Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Silents are golden

Following wonderful presentations of Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot (attended by Rowan Atkinson) and Le grand amour, with director Pierre Etaix, the team from Fondation Groupama Gan was back at London's Ciné lumière this week with A Trip to the Moon (1902, pictured). Georges Méliès's classic - just think of that image of the rocket embedded in the moon's eye - has been restored to its original colour, with a soundtrack by Air.

The French pop duo, who previously scored The Virgin Suicides (1999), had only a month to create the soundtrack and say they left the mix deliberately raw to match the filmmaker's methods. It channels their own fascination with the moon and psychedelia, though the use of sound effects - including farmyard animal noises - doesn't do it for me.

Pop is increasingly used to soundtrack old silent films, most notably Pet Shop Boys' work on Battleship Potemkin (1925). At the time of their Trafalgar Square concert screening, Neil Tennant spoke of director Sergei Eisenstein's wish that the film be rescored every decade. Pioneering music producer Giorgio Moroder famously pursued clips of Metropolis (1924) to every corner of the planet before releasing a colourised version of Fritz Lang's sci-fi classic in 1984 with a soundtrack including Pat Benatar and Freddie Mercury (on Love Kills, covered by Little Boots).

A Trip to the Moon's 14,000 frames were originally hand-tinted by 200 artists and it's a rediscovered print of this version that formed the basis for this restoration. Air also had the luxury of not having to compete with any existing soundtrack but, like Moroder's labour of love, it's hoped the soundtrack will attract a new audience to a classic that was well-known if little seen.

Scissor Sisters' John Garden (son of Graeme!) plays live accompaniment to a series of Méliès films at Ciné lumière tonight (NB Wednesday 14 December). Highlights of Air's Q&A following the screening of A Trip to the Moon will appear here

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