The Complete Humphrey Jennings Volume 1: The First Days DVD+Blu-ray
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Directed by Humphrey Jennings
Produced in 1934-40
Main Language - English
Countries & Regions - British Film
Adding early, long-unseen novice works, rarities, alternative cuts and collaborations to the first of his films made as a mature filmmaker, this enticing first volume of Humphrey Jennings' complete works shows him building the film vocabulary that would allow him to make the subtle, poetic explorations of people and places during wartime for which he is so justly regarded.
The interest in machinery and mechanisms is apparent from his earliest films, which see him using models, dioramas, prints and drawings to tell the basics of steam power (Locomotives, 1934), the postal service (Post-Haste, which also shows a less familiar view of the 'ingenious contrivance which is the invention of Mr. Ramsay of the General Post Office' - the iconic catching and dispatching apparatus famous from Night Mail) and the wheel (The Story of the Wheel, 1934). Farewell Topsails then adds to this an interest in camera angles, peoples' faces and characters. Penny Journey (1938), subtitled The Story of a Postcard from Manchester to Graffham, shows him gaining more confidence and interest in his material, which allows him to include the typically overlooked everyday details which do so much to texture his later works.
Intimations of war appear in The Farm (1938), where the words 'a peaceful scene where thoughts of war and rumours of war have no place' are narrated over a scene of seed drillling, and then, in Speaking from America, a film about the establishment of a new receiving station at Cooling, with Roosevelt's 18th August address at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario: A few days ago a whisper, fortunately untrue, raced round the world that armies standing over against each other in unhappy array were about to be set in motion.'
However, as Lindsay Anderson wrote in his famous 1954 essay about Jennings, observation of people in wartime was the right subject for him, and The First Days, made with Harry Watt and Pat Jackson is an evocative montage of sound and image made with Harry Watt and Pat Jackson that captures the atmosphere of pensive trepidation, determination and uncertainty of the 'phoney war', while talking of the principal equipment of all Londoners during wartime - patience, endurance and especially, friendliness. Chamberlain's words, echoing around the calm suburban streets, still stop the heart with their import: 'I have to tell you that no such undertaking has been received, and that consequently this country is at war with Germany ... for it is evil things that we shall be fighting against - brute force, bad faith, injustice, oppression and persecution – and against them I am certain that the right will prevail."
Spare Time, about leisure time in the steel, cotton and coal industries , sees Jennings refining his film language, mixing an eye that switched focus between people and their situations while adding details that his eye, primed by the instincts behind his mass-observation work, might find interesting - ballroom dancers' holds, ways of tying a scarf, diversity of spectacles, bicyclists' garb and flavour of sandwiches for example. He also could indulge an eye for an amusing detail ('Her scent was bats' delight' reads a briefly-seen newspaper headline). It also shows his love for documenting shadows and noises in the night. In wartime, filmmakers had, of necessity, to become chroniclers of the half-light and the blackout. Here, Jennings' eye and ear for composition were peerless.
Graeme Hobbs on 13th September 2011
Author of 276 reviews
Humphrey Jennings (1907-1950), one of Britain's greatest documentary filmmakers, is best known for films which beautifully evoke everyday heroism in times of war and peace. Combining poetic observation and humanism with a subtle but intense national feeling that is also very personal, Jennings was a visionary and progressive patriot.
The First Days, the first of three volumes, gathers 14 short films from the period 1934-1940 and provides a fascinating insight into Jennings’ earliest days as a filmmaker as he learned and developed his craft. It features the critically acclaimed Spare Time (1939), a memorable portrait of the inter-war working class made for the New York World Fair in 1939, and the rousing London Can Take It! (1940), accompanied by its alternative cut Britain Can Take It! This, the most renowned cinematic representation of the resilient heroism of ordinary Londoners during the early days of the Blitz, features iconic images of St Paul’s Cathedral, the Palace of Westminster and the royal family. There are also previously neglected works, many of which will be available for the first time since their original release.
Contains: Post Haste (1934), Locomotives (1934), The Story of the Wheel (1934), Farewell Topsails (1937), Penny Journey (1938), Speaking from America (1938), The Farm (1938), Making Fashion (1938), Spare Time (1939), SS Ionian (1939), The First Days (1939), Spring Offensive (1940), Welfare of the Workers (1940) and London Can Take It! (1940).
Length: 211 mins
Aspect ratio: 1.33:1
Cat No: BFIB1119
Format: DVD+Blu-ray B&W
- 2 discs
- Dual Format Edition
- The Birth of the Robot (1936): a Len Lye film for Shell on which Jennings collaborated
- English Harvest (1939): alternative cut of The Farm
- Cargoes (1940): an alternative cut of SS Ionian
- Britain Can Take It! (1940): an alternative cut of London Can Take It!
- 40-page illustrated booklet with newly commissioned essays and credits.
“An Open Letter To The British Film Institute”
by MarcDavidJacobs on 19th August 2011
Dear British Film Institute heroes,
It has been probably two decades since my first VHS tape, and perhaps a dozen years since my first DVD; I've even had a second-... Read on
Dear British Film Institute heroes,
It has been probably two decades since my first VHS tape, and perhaps a dozen years since my first DVD; I've even had a second-hand laserdisc or two in my day. Home cinema has always been a lifeline for me, being one of that first generation which has not actually been introduced to either most or all of its favourite cinema in a cinema itself. Yet, in a way, home cinema has also been merely a convenience, a way to satisfy the seemingly over-growing need for instant gratification, and a way to speedily and faithfully fulfil the recommendations of friends - and, just as importantly, to indoctrinate others in turn. And it has also been a tool, a way to truly engage with a beloved (or even an initially-despised) film in a way that - for all its otherwise-unimpeachable superiority - simply cannot be provided by the physical filmhouse.
But all of this, in my humble view, goes entirely out the window with the arrival of The Complete Humphrey Jennings. Until now, home cinema formats have always been mere substitutes: a reproduction, as of a painting, however faithful to the original this might be. But this collection - as will be the others similar to it now surely to come - is, for the first time, the artefact ITSELF. Ever since I first was acquainted with the great Lindsay Anderson's essay on Jennings, Only Connect, I have sought out Jennings's works through dozens of different releases, from the extraordinary anthologies of Panamint to the dodgiest dubbed cassette tapes. Even now, I can look over at a ridiculously-overpriced 16-minute DVD-R, apparently produced by no less a body than the US National Archives And Records Administration, which consists of an endlessly-repeating loop of A Defeated People: apparently the only available source for this crucial post-War work, despite neither its packaging nor the print itself mentioning Jennings's name anywhere!
All such dross, all these endlessly repeated purchases of the canonical works in myriad, unpredictable edits - all that maddening effort now mercifully at an end.
But, as I say, it is not merely this one aficionado and avid collector who has you to thank, nor is it even just the devotees of British cinema in general or Humphrey Jennings in particular; rather, it is - and I feel I can say this without exaggeration - the entirety of film history. No longer now need the majority (let alone the totality) of the work of ANY great cinematic artist, whether established or merely waiting to become so, remain inaccessible save only to a few select scholars; no longer need the budding or curious, committed amateur cinephile resort to several contradictory filmographies and secondary sources, pouring over what amounts in the end to merely a list of titles which he suspects he'll never have a chance to see, and which thus must and shall remain all but meaningless to him.
The day that absolutely anybody can access for themselves the complete output of 'the only real poet the British cinema has yet produced' - including several works that even Anderson, his greatest champion, himself probably never saw - shall be a red-letter day for ALL those who truly love film. And, if there is any justice in this world, it will change the way we think about the appreciation and enjoyment of cinema altogether.
It will, in short, be the moment at which home cinema at last comes into its own, when it shall have finally discovered its real purpose, the one for which it was truly invented: the creation of a portable filmic archive - of a self-contained LIBRARY - as the singular, indispensible reference for an invaluable body of work which, without it, would only continue to languish in total obscurity, having might as well never been created in the first place.
Bless you, BFI, and all those who sail in you. Hide