London Symphony review – a silent paean to the city

It’s a sign of the times that the industrial pistons and grimy stevedores you might have seen in the 1920s heyday of the “city symphony” film are hardly anywhere to be seen in Alex Barrett’s sprightly revival of the form. Instead, for a 21st-century Great Wen rhapsodised in silvery monochrome and set without dialogue to James McWilliam’s score, we have bustling culture vultures, a multicultural clutch of temples and acres of steel and glass. Appropriately crowdfunded, London Symphony harnesses the city’s human element – more so than other globalised-London portraits such as Finisterre or Julien Temple’s documentary London: The Modern Babylon – in service of a cheeky formalism. Organising his shots into thematic blocks – nostalgic byways, religion, bins – Barrett has the knack of drawing out visual details that cause nice eddies in the film’s melancholy flow. But despite occasional partisan flushes – the Monopoly scenes during the segment on the current construction boom, for example – this symphony prefers even-handedness and an even pace to reaching higher for the exultant pitch and politicisation of the likes of Koyaanisqatsi.

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