Studio: British Film Institute
Length: 296 mins
Region: Region 2
Released: 19 July 2010
Cat No: BFIVD861
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Secrets of Nature
A collection of 19 short nature documentaries made by the British Instructional Films organisation during the 1920s and ’30s. The films... Read More
The pioneering Secrets of Nature series, featuring over 140 films created between 1922-33, shows that an accessible scientific treatment of the natural world was popular long before Attenborough's Life on Earth. Made by British Instructional Films of Surbiton, these one-reel films, of which there are over three hours in this set, can still provoke astonishment today. The impeccably enunciated syllables and the tendency to anthropomorphism in the commentary ('the gentleman and lady newts'; 'Bertie the bee' etc) are a guide to the films' vintage of course, and there is a little more egg-handling and hands-on bittern bothering than would be seen as acceptable today, but in terms of their technical achievements, these films - demonstrating time-lapse, underwater and microphotography among other innovations - can hold their own in any period of nature-based filmmaking.
Firework displays of spreading mould, ants milking aphids for honeydew, the story of beer (made from 'sterile hops, murdered barley and budding yeast'), 'weird and uncouth' creatures such as the spider crab, the depiction of the life-cycle of a red admiral butterfly - there are barely-credible everyday wonders shown here, while films such as Peas and Cues, showing the extraordinary growth of a pea plant, are still extraordinary in their depiction of the beauty of a process. The collection also includes Edgar Chance's important 1922 film, The Cuckoo's Secret, which was the first film to reveal some of the mysteries of the cuckoo's life-cycle.
Even Oliver Pike's White Owl - an oddity in which a man gets out his shotgun to try and do away with a barn owl disturbing his sleep(!) - ends happily, with a beautiful section in which succesive fades show the same owl on a branch through snowy winter to spring blossom. It's just one small example of the patient artistry on display in the collection.