I was on vacation in London, September 2004.  I was checking out every museum and gallery I could find, some well-trodden, some way off the beaten path.

Wonderful curation out of the tourist zone

(A print shop in North London had fan letters and snapshots from Joe Strummer’s personal archives; the contemporary art museum at Oxford is a beautiful space; The Geffrye Museum of the Home is fun to roam around, especially if you’re interested in 17th-Century-modern for your new house remodel.  The Tate Galleries are fantastic.)

Late on a Sunday afternoon, I was sitting in Trafalgar Square, watching teams of workers laboring with a stage; I didn’t know what the event had been.  I sat drinking water, tired feet, the day almost done, with everything starting to close for the night.  I noticed the stage assembly was going the direction opposite of what I was thinking: it was in the process of assembly, not dis-assembly.  Something was going to happen.

I caught a bus back to my B&B, had some supper and checked my Time Out schedule.  Sponsored by the Institute of Contemporary Arts, a free screening of Battleship Potemkin would be the event.  (Travel tip: ICA is a nice little museum, sure, but the gift shop is a great art book store, and the bar serves excellent cocktails.)  I’d never heard of Potemkin, a silent film born in a young Soviet Union, celebrating a true mutiny event from Russia’s Bolshevik revolution.  The Pet Shop Boys, with the Dresdner Sinfoniker, would be performing a new film score that they composed. The description of the film did not agree with my perception of the Pet Shop Boys.

I had to go.  I put my shoes back on and caught another bus back down to Trafalgar.  (My journal reminds me that I threw those shoes into the trash, and just went with tevas and running shoes.)

A spectacular event!

London newspaper The Independent estimated 20,000-25,000 people attended, an astounding number for an art film.  (In this Roger Ebert review, some 300 people attended in Michigan.)  Great movie, great music, and one of the great crowds that I’ve ever enjoyed.  There was an honest feeling of kinship.  People came to see the movie and listen to the music.  No selfie sticks, or displays of sexuality/manliness, or drunk assholes: people displayed kindness, friendly greetings to strangers.  There was a slight drizzle, and nobody opened their bumbershoots; that would be rude to block someone’s view.

And the Pet Shop Boys.

I had no idea those pretty boys could put together an industrial soundtrack of any quality; my journal says they were “gob-stopping good”.  It’s an event where I started to learn to put aside my biases and embrace what I could enjoy on its own merits. I remain delighted with the music, and I‘ve learned to enjoy some of their work that I previously scorned.





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