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My Favourite DVD of 2011
on 17 July 2011
As the blurb on the DVD box says: "John Krish is one of British cinema's best-kept secrets: a master of post-war documentary filmaking who repeatedly turned his work and commissions into truly stirring cinema."
This box contains two discs, with the standard DVD format on one and a Blue-ray alternative on the other. The films are as follows:
* The Elephant Will Never Forget (1953) - a short film celebrating the end of London's trams. You don't have to be interested in trams to enjoy this wonderful film. Its portrayal of the changing landscape of a bomb-damaged city in the early 50s is compelling viewing. I particularly enjoyed the shots taken from the tram, as it trundled through the streets of south London.
* They Took Us to the Sea (1961) - a 25-minute documentary made for the NSPCC, featuring a group of children from Birmingham on a day out in Weston-super-Mare. This is a very moving film, particularly given that most of the participants had never seen the sea before. The children - all from underprivileged backgrounds - seemed damaged, fragile individuals at the beginning of the film and it was heartwarming to see them gradually relax and start to smile as the day progressed.
* Our School (1962) - a short documentary made for the National Union of Teachers, filmed at a seconday school in Hertfordshire. Apparently John Krish spent several days at the school before he began shooting, working out which pupils would make the most effective subjects. This preparation clearly paid off, as the film is fascinating and some of the pupils' comments are incredibly perceptive.
* I Think They Call Him John (1964) - For me, this was the most powerful film of the four: a stark, visceral portrayal of loneliness and isolation. The subject of this documentary - an ex-miner called John - is a childless widower who lives alone in a modern council estate. One of seven children, he fought in the First World War and was awarded several medals for bravery. In the Second World War he was an active member of the Home Guard.
What makes the final documentary so special is the masterly cinematography, with its wonderful, Bergmanesque close-ups of faces and the powerful use of silence. Krish manages to say so much with so little. The end result is an incredibly bleak film, but beautifully filmed and edited.
The DVD also contains three extras: two excellent 25-minute documentaries about schools and a short but sweet interview with the 86-year-old John Krish, who acts and talks like a man at least 20 years his junior.
Overall, I can't recommend this DVD highly enough. John Krish was clearly at the height of his powers and the result is four incredibly moving films that are as powerful today as they were half a century ago.