Potemkim Shop Boys

In 1984, no one died.
In 1985, no one died.
In 1986, no one died.
In 1987, no one died.
In 1988 . . . I could go on . . .?

Steve Coogan’s night watchman in The Day Today is the very essence of dull, bureaucratic, conformist Britain. He endures his job and doesn’t complain. It is unlikely that he would ever attended a public protest in Trafalgar Square.

Since 1845, there have been over a thousand protests in the square and, in the introduction to the Pet Shop Boys live soundtrack to Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin, we got to hear about nearly all of them.

In 1966, a protest against the Vietnam war.
In February 2003, a Stop the War protest.
In May 2003. a Stop the War protest.
In August 2003, a Stop the War protest.
They’re not listening are they?!!

As a friend quipped “in 1939, a protest to stop the war.”

All of the dates were essential bravado to turn this cultural event into a Cultural Event. It was the contextual underpinning needed in order to make it all seem relevant. It was, in a word, propaganda. Propaganda for a “rejuvenated” left that has masked its past under the banner of the Stop the War coalition.

Alas, only a few muted cheers greeted the footage of the protests. I suppose, like all 80s pop bands, the Pet Shop Boys are still affected by the taint of Thatcherism, by fans who interpret Opportunities (let’s make lots of money) as a yuppie anthem.

None of the people in the square last nigh were likely to protest or set up a revolutionary commune within the city of Westminster. If Elias Cannetti had been there, he would have been forced to changed the name of his book to Crowds and Anonymity: at a football match crowds are collective beasts, here, everyone was ultra-careful not to step on anyone’s foot. The only unpredictable cheer came when one rather cautious man took down his golfing umbrella five minutes after it stopped raining.

The film itself is still technically incredible. The editing was thirty years ahead of its time and still exciting; the shots of the Odessa steps are as immortal as Picasso’s Guernica. To this scene the Pet Shop Boys added a particularly intense dance beat, compelling some of us to shuffle our feet a little.

For the most part though, the music was not very much like the Pet Shop Boys. At times, it was like a combination of Kraftwerk and Air, but with enough variety to keep it interesting over the 80 minutes. Nevertheless, whatever it was as a performance, it wasn’t a great soundtrack. It drew too much attention away from the film.

The message of the film – that the bourgeoisie are all rotters and we should all rise up against them – lacked subtlety. Sailors who rose up against their masters because their meat was full of maggots would nowadays be placated by processed meat in McDonalds. Probably.

But, whatever the shortcomings, synth duos should be encouraged to make soundtracks to old films. How about The Vichy Government doing Birth of a Nation or some Leni Riefenstahl piece? It could work. Though I doubt the ICA would fund it.

Neil Scott | Winter 2004