In The Nursery: The
Passion of Joan of Arc/Jo Quail
- 1 June 2013
images were somehow spilling out of the bottom of the screen"
Leonard's, or plain old Shoreditch church as it
is often referred to as, is a large, active urban C of E church, ten
minutes walk from Old Street tube station. It is best-known from the
words to the nursery rhyme “Oranges and Lemons”: “When I grow rich, say the bells
of Shoreditch”, and is also where several noted actors
from the Tudor period are buried. So even though it always has been,
and remains, predominantly a place of worship, there's been a
theatrical aspect to the venue for much of its existence. There was
something slightly mysterious, exotic even about walking up to such an
imposing building, as dusk descended, with the objective of seeing a
film accompanied by a live score instead of the kind of worship it is
used to. The entrance to the vestibule was via two large wooden doors.
One of which was closed and adorned with posters and hand-written
information about this evening's performance. The other door was ajar,
just enough to see the interior bathed in a warming and welcoming
orange light. We stepped inside...
Cellist Jo Quail
was the support act. Only 'cellist' doesn't really provide much of an
indication of her sound or style, nor does it do justice to her set.
We'd missed about the first half. What we did hear was essentially
Quail and her electric cello with abstract projections behind her in
sync with the music. Quail introduced, at some length, each of the
pieces she played. Though this came across as a little unusual in the
context of the evening, here it most definitely helped understand and
appreciate her compositions. For example, when she explained that one
piece was written about the large timbers that are revealed
on a beach off the west coast of England when the
wind is up and the tide goes out. It was then almost
to visualise the scene as she played. Which for me demonstrated that
her writing really was evocative of its inspiration.
Some of In The Nursery's
performances of their film scores in the UK are a rare as hens teeth.
Even though their soundtrack for Carl Theodor Dreyer's acknowledged
silent classic The
Passion of Joan of Arc was released in 2008, the
accompanying live performances at the time were very limited.
Consequently, this was the first chance I'd had to not only hear it in
a live setting, but The
Passion of Joan of Arc was a gap in my otherwise fairly
extensive knowledge of silent German cinema. As a coming together of
different disciplines across the divide of the best part of a century
this was nigh on perfect. ITN's score is one of their less 'typical'
ones, by which I mean their characteristic sounds are played down in
favour of a much broader classical palette. It also incorporates an
element of foley work, such as the sound of flames during the climatic
final act. They've opted for instrumentation (or at least
sounds) that although obviously not slavishly of the era in which the
film is set is, nevertheless, designed to (and does) sit naturally with
The setting inside Shoreditch church was ideal. It meant the religious
iconography in the film extended beyond the two dimensions of the
screen, surrounding the congregation sat in the hard wooden pews. With
the Humberstone twins delivering their score live, this really was an
immersive experience. The placement of a very large lone candle,
positioned on the floor deliberately between ITN's live equipment
set-up and at the foot of the screen, flickering as it was throughout,
created the phantom impression that Dreyer's images were somehow
spilling out of the bottom of the screen and into the church.
Dreyer's film itself lives up to all that I've heard about it down the
years. It is astonishing. It feels as much like a film purporting
to have been released in 1928 rather than actually having been released
in that year as it just doesn't feel as old as it is. The script was
based on verbatim transcripts of the real
trial of Joan of Arc (she of Roman Catholic saint and OMD song fame
;-)), and given the creative and artistic restrictions Dreyer placed
upon himself and his production team, it's a testament to the
remarkable skill of him and his cohort of filmmakers that such a
dry-sounding proposition is about as far away from that as it is able
to experience. It is totally captivating. Renne Jeanne Falconetti's
leading performance (shot extensively in extreme close-up) provides
both the heart and soul of the film. Hers really is one of the all-time
best on-screen performances you'll ever have the fortune to witness.
What ITN have achieved with their score then is really very clever. Due
to the effort to sound contemporary with the period
depicted, it never intrudes on the images. Rather it eases their flow.
It also manages to quicken the pulse and emphasise the drama without
falling into dramatics itself. As a stand alone score it works well on
its own terms.
Presented in combination with the visuals for which
it was composed, it is a potent and moving experience.