All of this beautiful, conscientiously-assembled imagery is very sparingly spiced with footage of Harvey performing the songs solo with a guitar or autoharp in a modest, pretty studio with maps on the walls, lit by an evening sun coming through the window, providing another visual dimension that complements rather than disrupts the flow (even when, as in “The Words That Maketh Murder,” the sound purposely drops for one “live” verse, with Harvey singing and playing straight to us in direct sound, before coming back up and rejoining the studio-recorded song playing over the non-Harvey video material). Harvey’s voice and musical sounds are, of course, the driving force for the whole thing, and the album easily stands on its own as a complete and essential work of art. But Murphy’s photographic voice harmonizes beautifully with Harvey’s musical one, and although the music doesn’t need the visuals for its richness, neither do these images leech off of the music for their power; they can be considered apart from, but are perfectly in keeping with, the music and its meaning(s). (Unusually for Harvey, she has the voices of her entire band singing along with her in many of the songs, so the addition of another voice, and another kind of voice, to create a supplemental visual layer for the album feels even more apt). What Let England Shake: 12 Short Films by Seamus Murphy represents in the end is the literally awesome collaboration of two amazingly insightful, incredibly inspired, disciplined, magnificently expressive artists on a hybrid work that combines into a whole new kind of beauty the already amazing, whole-by-themselves, stand-alone parts it’s comprised of. It’s an overwhelming experience that reaches the heights of the best, most admired non-narrative short works of its kind, by the likes of Kenneth Anger (Scorpio Rising) and Chris Marker (La Jetée); it is simply not to be missed by anybody interested in either the cream of that cinematic crop or the very best that contemporary popular music has to offer.
Review of the Seamus Murphy-directed DVD featuring PJ Harvey’s Let England Shake. [via DVDtalk]