Sometimes events come along in London that remind you why you put up with the noise, the grime and the astronomical rent. The first Sonic Cinema at BFI Southbank was one such event.
On Friday night, in collaboration with PrettyFresh, the BFI hosted a screening of the original 1933 King Kong film with an alternative soundtrack put together and played live by DJ, Rob da Bank. It’s hard to know what to expect from a description like that and we had never listened to Rob Da Bank’s slot on Radio 1*. Not that it matters because even a group of Radio 4 listeners like us, rapidly growing old before our time, thought the whole night was awesome.
You most likely already know the story and if not, it’s been 78 years since the original release so I’m sure the statute on spoilers must have expired by now. Pretty lady goes to island populated by dinosaurs and giant ape. Giant ape kidnaps pretty lady. Sailors save pretty lady and take giant ape to New York. Giant ape escapes and re-kidnaps pretty lady. Giant ape gets shot off the Empire State Building. It’s a film that’s stood up well and the mixture of models and live-action, with the seams obvious to a modern audience, is still enough to make you wince.
From Pixies to Bon Iver to Lee Scratch Perry to Sigur Ros to Harry Connick Jnr to dubstep I know nothing about, the scenes on screen were in turns complemented and contrasted with Rob Da Bank’s record choices. The Flaming Lips was gorgeous when on the sea; while accompanying the islanders with Black Sabbath was thrilling. He also brought out the humour in scenes where you wouldn’t expect it: one of the highlights and biggest laughs of the film was the escape from Kong, scored by Springsteen’s “Born to Run”. And all through ran King Kong‘s theme: Woo Boost by Rusko.
The actual audio track, including the dialogue, was off more often than on and there were subtitles all the way through. As a result, the whole worked best when there was no speech and it was entirely the music that carried you through the journey. This also served to smooth over the parts that can seem unintentionally comical to people watching now, such as stilted dialogue and primitive special effects.
Afterwards, one person was overheard as thinking it was “a bit too loud” and admittedly, it did at times feel like being in a club that’s playing a film purely as visual distraction, but we left excited and energised, pleased to have taken a punt on an unusual event of unknown quality and finding it good.
Sonic Cinema returns on 4th November with Anyone Can Play Guitar, a new documentary on Oxford’s music scene, followed by an Adam Buxton-hosted Q&A with director Jon Spira and members of both Radiohead and Supergrass. It will no doubt be an entirely different experience but if the first in the series is anything to judge by, one worth checking out.
*But as it’s on at 5am, if you are a Radio 1 listener and awake at that time, surely you are out?