Robert Smith wasn’t ready for the full 4K experience when he sat down to watch a concert film of the Cure’s stunning 2018 Hyde Park concert. “The first close-up of a human face I saw was me,” he says. “It was quite terrifying.”
The recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee says he was initially on the fence about making the film, which is titled Anniversary 1978-2018 Live in Hyde Park London and will get a special screening in movie theaters around the world on Thursday, July 11th. People tend to be more self-conscious when they know they’re being filmed, but he decided it was ultimately worth it since it was a momentous occasion.
The gig took place 40 years to the weekend from when the Cure played their first gig in Crawley, and he’d jammed the set list with favorites like “Just Like Heaven,” “Lovesong” and “Boys Don’t Cry.” So he asked the band’s longtime videographer, Tim Pope, to direct the film “on the sly” with 16 cameras and didn’t tell his bandmates, who had enough to worry about with playing for some 65,000 people that day. Despite his initial fright with the close-up, he’s happy he did it.
“It’s actually quite an overwhelming experience,” he says of the picture. “I thought that I’d be a bit blasé, but I was actually quite taken aback with the whole thing. I’m really pleased we did it because it turned into probably one of the best days we’ve ever had through a combination of just great weather and England’s football team was doing remarkably well in the World Cup. And I picked the bill for the whole day at Hyde Park. … It was just, like, a huge celebration of music.”
The show came after the Cure played another gig in London as part of the Meltdown festival, so he worked hard to differentiate the two experiences. For the Meltdown show, dubbed Curætion, he played a set that started with the band’s earliest material, progressed to their most recent, and returned to the earliest. For the 40th anniversary show, he picked nearly 30 songs that “an audience would want to hear.”
“Knowing that we’d sold 65,000 tickets, you think, ‘This isn’t a normal show,'” he says. “We’ve got to acknowledge that a lot of people are going there for the whole day. So we approached it more as a festival. Certain clusters of songs I just know work really well together. I thought there’s no point in trying to shoehorn B sides or obscure songs into the set, because we would lose people in five or six minutes. So I think we knew the set was going to work before we walked out onstage.”
Beyond the performance, the other reason Smith likes the film so much is because he had some distance from making it. Other than working on a 5.1 surround sound mix with his Bloodflowers co-producer Paul Corkett, he left the rest to Pope. According to Smith, all he had to do was field questions like, “Do you think we should open with this?” “Do you think this shot works?” and, “Do you think you look too hideous in this shot for me to keep it in?” The space has made it so he was able to appreciate it more, and now he wishes he’d done more, such as filming openers Interpol, Goldfrapp and Ride, among others. But he’s happy things worked out as well as they did for his set.
The only problem he had during the day was facing off with the sun. It was nearly 90-degree heat, and he’s used to performing in the dark. “I really honestly can’t talk until the sun goes down,” he told the crowd. “It’s taking up all my energy not to dissolve into a pile of dust.” Looking back on it now, he says he just wasn’t prepared for so much light, which finally set about halfway into the gig.
“It was a bit shocking actually walking out because we were backstage the whole time, just kind of hanging out with everyone,” he says. “It’s all under covers, parasols, chilled drinks and so forth. So walking out onstage was really the first time I’d realized how hot it was. They had portable fans and stuff around us backstage, so walking onstage was like, ‘Whoa.’ We walked directly into the sunset, and it was quite dramatic. It was like the best light show in the world — if you can bear it. If we’d been 20 years younger, it might have been a little easier.
“But in a way, it gives it all a theatrical feeling,” he continues. “It gives the film itself what Tim would call a narrative or an arc. There’s a natural progression, and we end up right back where we started with a cluster of the very early songs and that very frantic, manic lighting. I think it would have been a lot less good in a funny way, if we’d walked on in darkness, and it had just been another concert film.”
He also likes how the sunlight makes the whole thing look “rubbish” and that people can see “all the junk on the side of the stage and backstage.” “It kind of makes you feel like you’re onstage,” he says, “which, for me, was the most important part of the film.”
And that’s a funny thing in and of itself, because Smith says when he’s onstage, he likes to lose himself. For all the times he looks like he’s surveying the crowd, such as in the footage of “Friday I’m in Love,” he says he’s actually trying to forget everything from the moment he sets foot onstage.
“For the first two or three songs, I’m adjusting,” he says. “I’m not one of the performers that constantly reminds themselves that, ‘Hey, Hyde Park, how you doing?’ I don’t really want to remember where I am. I’m just onstage, playing these songs. That’s why I don’t talk onstage. I’ve kind of lost the ability to communicate with words. It’s very odd. When I’m singing and playing, I’m just kind of transported and that’s what I feel like doing. It sounds hippie-ish, but it’s always been like that with me. I just feel like if I’m getting lost in the songs, there’s a fair chance everyone else is as well.”