Battle of Soho

 

starstarstarhalf

 


Celebrating Soho's past and fearing for its future.

 
Battle of Soho

  

I have never heard of Aro Korol, but this documentary feature is decidedly his baby: his credits extend well beyond that of director to encompass work as editor, photographer and co-writer and the spirited visuals that open the film suggest that he has long wanted to let loose in Soho with a camera. His film is at once an uninhibited celebration of this part of London and a warning. Gentrification has seen the speed of change in Soho accelerating rapidly in recent times and the greed of developers and landlords, those denizens of a capitalist society, carries a severe threat to the character of this area: inevitably it drives out those of modest means through an increasing lack of affordable accommodation. The diversity for which this part of London is famous - you could call it the non-conformist centre of our capital - could all too easily be submerged, as has already happened in comparable parts of New York.

 

Local residents such as Philip Sallon feature strongly here along with a number of famous names (Stephen Fry, Jenny Runacre, Lindsay Kemp, Marilyn, Peter Tatchell) and the LGBT aspect of Soho life is well to the fore. The film makes much of famed establishments such as Madame Jojo's being closed down whether or not to rise again. This aspect is touched on in other London locations too, with reference being made to The Black Cap in Camden while concern is expressed over the eventual fate of the Royal Vauxhall Tavern in South London. This assault in pursuit of profit can also be read as a possible attack on alternative life-styles in this time of disturbing social unrest. However, the film is alert to other threats to Soho's individuality and it makes mention of the campaign to 'Save Tin Pan Alley' and discusses the matter of Crossrail 2's route destroying properties including quite possibly that much loved cinema, the Curzon Soho.

 

Passing references to earlier days when Soho was home to French prostitutes and Maltese gangsters lead on to much delight in remembering Soho's unsafe character with only the odd voice reminding us that danger could go hand in hand with that. In any case Korol has a wide assortment of contributors many (but not all) optimistic about Soho's future if resistance to current changes can be built up further still. This is a timely film albeit one weakened by Korol's lack of ruthlessness in it last third. Here some of the material comes to seem repetitive and the film would have gained from big shortened even if that had meant sacrificing some good material in the process. In theory, the note of alarm being sounded might seem to conflict with the film's self-evident relish for capturing the spirit of Soho, but in practice, regardless of the overlong running time, each aspect sets off the other to good effect.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  Philip Sallon, Lindsay Kemp, Stephen Fry, Marilyn, Daniel Lismore, Jeff Kristian, Jenny Runacre, Johnny Deluxe, Ben Walters, Alex Proud, John James, David Hodge, Michael Peacock, Peter Tatchell, Pandemonia.

 

Dir Aro Korol, Pro Aro Korol, Dianne Collins and T.C. Rice, Screenplay Harriet Exley, Aro Korol and Johnny Deluxe, Ph Aro Korol, Ed Aro Korol, Music Phil White.

 

Aro Korol Company-Blue Dolphin Films.
100 mins. UK. 2017. Rel: 28 October 2017. Cert. 15.