Director Paul Kelly On How We Used To Live

A poetic telling of London’s post-war evolution…

The creative partnership between Saint Etienne and filmmaker Paul Kelly continues with How We Used To Live, their fourth film together. Co-written by the band's Bob Stanley with author Travis Elborough, and scored by SE’s own Pete Wiggs, the film is a beautiful poetic impression of London's post-war evolution.

“It starts in the shadow of the Second World War and ends in the shadow of the extreme capitalism that we now live in,” says Kelly. “In one sense, nothing really has changed. The concerns of people are very similar – where they're going to live, the over-population – and probably always have been.”

The team had planned to make a film based around the concept that the majority of the world's population now lives in cities. Utilising hundreds of hours of footage from the BFI archives, the reality was very different.

“We decided that we had to let the footage dictate what we made the film about,” says Kelly, “rather than trying to shoehorn ideas in that you can’t really illustrate because the footage doesn't exist. It was quite liberating.”

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How We Used To Live, trailer

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Amidst the consistently compelling imagery – a skateboarder weaving around commuters (wonderfully set to Sarah Cracknell’s ‘Ready Or Not’), the bright lights of 1960s Soho – there’s a subtle political message about the dismantling of the welfare state. Yet, it's also dryly amusing. Narration drawn from the source material discusses lost ideals: that the railways should serve the people and that MPs were eager to maintain a connection with the general public.

Naturally, the film also captures almost half a century of changing trends. “In this post-modern era everyone’s aware of all of the fashion from the past,” agrees Kelly. “None of them look too silly, and you could probably wear any fashion trend from the past 50 years and people in London wouldn’t blink an eye. We live in such a retro era with all these styles and fashions all at the same time.”

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Words: Ben Hopkins

There is a special live score performance for How We Used To Live, featuring Saint Etienne, taking place at London’s Barbican on September 13thmore information here.

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