'How We Used To Live' & Saint Etienne at NFT1 / Paul Kelly interview excerpt

Blasted first encountered director Paul Kelly's work with his 2011 portrait of former Felt frontman Lawrence. This summer, his 2013 film How We Used To Live has been on tour with a live soundtrack performed by Saint Etienne, including a screening back in May for Monorail Film Club at the GFT. An email from the Film Club prompted us to look further into Kelly's work and a filmography - whether you are a fan of Saint Etienne or not, his London Trilogy made in collaboration with the band, and the complementary short films, are essential viewing. HWUTL makes it a quadrilogy and is no less essential. There is a further screening and performance of the film with Saint Etienne later this month at NFT1 - we had the pleasure and privilege of chatting to Paul ahead of it and we'll have the full, extensive interview on the site later this week. To whet your appetite, here's an extract below.

What is How We Used to Live about? How did you come to make it?

In 2008 I had screened an early cut of Lawrence of Belgravia at the Barbican and while I was sat in the projection room waiting to check everything was running okay, the Terence Davies film Of Time And The City was playing and I thought it looked really intriguing. I later mentioned this to Bob [Stanley, writer and one third of Saint Etienne] and we ended up watching the film several times in a row. We couldn't decide if we loved it or hated it, and kept changing our minds after each viewing. This started us thinking about whether anyone had ever done anything similar, but with a London theme. Bob and Pete [Wiggs, another third of Saint Etienne] had been doing some work with the BFI and so already had a working relationship with them and so we went in to talk about possibly looking through their archives with a view to making a film using entirely London themed footage from the 20th century. The original idea was to look at how the city had been depicted and also changed since the early days of film.

Did Travis Elborough [writer]'s  narrative come first or the images, or was it more of a back-and-forth than that?

Travis was involved from the start, and along with Bob, Pete and myself would sit at the BFI looking through the COI (Central Office of Information) British Transport Collection and Visit Britain archives searching for any interesting London footage. During this time we would have discussions about what form the film might take. An early idea was to cover the entire 20th century focussing on five specific areas of London to see how they had changed over a hundred years. However when the BBC started doing something very similar we decided to shelve that idea and concentrate on the post war period leading up to the arrival of the Thatcher government. So our timeframe begins with early days of the welfare state and leads up to the beginning of its systematic dismantling under the Tories. This period is also when a lot of the government funded film units were at their most active.

How did Ian McShane come to be the narrator?

 We had decided to use some kind of semi fictional narration quite early on and one plan was based on the idea that the Keith Waterhouse character Billy Liar had actually taken the train with Julie Christie and was now looking back over his time in London before heading back up to retire in Yorkshire. We abandoned the Billy Liar link but still felt the narration needed to come from someone we could believe might have lived through the timeframe of the film and have inhabited the world portrayed. We didn't want anyone young and we didn't want anyone particularly associated with London. Ian McShane was top of our initial wish list and when he agreed I was actually quite surprised! I think it really helped Travis and Bob once he was involved as it gave them a voice to write for, and it was wonderful to hear him bring the lines to life. He mentioned during the voice over recording session that he had worked with Sarah Cracknell's father on the Battle of Britain film so we felt like he had a genuine connection to us, however loose!

'How We Used To Live' screens at NFT1 to a live soundtrack by Saint Etienne on 24 July, tickets are available here.