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Watch for Harry Watt
on 25 October 2011
An extremely well presented anthology of GPO documentary shorts from the late 30's when creativity was at its highest. Standouts are the 3 titles by Harry Watt: the famous Night Mail, The Saving of Bill Blewitt and North Sea, all of which would stand issuing on a single disc with an appreciation of the director, who is underrated today. Also especially noteworthy is the jaw droppingly surreal N or NW, the style and execution of which sometimes reminded me of some of the better known European avant-garde work of the Dadaists of a few few years before. Not all here is of equal quality however; a decided dud is Mony a Muckle - a confused contemplation of Scottish saving habits; as well as the dull Big Money, or JB Priestley's consideration of Switzerland as part of 'two worlds'. Prescient of the 'global village' his insight might be, but interest (at least on my part) in 30's Switzerland's infrastructure is slight. Plain bizarre is God's Chillun (victim of a chequered production history by all accounts), covering the legacy of the slave trade and which features a peculiarly ill-at-ease host. Humorously bizarre too, but at least much more entertaining, is The Fairy of the Phone, which ends in a peculiar song and dance sequence. (It's the film apparently in which WH Auden appears as Santa Claus - but you wouldn't recognize him from the brief clip.) In a collection full of the earnest contemplation of male toil, the couple of films which eschew realism in favour of humour and, yes even a little kitsch, are a pleasant contrast. The animated shorts are fine if you like the early style and methods they spring from but speaking personally, dancing shapes may have charm but limited appeal. There's an excellent booklet to accompany all this, need I add, and the restoration is excellent.