In The Nursery's fourth soundtrack for a silent film is touring the country at the moment. There was a performance at the Barbican cinema in London but as that clashed with Black Celebration II, I chose to head up to Cambridge a weekend earlier to catch the band perform their latest score.
ITN have always created music suitable for use in films, but a few years ago they embarked upon a new venture - to compose new scores for silent films. The first was a magnificent new soundtrack for the German expressionist classic The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, followed by the equally impressive Asphalt and more recently (but less successfully) Man With A Movie Camera. Hindle Wakes, a British film dating from 1927, tells the controversial story of two cotton mill girls' (mis)adventures on their annual holiday during Wakes Week. Not quite the innocent young girl she appears to be, for Fanny what begins as a week of fun by the sea turns into a time of tragedy and shame. Refusing to bow to social pressure, Fanny risks all by fighting for her rights as a liberated female.
In The Nursery's sympathetic score is one of their best yet. Their subtle accompaniment perfectly complimenting the visuals, so much so that at times I forgot they were even there, which of course is the idea. Not afraid to dip back into their past for the odd cue or melody (as they have done with their previous scores), ITN have reworked earlier material for inclusion in their score for Hindle Wakes and this works fine, for the most part. The exception is where the extracts appear to hark back to one of their earlier film scores, as one cannot help but think back to the other film and be distracted in doing so.
As for the film itself, it is a dramatic and moving drama about class, duty, honour, tragedy, shame, stigma and freedom. The subjects it touches on (such as sex out of wedlock) must have made for pretty heady and controversial viewing in 1927, and although unavoidably a period piece, the story still carries a great deal of resonance for today's audiences. The photography, production design and direction are all impressive and the performances, particularly from the female leads, are compelling. The captivating insights offered into life in a Lancashire mill town of the 1920s are all the more remarkable when you consider this was what life was like for many just over 70 years ago. Thankfully, the film doesn't play the unconvincing "they may have been poor but they were happy" card. Instead, the regional dialect (captured wonderfully in the title cards) and some beautiful images, such as the white cotton from the soles of the mill workers' shoes covering the cobbled streets like a light dusting of snow, creates a poetic but believable town of Hindle and its inhabitants.
One memorable scene in the film is set in a vast music hall where hundreds of couples dance to the jazz band on stage. It was a delight to hear ITN perform a piece in the style of 20s Dixie jazz instead of attempting to juxtapose the images with contemporary music (as they did with their last score for Man With A Movie Camera). This interlude also provided the all too rare opportunity to see and hear one of the Humberstone twins play live guitar. Although based largely around laptops and keyboards live (mostly out of practicality I assume), the score, like their non-film soundtrack work, has plenty of non-electronic instrumentation. It is in sensitively combining traditional instrumentation with the latest technology that sets In The Nursery apart from their peers and their score for Hindle Wakes showcases that talent superbly.
In The Nursery: Electric Edwardians