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Secrets of Nature DVD

Various (Documentary), Percy Smith, 1933

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Film Details

Directed by Various (Documentary), Percy Smith

Produced in 1933

Main Language - English

Countries & Regions - British Film

MovieMail's Review

Over three hours of films from the technically adventurous 1922-34 ‘Secrets of Nature’ series, whose depictions of the wonders of nature still astonish today. Graeme Hobbs admires the films’ patient artistry.

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.

Graeme Hobbs on 30th June 2010
Author of 300 reviews

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Film Description

The natural world has always inspired fascination. Secrets of Nature, a pioneering series exploring animal, plant and insect life, made wondrous worlds and natural processes visible for the first time. These films, made by enterprising men and women at the forefront of British science and nature filmmaking, developed groundbreaking techniques of time-lapse, microscopic and underwater cinematography. Paving the way for the natural history programmes that we know and love today, these films grant us an entertaining, absorbing, and very special glimpse into the mysteries of the natural world.

Contains: Fathoms Deep Beneath the Sea (1922), The Plants of the Pantry (1927), Magic Myxies (1931), The World in a Wine-glass (1931), Romance in a Pond (1932), Brewster’s Magic (1933), The Cuckoo’s Secret (1922), The White Owl (1922), The Bittern (1931), The Nightingale (1932), Skilled Insect Artisans (1922), The Battle of the Ants (1922), Busy Bees (1926), The Aphis (1930), Floral Co-operative Societies (1927), Peas and Cues (1930), Scarlet Runner & Co (1930), The Strangler (1930), and Gathering Moss (1933).

DVD Details

Certificate: E

Publisher: BFI

Length: 296 mins

Aspect ratio: 1.33:1

Format: DVD B&W

Region: 2

Released: 19th July 2010

Cat No: BFIVD861

DVD Extras

  • Percy Smith with Herons (1921, 3 minutes), an extract from Urban Movie Chats series: one of nature filmmaking’s pioneers in the role of adoptive father
  • Fully illustrated 38 page booklet featuring newly commissioned essays and notes by leading researchers and scholars with film notes, photographs and illustrations
  • Dolby Digital mono audio (320 kbps).

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