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How We Used to Live (2013)

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A cinematic ode to post-war London by acclaimed director Paul Kelly, created using rare footage drawn from the British Film Institute's National Archive and original music by Saint Etienne with a narration by Ian McShane.


Paul Kelly


Ian McShane





Credited cast:
Ian McShane ... Narrator


Using only colour footage from 1950 - 1980 How We Used to Live covers the early days of the welfare state up to the opening years of Margaret Thatcher's reign. From the shadow of the war and the great future created by the welfare state to the rise of individualism and the triumph of the consumer society, it is as much a lyrical cinematic meditation on life now as then. The soundtrack is written by Saint Etienne's Pete Wiggs with vocalist Sarah Cracknell providing Swingle-y harmonies. While the script is by the band's Bob Stanley in collaboration with the author Travis Elborough. This is brought to life through the distinctive voice of Deadwood star Ian McShane. Mixing history with fantasy, the viewer is led back through time by McShane's fictional narrator whose only constant is London. It is a city that he fell hopelessly in love with as child in the provinces and his digressive personal reminisces provide a universal account of the period, its hopes and ambitions and its fears and ... Written by anonymous

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A time-travel ode to London
1 September 2014 | by g-rees1See all my reviews

How We Used to Live is a time-travel ode to London: a head-rush of BFI clips that takes you spinning from the end of the Second World War to the early '80s and the transformation of the docklands, via a myriad cultural and industrial revolutions.

The pace is set by Pete Wiggs' fluid soundtrack, embracing lounge, library music, exotica, swing, jazz, electronica and pop. Like Philip Glass's work in Koyaanisqatsi, the music carries the film in its bubbling stream, allowing Paul Kelly's visual tangents and juxtapositions to dance freely in the flow – the old Euston station columns, the Queen driving a tube train, producer Mickie Most going for a run decked out in groovy clobber and shades.

The script by Travis Elborough and Bob Stanley (voiced by Ian McShane) is sparse, but eminently quotable. "Technology expands and shrinks your dreams," he intones, as wrecking balls thump into derelict tower blocks.

Despite its many reincarnation and manifestations, the city is portrayed as an enduring entity which thrives on change. We see the early West Indian immigrants, the '60s pop fashion explosion, the advent of computer technology, and the cultural disruption of the punk era. Whatever is thrown at London, she assimilates. For good or bad. London is in constant flux, while remaining unmistakably that same old city we know.

The film is bookended by two cataclysmic events which irrecoverably shaped today's city – first the Blitz; then the collapse of industry on the Thames during the Thatcher era, replacing the docks with Canary Wharf, the hub of the high finance economy. The subsequent waves of displacement, investment, corruption and gentrification still ripple through the city, carrying its citizens on relentlessly rising waves of property and rental prices, out towards an ever- expanding edge.

"It's a miracle that London works at all," says the narrator. But work it does…. for the time being, anyway. If anything, this film shows you what can be lost if we're not careful.

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12 October 2013 (UK) See more »

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