LAND OF PROMISE DVD (BFI)
The 2010-issued excellent BFI 4 DVD release “LAND OF PROMISE” is a delightful ramble via 40 film documentaries through Britain of the 1930’s, 1940’s and 1950’s. Seminal directors like Robert Flaherty, John Grierson, Alberto Cavalcanti, Paul Rotha and of course Humphrey Jennings are given pride of place here, along with less well-known names: Geoffrey Bell, Ruby Grierson, Basil Wright, Ralph Bond, John Page, Max Anderson and many other fine film craftsmen.
Classic documentaries like “Listen To Britain” (Jennings/Stewart McAllister: 1942), a marvellous, evocative sound and visual record of war-torn Britain, using popular and classical music as its framework – Myra Hess rubs shoulders on the soundtrack with Flanagan and Allen to great effect, while the UK’s versions of Rosie the Riveter sing along as they work tirelessly in the factories – unforgettable! And “Housing Problems”, (Arthur Elton, Edgar Anstey: 1935) a raw view of the UK slum problem, featuring real inhabitants voicing their opinions about the state of Britain’s homes in the thirties.
Mostly filmed in black and white, which paints those massed clouds and the rolling British landscape in such a picturesque light – no vista is complete without a horse and cart plodding tirelessly home in the setting sun; although there is a rare venture into Dufaycolour in the faded grandeur of “Farewell Topsails” (Jennings: 1937).
Add a 92 page, well written booklet and lavish packaging, and you have an irresistible DVD set for anyone even remotely interested in the state of Britain from the joyful innocence of the ’30’s to the cynical and jaded views of the early post-war 1950’s.
And if you tire of the propaganda, there is always the game of “spot the star”: look out for Bill Owen (Compo from “Last Of the Summer Wine“), John Gielgud, George Woodbridge, Bill Slater and a pre “Dad’s Army” Clive Dunn among others, all doing their bit here.
Disc One : Industrial Britain (Robert Flaherty, 1931) Shipyard (Paul Rotha, 1935) Workers and Jobs (Arthur Elton, 1935) Housing Problems (Arthur Elton, Edgar Anstey, 1935) Children at School (Basil Wright, 1937) Farewell Topsails (Humphrey Jennings, 1937) Today We Live (Ruby Grierson, Ralph Bond, 1937) Eastern Valley (Paul Rotha, Donald Alexander, 1937) People of Britain (Paul Rotha, 1936) If War Should Come (no director credited, 1939)
Disc Two : Britain at Bay (Harry Watt, 1940) Transfer of Skill (Geoffrey Bell, 1940) They Also Serve (Ruby Grierson, 1940) Tomorrow is Theirs (James Carr, 1940) Words for Battle (Humphrey Jennings, 1941) Ordinary People (Jack Lee, J B Holmes, 1941) Five and Under (Donald Alexander, 1941) Night Shift (J D Chambers, 1942) The Countrywomen (John Page, 1942) Summer on the Farm (Ralph Keene, 1943) Listen to Britain (Humphrey Jennings, Stewart McAllister, 1942) Builders (Pat Jackson, 1942) Words and Actions (Max Anderson, 1943) A Diary for Timothy (Humphrey Jennings, 1946)
Disc Three : Land of Promise (Paul Rotha, 1946) The Balance (Paul Rotha, 1947) What a Life! (Michael Law, 1948) The Dim Little Island (Humphrey Jennings, 1948) Britain Can Make It (No 1) (Francis Gysin, 1946) Fenlands (Ken Annakin, 1945) Children’s Charter (Gerard Bryant, 1945) Chasing the Blues (J D Chambers, Jack Ellitt, 1947) Cotton Come Back (Donald Alexander, 1946) Five Towns (Terry Bishop, 1947)
Disc Four : A Plan to Work On (Kay Mander, 1948) Mining Review 2nd Year No 11 (Peter Pickering, 1949) From the Ground Up (no director credited, 1950) Transport (Peter Bradford, 1950) The Undefeated (Paul Dickson, 1950) Family Portrait (Humphrey Jennings, 1950) Extras Close Up: Recollections of British documentary (40 mins) – new interviews with directors Pat Jackson, Peter Bradford, Peter Pickering and Paul Dickson, and with cinematographer Wolfgang Suschitzky (2007) John Grierson at the NFT (1959, 13 mins)
re-blogged from my Film Journal blog