times dull film. I can't wait for the CD.
Darren Anderson, London

The show was amazing despite what the BBC reviewer seems to think. The music was imaginative and modern, and more than beating its purpose of providing a unique modern update for the 21st Century.

We had a fantastic time, even though it was cold and wet to begin with, and I cannot wait for a CD or DVD to be released (hopefully early next year)
Jonathan, Surbiton

I'm not sure what the reviewer was looking for in the Pet Shop Boys score but it wasn't that bad.

Maybe it would struggle as a stand alone piece of music but as a film score, which, let us not forget, is what it is, it worked very well bringing an sound dimension which complimented the film's visual impact. As a total event it was excellent.
Graham Calder, London, UK

Not sure what your reviewer was watching - maybe s(he) was fed up with the drizzle or had been refused entrance to the VIP area. The thousands of watchers around me were mesmerised and completely absorbed in both the soundtrack and the film. The balance of the music supporting the film but not overtaking was perfect. A truly amazing evening.
Jon Neill, London

I was quite surprised to read some of the rather lukewarm reviews in today's press, as everyone around me in the square last night seemed to have a very different experience to the members of the press in the VIP enclosure.

The film looked stunning on the big screen and I found the Pet Shop Boys music to be both challenging and sympathetic, and despite the modern electronic pulses, the score managed to convey emotion and drama faithfully without being inappropriate or intrusive.
Lee Woollard, London

I can't agree with your reviewer's opinion. I was at the performance, and thought it was fantastic, even with the bad weather.

I thought the soundtrack worked really well with the images.
Trish, Dublin, Ireland

As an aficionado of silent cinema, I attended the concert and was rewarded with a genuinely moving and modern score ameliorating the masterpiece. Bravo Tennant! Bravo Lowe! Bravo Eisenstein!
Lidia Satanas, Spain

I was at Trafalgar Square last night with my partner and friends - all of whom did not regret venturing out in the rain to see the Pet Shop Boys' deliverance of Battleship Potemkin's musical score. We throughly enjoyed both the film and the music - an appropriate fusion of the Dresden Symphonika, powerful Pet Shop Boys synthesizer and Neil Tennant's voice.
Ange Barton, Herts

The Pet Shop Boys in Trafalgar Square was highly ambitious and ultimately a moving way of re-introducing the film to a new audience.

The dramatic scenes on the Odessa steps were added a thrilling pace by the beat-driven soundtrack and everyone there, including the security guards, were enthralled.

It is not the easiest film to watch, but the new soundtrack made it impossible to walk away, even if that meant a light soaking. A triumphant moment of history in all ways.
Will Black, London

Your review is somewhat bizarre. Writing a score for the soundtrack of a classic film is very demanding, and to perform it live to thousands of people whilst they watched the film must be very rewarding.

Battleship Potemkin was unheard of for many people before yesterday. This event showed how powerful a film can be, and educated all that watched it. Eisenstein and the Pet Shop Boys should be very proud of their achievements.
David Elliott, Sussex

An incredible work of cinema with an eerie, stirring, brilliant soundtrack. The ancient film techniques meshed with the synthetic flourishes of the score - the reviewer's Orbital comment is a good comparison, although I certainly wouldn't drop such a name in the perjorative sense! - and while the audience reaction was, while thoroughly pleased, rather muted, the commanding presence of Nelson against the night sky alongside the orchestra and atmospheric lashes of rain meant this was a very special occasion - as well as a brave one.
Joseph, London

Well, standing in the rain for two hours isn't my idea of a good time....but I barely noticed. The music, not immediately an obvious choice for a 1925 silent film, was mesmerising. A captivating experience, and a great way to use the Square. Most amazingly of all it was free, and you don't usually get much for your money these days
Craig, London

I have to say that I am not a big fan of the Pet Shop Boys. However, I thought their performance last night was absolutely awesome. They gave the movie a new dimension, I got very emotional and I totally forgot where I was at times. The timing of the tracks with the images was spot on and made the movie look like a 3D one. Powerful, tasteful, superb.
Stephan Vernhes, London, UK

Sqaushed up and cramped on the top of the steps, peering over 6ft tall plus people, didn't help.

The screen could have been placed higher and the subtitles were sometimes superimposed over the Russian text. Good and OK effort by Pet Shop Boys.

Hardly 21st Century innovative music, considering the sounds from their synths were 80s analogue-sounding synths. Sometimes it sounded like a "Jean Michel Jarre meets Disco" effort.
Ran, London

It was so pathetic was to watch 80s pop legends screaming for attention using communist propaganda. I was brought up in that regime - I know that it wasn't the right alternative unfortunately - so thank you for the respect of the Velvet Revolution. What a misunderstanding between the crowd (full of people waiting just for Pet Shop Boys) and the idea of the viewing. I love ICA - but not everything can be perfect.
Juraj Benda, Trencin, Slovakia (currently London)

The concert was fantastic. The Pet Shop Boys really brought an old boring film into the 21st Century, allowing it to be seen and appreciated by a whole new audience. If you are close-minded and set in your ways then perhaps it may seem "ho-hum and noodly", however the thousands in Trafalgar Square certainly appreciated the Boys' efforts. Perhaps discriminatory Radio 1 will start playing their records again.
Paul Cannon, Croydon, UK

The Pet Shop Boys soundtrack melded brilliantly with the film, it really helped push some of the scenes forward. However, those who don't appreciate electronic music might not understand it.
Zio Cade, London, UK

I'm delighted to see so many comments questioning the critics' response to the event. The movie was amazing, and the soundtrack added its own special lustre and enhancement. The combination of live strings, synthesizer sound and a masterful bit of movie-making created a sense of emotion that was hard to ignore. Rather than sending us to "attack... Downing Street", the whole effect was a reminder of Beslan and Iraq. Something powerful and moving.
Trevor, London, UK

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