Underground

(2011)

Description
British Instructional Films (1928) Director: Anthony Asquith
Duration
92
Genres
Silent Film
Instrumentation
2(II=picc).2(II-ca).2.2 - 4231 - timp - perc(4) - harp - pno - strings (16.14.12.10.8)
Commission

Commissioned by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Barbican Concert Hall and the British Film Institute

First Performance
5.10.2011, Barbican Concert Hall, London, UK: BBC Symphony Orchestra/Timothy Brock
Availability

Score and parts for hire

Programme Notes
I've been waiting 20 years to see Underground properly, let alone work with it…
 
While its charms were apparent from the BFI viewing copy I first came across at a BFI Education summer school in 1989, there was a major problem with the print. The final chase, which is a violent and magnificently shot scuffle across the roof of Lots Road power station in Chelsea, through the slag heaps beneath, down onto the Underground lines and into a station, culminating in the station lift, was almost obliterated by nitrate damage. There were rumours of another print in Brussels but that was thought to be a dupe of the BFI's original. Turns out it wasn’t. Thankfully, the whole film now exists in a newly-restored print to wow modern audiences, and I have no doubts that it will. 
 
Like Hitchcock, Asquith has put ‘his’ London on screen, unexpected enough for the son of a British Prime Minister, but more intriguing still is the fact that it contains the odd touch of magical realism and real romance to leaven the dark shadows, intense passions and black humour of Hitch. That, for me, is the key to the score. Underground has its whimsical side which will ultimately win out (although, like Hitchcock’s films, the changes of pace and tone are bold, subtly made and clearly signalled) so I can inject an overriding warmth into the music as well as reflecting the period as much as possible. 
 
My first theme is a reasonably modernist one, mirroring the headlong rush of the tube train (matched in the ferocity of Mclaglen’s plot against Aherne as well as the final chase), and I can't wait to get to grips with Nora Baring's magnificent performance, with its heartbreaking sincerity and slow descent into madness. But the most exciting opportunity will be, for me, the most cliched - for the first time in a big score, I will be able to indulge myself with a proper love theme that develops through the film (Underground's will come to its full flowering in the beautiful open-top bus ride to Epping Forest). I say for the first time because neither Piccadilly, Cat and the Canary or Blackmail allow too much time for out-and-out romance. 
 
Underground is a truly British creation, its quirks and concerns are very much those of its director (and, arguably, its slightly patrician view of the lower classes) and its view of London and its tube is unique. This is one film whose time back in front of the public is very long overdue and whose survival is a real testament to the archives who have, as always, wrought miracles of resurrection. I also have high hopes that, musically, this year's LFF will be just the start for this truly great picture.
 

© Neil Brand

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