GFF live: A Night at the Regal
Joe McAlinden, eagleowl and British Sea Power provide live soundtracks to short films and archive footage
It’s a nice idea for a site-specific Glasgow Film Festival event – drawing on the past life of the O2 ABC as one of the city’s grand old picture houses to host a quadruple-bill of short movies and video pieces set to live soundtracks. Beyond that restored façade on Sauchiehall Street though, there is nothing left of the Regal Cinema as it looked in 1929.
After 10 years as a thoroughly modern music venue, the interior looks and feels more like a chilly church hall repurposed for the night with folding chairs and a portable screen hung from the back of the stage. There’s a bit of confusion about etiquette too, with viewers in the back rows chatting over Monoganon’s short opening set of enigmatic VHS home movie scenes and witchy strum-and-drone scoring, as if half-watching the trailer for an art film they don’t want to see. Lost Map labelmates eagleowl play loud enough to drown this out with their heavy wordless shanty for John Grierson’s 1934 documentary Granton Trawler.
They must be sick of Dirty Three comparisons by now, but like that band, their winding strings and percussive swells and crashes would conjure images of thick ropes, rough seas, and men with deep-lined faces sorting fish into buckets, even without the visual accompaniment. The music seems to project the film straight out of your mind’s eye and onto the screen.
Their jazzy, loose-limbed intro to Norman McLaren’s abstract celluloid-painting experiment Begone Dull Care locks into a pleasing motorik groove to fit the shapes and colours. And their song ‘Too Late In The Day’ provides at least half the pathos of the Mark Cousins film Between Picture and Word – a sort of video travel diary that simulates the state induced by looking out the window while listening to a favourite record and almost dozing off on a homeward bus, train, or ferry journey.
This viewer found EDIT far less effective, a well-shot but atrociously written little road movie, cryptic yet obvious in the manner of the worst student films. Joe McAlinden is a literally marginal presence here, standing to one side and occasionally singing lyrics that echo the themes of the story with a lot more resonance than the borderline-unbearable scripted dialogue.
Then British Sea Power come on to play their rightly celebrated score for Penny Woolcock’s elegant assembly of footage from the BFI national archive. From The Sea To The Land Beyond tracks the last century or so of natural and social history around the UK coastline, from comical Edwardian beach games to warplanes exploding in the English Channel and the rise and fall of domestic shipbuilding. Romantic, dramatic, elegiac, the band’s soundtrack rearranges the most beautiful melodies of their first four albums into a single powerful suite that ebbs and flows with the editing patterns and occasionally drops out to let us hear these bygone Britons speak.
‘Freezing, horrible, I hate Blackpool,’ says one woman interviewed during a storm on the seafront. That gets a big laugh, but the overall effect is a gorgeous melancholy that at last invokes the cinema-going ghosts of the old Regal.
A Night at the Regal, part of the Glasgow Film Festival, Thu 19 Feb 2015.