My first and last visit to my Leeds venue of choice this year was well worth venturing to on an extremely cold Friday evening in January. I have no other event planned before the Howard Assembly Room closes for refurbishment in March and I will miss the space very much.
The planned renovations do sound fabulous, however, and among other welcome improvements will see the venue finally having its own dedicated entrance and operate more independently from the Grand Theatre and Opera House. You can read more about the new developments here.
Our hosts for the evening are the Icelandic based, amiina, touring as a quartet and performing their soundtrack to the screening of Juve Contre Fantômas, one instalment of the Fantômas silent film series from 1913.
I’ve seen a number of these film soundtrack shows now at the Howard Assembly Room and they are always different in terms of where your focus lies: this time it was all about the musicians, with the film clearly acting in a supporting role. This could well have been down to my physical position in the space as I was lucky enough to be sitting on the front row. It was mesmerising watching the skill of all four band members and I couldn’t seem to keep my eyes off Magnús’s bird jumper, emblazoned with a kingfisher pride of place across his chest; strange reminder of my favourite tea drinking mug at home and a captivating image on stage.
Luckily the film moved along at a pace you could easily drift from without losing the gist, and provided me with an opportunity to revisit my French language GCSE, leaving me feeling rather smug!
The soundtrack not only worked beautifully in union with the film, it was also fantastic in its own right; melodic yet with darkness and unease at its core. It was arranged from violin, cello, drums, metallophone, table harp, ukulele and supporting electronics which was quite a feat for only four musicians. The variety of sound was further increased owing to the skill of the quartet; I don’t recall a time when I’ve seen a drum kit deliver so many diverse noises; from an eerie scratching symbol to hand drumming, there was no drum tool left in the box. The violin and cello played both with a bow as well as plucked, which resulted in a very clever and subtle variety of sound without straying far from the underlying melody.
The film was a huge hit in France when it was first produced and formed part of a five part crime series of films, based on novels about an anti-hero Fantômas, a true villain but one who left audiences rooting for him in spite of his crimes. Our film featured Fantômas trying to outwit inspector Juve. Incredibly, it was shot in just a few days and must have been remarkable at the time.
Cleverly, amiina also mixed lifelike sound effects into the soundtrack, which added an even deeper connection between the two, sounds such as street noise during a cafe scene or gunshots and train sounds during one of the standout scenes in the film ‘La Catastrophe du Simplon-Express’.
Many thanks once again to all at Howard Assembly Room. I’ll look forward to my next visit when you re-open. It will seem like a long year!
Photography by Mark Wheelwright (markwheelwright.co.uk)