West Highland DVD
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Produced in 1939-80
Main Language - English
Countries & Regions - British Film
This new DVD has been reported on British radio and TV, with the coverage celebrating the classic documentary which follows the fantastically scenic West Highland line running from Glasgow to Mallaig. Graeme Hobbs takes a trip.
West Highland, John Gray's 'impression of a day on the West Highland railway', made for BBC Scotland in 1960, deserves to be much better known. An elegy to the last days of steam on the fantastically scenic West Highland line that runs from Glasgow to Mallaig, it is an impressionistic piece in which the words of a pair of narrators, whispered rhythmical commentary, gently sung ballads and special effects from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop form an innovative narrative collage as coal, ploughs, alumina and general ware head north, while fish, tweed and whisky take the opposite route.
And if the snatches of repeated, rhythmical sound and technical details ('three-quarter regulator, thirty percent cutoff, twelve chain curves and climbing steady ... two miles down at one-and-fifty, regulators closed, pistons drifting, braking as we take the curves') owe much to the innovative sound design of Cavalcanti, pioneered in such films as Coal Face (1935) and Night Mail (1936), making it seem like a production from an earlier age, then the warbles and squeals, sprays, whips and surges of manipulated sound from the BBC Radiophonic workshop that follow the cry of 'on time' as the train picks up speed, bring it right back into the year of its making. There is also a certain sly humour at work. When we hear the guard announcing ‘Breakfast now being served’, the narrator quietly slips in with ‘railway porridge’.
As West Highland concentrates on the particulars of the journey in word and image, so Eddie McConnell's A Line For All Seasons (1980), also included in the collection, bursts into colourful life as it surveys the line, taking in its bridges and viaducts, causeways, cuttings and tunnels from impressive aerial shots through the seasons. 'If the builders had planned it simply for its beauty, they could not have done any better' says the narrator of the line, which is shown off in all its seasonal glory.
These films are complemented by West of Inverness, a Pathéscope picture from the archives, narrated by a young MacDonald Hobley, which looks at the age-old techniques and tools of crofting in the depopulated highlands, and The Line to Skye, a spry film about the line whose terrain 'has become a legend but remains a reality', as it runs past the loch of the fortress, the rock of the raven, the field of the storms and the field of the willow from Inverness to the Kyle of Lochalsh. As the narrator says, it's a place where 'the romantic and the realistic are on friendly terms'.
Graeme Hobbs on 15th May 2012
Author of 276 reviews
Four picturesque films about railway lines in rural Scotland, featuring West Highland (1960), A Line for All Seasons (1980), West of Inverness (1939) and The Line to Skye (1973).
West Highland is the classic BBC Scotland tribute to one of the World's most scenic railways. By 1960, the reign of steam on the West Highland was drawing to its close. John Gray, a BBC producer and sound engineer with the GPO Film Unit in the 1930s, made West Highland as his tribute to this wonderful line. Perhaps the last of the lyrical railway documentaries, it has been digitally remastered in crisp black and white.
A Line For All Seasons (McConnell, 1980). The story of the West Highland Line, told in a stunning succession of year-round landscapes.
West of Inverness (1939) is an eloquent short film about the problems faced by a rural community and the increasing role for the railway. It highlights the growing dependence on the outside world for provisions and goods. Newly remastered.
The Line to Skye (1973) is another gem from the camera of Eddie McConnell. This film was widely shown, including in the House of Commons, in support of retaining the Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh line. Newly remastered in High Definition.
Publisher: Panamint Cinema
Length: 85 mins
Aspect ratio: 4:3
Cat No: PDC2056
Format: DVD B&W
- Newly remastered and Digitally restored.
“ONE OUT OF FOUR”
by DAVID on 1st April 2013
Excellent image quality on the actual West Highland short film,but it does wander in its editing.The trains often jump from Mallaig bound to Glasgow bound.The other s... Read on
Excellent image quality on the actual West Highland short film,but it does wander in its editing.The trains often jump from Mallaig bound to Glasgow bound.The other short films are of inferior image standards. Hide