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The GPO Film Unit Collection: Volume 2 - We Live in Two Worlds DVD

Norman McLaren, Harry Watt, Len Lye, 1936-38

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Film Details

Directed by Norman McLaren, Harry Watt, Len Lye

Produced in 1936-38

Main Language - English

Countries & Regions - British Film

MovieMail's Review

After the huge popularity of Addressing the Nation, the BFI releases a second volume including Night Mail, the experimental animations of Len Lye and Norman McLaren, and Harry Watts' first forays into drama documentary.

If Addressing The Nation, the first BFI survey of the work of the GPO Film Unit, showed the fledgling team still finding its feet, this second volume (showcasing 22 films from the period 1936-38) sees them spreading their wings – literally so in the case of Norman McLaren’s dazzling Love on the Wing, the great Scottish-born animator’s first unqualified masterpiece. This package is a particular treat for animation buffs, offering not just McLaren’s entire GPO output (Book Bargain, News for the Navy, Mony a Pickle), but also masterpieces by Len Lye (Rainbow Dance, Trade Tattoo, N or NW) and Lotte Reiniger (The H.P.O. and the exquisite ‘film ballet’ The Tocher). There’s plenty more here too, including most of last year’s BFI touring programme Love Letters and Live Wires. The popular highlight there was William Coldstream’s gloriously camp musical extravaganza The Fairy of the Phone, while Pat Jackson’s The Horsey Mail displayed the GPO’s practical side, as the postal service ensures that mail deliveries reach flooded Norfolk villages.

The replacement of the Unit’s doctrinaire founder John Grierson by the more experimentally-inclined Alberto Cavalcanti led to many innovations besides animation. Harry Watt, co-director of Night Mail (also included, but needing no introduction) arguably invented the dramatised documentary with The Saving of Bill Blewitt, pre-scripted but performed by Cornish non-professionals. He did the same with North Sea, a thrilling account of a gale-stricken ship that was the GPO’s biggest ever hit, while Evelyn Spice’s contribution to the genre was A Job in a Million, about a young Cockney training as a postal worker. Drama rubs shoulders with philosophy: the rare Britten-Auden collaboration God’s Chillun explores the theme of slavery, while the collection’s title sees JB Priestley enthusing about the communications revolution sweeping away political boundaries – at a time when Hitler’s Germany had started rearming. For all these films’ vast cinematic merits, they are also riveting slices of history.

Michael Brooke on 30th January 2009
Author of 153 reviews

The GPO Film Unit Collection: Volume 2 - We Live in Two Worlds The GPO Film Unit Collection: Volume 2 - We Live in Two Worlds

Film Description

Created in 1933 out of the ashes of the Empire Marketing Board Film Unit, the GPO Film Unit was one of the most remarkable creative institutions that Britain has produced. A hotbed of creative energy and talent, it provided a spring board to many of the best-known and critically acclaimed figures in the British Documentary Movement, including John Grierson, Alberto Cavalcanti, Humphrey Jennings, Basil Wright, Harry Watt, Edgar Anstey and Arthur Elton, alongside innovators and experimentalists such as Len Lye and Norman McLaren. Their work embraced, public information drama-documentary, social reportage, animation, advertising and many points in between.

The BFI National Archive, in partnership with the British Postal Heritage Museum, Royal Mail and British Telecom, has preserved and curated the legendary output of short films produced by the GPO Film Unit.

This, the second of three volumes, represents the GPO Film Unit at its creative height – including much-loved classics such as Night Mail, the experimental animations of Len Lye and Norman McLaren, and Harry Watts’ first forays into drama documentary with The Saving of Bill Blewitt and North Sea.

Contents - Disc One: Rainbow Dance (1936), The Saving of Bill Blewitt (1936), Calendar of the Year (1936), Fairy of the Phone (1936), Night Mail (1936), Roadways (1937), Trade Tattoo (1937), Big Money (1937), We Live in Two Worlds (1937), N or NW (1937).

Disc Two: A Job in a Million (1937), Book Bargain (1937), What’s On Today (1938), Love on the Wing (1938), The Horsey Mail (1938) Heavenly Post Office (1938), News for the Navy (1938), Mony a Pickle (1938), North Sea (1938), Penny Journey (1938), The Tocher (1938), God's Chillun (1938).

DVD Details

Certificate: E

Publisher: BFI

Length: 269 mins

Aspect ratio: 1.33:1

Format: DVD B&W

Region: 2

Released: 23rd February 2009

Cat No: BFIVD759

DVD Extras

  • 2 disc presentation set
  • Extensive booklet containing introductory essays, biographies and film notes

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The GPO Film Unit Collection: Volume 2 - We Live in Two Worlds The GPO Film Unit Collection: Volume 2 - We Live in Two Worlds

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