wed 19/06/2024

Brighton Festival: Brighton – Symphony of a City, Brighton Dome | reviews, news & interviews

Brighton Festival: Brighton – Symphony of a City, Brighton Dome

Brighton Festival: Brighton – Symphony of a City, Brighton Dome

A cinematic cross-section of life in London-by-Sea

Fire and water: Brighton by night

Brighton’s barely a city. It was awarded the title in 2004 without having to build a cathedral, or become bigger than a greatly swollen version of Brighthelmstone, the fishing village it once was, hemmed in from further growth by the South Downs and the sea. For all the relentless tide of London incomers and tourists, and the bustle of the bohemian North Laine, most of Brighton is quiet and peaceful, hardly urban compared to the capital.

Fitting it into the venerable “city symphony” film genre, defined by the magically evocative Berlin: Die Sinfonie der Großstadt (1927), is a challenge partially met by this Brighton Festival commission.

Ed Hughes’s score in seven movements, played live by the Orchestra of Light and Sound (tonight combining professional players with Sussex students), matches Lizzie Thynne’s otherwise silent film as it moves from dawn to night. Jagged strings and percussion soundtrack fast-cut scenes of the morning rush hour around Brighton station, bakers and coffee shops. Later, strings and woodwind are more pastorally restful during the annual Gay Pride parade, a moving contrast to its riotous sonic reality which suggests the distinctiveness city status does demand: Brighton as a libertarian, sexually diverse stronghold. More than most English places, there’s licence here to do as you like.

Thynne intercuts brief vintage footage, contrasting today’s struggling but wonderful Open Market with its Sixties ancestor. Brighton’s wide radical streak is shown in a 1938 march including banners from the local Co-op and the Communist Party of Eastbourne, their embattled hope about to be swept away: “21 Years of Peace”; “Act and It Can Be Done”; “No Unemployment in Russia”; “International Brigade – Welcome Home”. Wreath-laying for recent Spanish Civil War dead cuts to the War Memorial today, then a “Remember Gaza” banner, and flower-petals scattered by protesters in the sea. Thynne rhymes like this elsewhere, cutting from a cemetery to lively kids at a skateboard park. She also borrows from previous city symphonies with fictive moments, as when two women lock gazes in a bookshop window, and leave together.

Seeing familiar sights from a different, big-screen angle is fun for locals. The constant, poignant revelation in seeing 1927 Berlin won’t come yet, though. Maybe Southern Rail trains and grainless digital footage, dull-looking now, will gain a nostalgic strangeness with time, as the sight of people walking in a lost era usually does. The University of Sussex students filmed tapping at laptops and absorbed by screens, in between the usual youthful adventures, may date most evocatively.

The programme’s second half continued the silent film theme with a double-bill of Harold Lloyd’s Never Weaken (1921) and Laurel and Hardy’s Liberty (1929), with Neil Brand superbly at the piano (though Lloyd hated it as accompaniment). Lloyd’s bright irreverence and excruciatingly drawn-out sequence of attempted suicide then attempted survival, scrabbling and falling across dizzyingly high building-site girders, was urban, silent genius, crossing almost a century to fill a hall with howls of laughter.


You have described it all well enough. But you haven't said how dull the Brighton & Hove film sequences were. Thynne  hasn't got to understand Brighton at all, except perhaps as a mish-mash of its obvious cliches (beach life, pier, gay-pride, buses on Western Road, shopping, Sussex University buildings). Pathetic really. How about the very visual and exciting art, textiles and design at Brighton University; people praying at mosques, synagogues and churches; women dancing at Zumba classes or rehearsing choirs; the orchestras, the fringe and main theatres, the Albion football games and crowds; fun the parks; school life; the Royal Pavilion (for heaven's sake!); foreign students here to learn English and find freedom from parents. On top of which there is a huge weight of wonderful archive film of Brighton that this film-maker has failed to find. What a missed opportunity!


I agree absolutely with Esther's comments; what a missed opportunity! I would add it barely touched on the wonderful range of Brighton and Hove's architecture, and as Esther's indicates, totally bizzarre not to feature the Pavilion at all !!


Couldn't agree more!  What a dull and disappointing film! Boring clips (of dust carts and office workers tapping on computers for example) and very little old footage of which there must have been lots to chose from.  It wasn't even well shot.  Thank heavens for the silent films after the interval!!

I think a lot more could have been done with this film. There were gimpses of interest as with some archive footage but there needed to be more of that and less dull repetative foootage of buses in the rain and The Brighton Eye. Lots of shots of tapping on keyboards which also could have been jettisoned at the editing stage. The opening shots were really good of the intrepid swimmers and I really liked the musical score. 

I didn't think It would be possible to make a boring film about our raffish city that 'always looks as if it's helping the police with their inquiries' (Keith Waterhouse), but I've been proved wrong. One or two good tricks, like the archive film on the mobile screen, but generally it hardly scratched the surface and, as others have said, nothing about The Albion or the Pavilion, and little about the Lanes and North Laine or of the genuinely eccentrics who live in the city ('Only in Brighton...')

I enjoyed the music but felt the piece over Pride was wrongly restrained when exuberance would have been better

Overall, an underwhelming evening

Firstly thanks very much to Nick Hasted for his helpful reiew of our project. It's hard to get reviews for independent projects so this is really appreciated. Secondly a few responses to your readers who have kindly taken the time to post their thoughts. Inevitably people will have their own views about what they think is important in the city and a 45 min film will  be highly selective and reflect the film-makers' partial view and intentions as well as the time of year in which the film is made (in this case the winter since the film was commisioned in Noevmebr and had to be ready by April) . (Thus not possible for instance to film language students who mainly come in summer). In order to give the film a structure and also to provide different moods and moments for the music ( which the film is primarily made to accompany)  we followed the dawn to dusk structure of 'Berlin: Symphony of a City' and so what we filmed also had to give a sense of different times of day and what one might see at these times including mimicking some of the activites in our original silent film model. At the same time we wanted to introduce some historical elements integrating archive into the day-in -a life-format. There isn't acutally a lot of archive of Brighton that we could afford which isn't about the seafront and the usual places as it was mainly shot by amateurs on holiday - we drew on some of the best sections we could find of this from the wonderful Screen Archive South East who advised us as well as the amzing footage of the Communist Paty from the 1930s.

The Pavilion does actually appear but deliberately not in the kind of shot one usually sees of it. I filmed supporters at Albion but  we couldn't find a way of incorporating it in the end. Permission to film at matches is very restricted as is access to schools for security/child protection reasons. Brighton isn't an especially religous city so we didn't film people worshipping but we did in fact show the 'Rise Up' choir performance in St. Barts. We also, I think, had some effective fottage of the North Laine. We wanted to produce a fiilm which presented some of Brighton's attractions although not perhaps in an expected way as well as highlighting aspects of its more everyday and festive life. We did shoot more of the city's architecture but in the end we thought that seeing the city's people was as important as seeing its buidlings. I agree some more footage of Brighton's art-making would have been nice to get but we did include shows from two key theatres - the wodnderful circus show "Flown" from the Dome and the puppet show 'Touched' from the Marlborugh. we were also interested in how people 'perform' for the camera in everyday life too though. anyway thanks again for coming to see the film!

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