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Film Details

Directed by: Norman McLaren Alberto Cavalcanti Harry Watt Len Lye Basil Wright John Grierson

Produced: 1938

Countries & Regions: United Kingdom

DVD Details

Certificate: E

Studio: British Film Institute

Length: 269 mins

Format: DVD

Released: 23 February 2009

Cat No: BFIVD759

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

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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... Read More

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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 second of three volumes, contains the following titles: ’Rainbow Dance’ (1936), ’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), ’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) and ’Gods Chillun’ (1938).

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.

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