Salt for Svanetia, Bo'ness Hippodrome

Rob Adams


It was a shrewd decision to ask Moishe's Bagel to provide a new live soundtrack to Soviet filmmaker Mikhail Kalatazov's 1930 study of life in the landlocked Georgian outpost of Svanetia in this flagship night of the Hippodrome's fifth festival of silent cinema.

The quintet's music has a history of laying emotions on the line and capturing the more challenging sides of life with the sense of resolution and ultimately upbeat, dancing vigour that informs Eastern European musical styles such as klezmer, and there was much privation and stoicism in Kalatazov's documentary.

Scenes depicting animal cruelty were flagged up in the programme, although some of the humans weren't treated much better, especially a mother who had the misfortune to give birth just as a man of some importance was due to be buried, and the new score made artistic capital from all of this. A horse, ridden until its heart burst, expired to a dimming drum beat and more light-heartedly, a close-up of a cow repeatedly licking its lips was accompanied by a very deliberate and comically effective bass glissando.

What impressed generally, though, was the grand sweep and continuity of the music, matching the mighty scenic grandeur of mountains that looked as if they might have been painted by nature, defensive towers that appeared as immovable as said mountains and muscle-straining, unrelenting labour with Greg Lawson's bitingly melodic violin themes and the richly textured emphasis of accordion and piano. It's a powerful visual record but with a certain poetic quality and the music conveyed this in a way that might just make a similar impact on the ears without the moving pictures.