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The Gpo Film Unit Collection: Volume 1 - Addressing The Nation [DVD]
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A collection of short films produced by the GPO Film Unit. The BFI National Archive, in partnership with BT, Royal Mail and The British Postal Museum and Archive, has curated and restored the output of short films produced by the GPO Film Unit from 1933-1940. The unit provided a spring board to many of the best-known and critically acclaimed figures in the British Documentary Movement, including John Grierson, Alberto Cavalcanti, Basil Wright and Harry Watt, alongside innovators and experimentalists such as Len Lye and Norman McLaren. This, the first of three volumes, provides an exploration of the unit's early experimentation with sound and features the award-winning 'Song of Ceylon' (1934) and other neglected works, many of which will be available for the first time since their original release.
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There are more or less "straight" documentaries, such as 6.30 Collection or Weather Forecast (directed, for once, by a woman, Evelyn Spice, a journalist by training who eventually went on to have a career with the National Film Board of Canada); their originality is now hard to appreciate simply because the techniques pioneered here have become standard, but they show us, in however refracted and indirect a form, something of a Britain now vanished, and the ways in which these films present what were once technological marvels together with their impact on society, or the benefits of saving to the working and lower middle classes, are lessons in clarity and emotional engagement combined. The inventiveness and joie de vivre of Len Lye's short Colour Box are still remarkable, and the romantic silliness of John Atkins Saves Up and of the tongue-in-cheek morality tale Pett and Pott is delightful. My absolute favourite is Sixpenny Telegram, a wonderfully youthful, joyful hymn (with Britten's music) to a now-vanished symbol of modernity, convenience and speed. The only "miss" for me was Basil Wright's Song of Ceylon, the longest film, which I found boring and artificial. But the rest, including the two extras--especially the dully-titled GPO Film Display Trailer, which is actually an absolute gem--and the accompanying booklet, are more than worth the price of this excellent collection. More of these 30's films ought to be made available.
The first film "The Coming Of The Dial" shows new technology replacing the need for telephone operators to place calls manually with plugs and switches.
My personal favourite of the collection is "John Atkins Saves Up", a charmingly whimsical public information film, in which the aforementioned Mr Atkins goes to the post office every week to place money in his post office savings account for his summer holiday, and when sat at his office desk he dreams of romance in his forthcoming holiday.
The film "Weather Forecast" shows the importance of the G.P.O's telecommunications system, with the impending arrival of a storm. The 15 minute "6.30 Collection" shows the arrival and sorting of the mail at a large sorting depot.
"The King's Stamp" tells the story of the postage stamp, with the introduction of the now much-prized Penny Black, the film also shows the rise in popularity of stamp collecting.
"Sixpenny Telegram" is another charming short, set to music, the film is a simple advertisement for the telegram of the title. This collection also contains an experimental animation - "A Colour Box".
Picture and sound quality are good. All films were shot on 35mm film.
This is another excellent release from the BFI.
Here is a list of the films with a few details:
The Coming Of The Dial (14 mins,B/W,1933).
Cable Ship (12 mins,B/W,1933).
Granton Trawler (11 mins,B/W,1934).
John Atkins Saves Up (18 mins,B/W,1934).
Air Post (12 mins,B/W,1934).
The Glorious Sixth Of June (11 mins,B/W,1934).
Pett And Pott (31 mins,B/W,1934).
6.30 Collection (15 mins,B/W,1934).
Weather Forecast (18 mins,B/W,1934).
Song Of Ceylon (40 mins,B/W,1934).
A Colour Box (4 mins,colour,1935).
Coal Face (12 mins,B/W,1935).
The King's Stamp (20 mins,B/W and Colour,1935).
BBC The Voice Of Britain (56 mins,B/W,1935).
Sixpenny Telegram (6 mins,B/W,1935).
*On The Fishing Banks Of Skye (8 mins,B/W,1935).
*GPO Film Display Trailer.
*76-page Booklet containing introductory essays, biographies of the directors, and film notes.
*Dolby Digital mono audio.
*Optional English subtitles.
The discs and booklet are neatly stored in a sturdy cardboard outer case.
The Coming of the Dial (Stuart Legg 1933), Cable Ship (Alexander Shaw, Stuart Legg 1933), Granton Trawler (John Grierson 1934), John Atkins Saves Up (Arthur Elton 1934), Air Post (Geoffrey Clark 1934), The Glorious Sixth of June (Alberto Cavalcanti 1934), Pett and Pott (Alberto Cavalcanti 1934), 6.30 Collection (Harry Watt, Edgar Anstey 1934), Weather Forecast (Evelyn Spice 1934), Song of Ceylon (Basil Wright 1934), A Colour Box (Len Lye 1935), Coal Face (Alberto Cavalcanti 1935), The King's Stamp (William Coldstream 1935), BBC: The Voice of Britain (Stuart Leg 1935) Sixpenny Telegram (Donald Taylor 1935)
The only one of these films I can comment on is Len Lye's "Colour Box", a psychedelic piece of abstract animation set to Cuban music; well ahead of its time. I'd love to see a Len Lye collection released. If the screening is anything to go by, these films will also be fascinating pieces of "Anglicana" for anyone interested in film history or social history in general.
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