The Big MeltCultureCinemaMovie reviews
Live music performance and film, The Big Melt was commissioned as part of the 100 Years of Stainless Steel celebrations. The project sees the union of long-time friends and collaborators Jarvis Cocker, musician and BBC Radio 6 presenter, and film director Martin Wallace. The music was recorded in one take by local musicians playing live, conducted by Cocker, at the opening night of Sheffield Doc/Fest 2013 at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield city centre.
From 100 years of BFI archive footage, Cocker and Wallace have carefully chosen clips that are joyous, hilarious, bizarre and beautiful, and arranged them without narrative in an abstract non-linear sequence. Sound and imagery come together in The Big Melt in ways which are rare and precious. The soundtrack, composed of 52 live musicians alongside select existing recordings, is magically eclectic, with music from Human League, Kes, The Forgemasters String Quartet and the City of Sheffield Brass Band, to name a few. A transporting electronic soundscape lends a film sequence showing molten steel and enormous machinery an otherworldly quality, while sections of orchestral music highlight drama, humour and beauty in industrial landscapes. Neither medium takes precedence over the other, and the result is that music marries film with flawless synchronicity as image dances with sound, each taking turns to lead.
The film is undoubtedly about steel. It features extensive footage of the inner workings of the steelworks and clips showing the practical applications of steel. Yet it is also about the people the Sheffield steel industry helped to shape and create. The film avoids taking an overtly political angle, instead capturing the truth of Sheffield’s social history while managing to remain in abstract territory. Perhaps one of the most memorable clips is some black and white footage from 1901: a young man stands in a queue of people waiting to enter a factory, when he notices the camera and sticks up two fingers to give the V sign. The 2014 cinema audience receive his disdain through the lens and suddenly the gap in time is closed as all watching erupt in laughter.
The Big Melt is such a beautiful, powerful and seamless union of film and music that it is difficult to highlight any particular section. The film in its entirety is a must-see, 71 minutes of glorious history and music from Sheffield.
The Big Melt will be shown on BBC4 on 26th January 2014.
Watch the trailer for The Big Melt here: