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FIRES WERE STARTED

UK, 1943 (MIFF 1995, Buried Treasures - Humphrey Jennings)

Director: Humphrey Jennings

Jennings' first dramatised feature concerns the events of one afternoon and night during the blitz of London in 1943. It concentrates on a small team of the Auxiliary Fire Service and makes no claim that they are 'typical of the AFS or that this is a typical night (since one man loses his life, it must be an unusual night), yet the impulse to see them as so is irresistible.

The cast members were experienced fire fight­ers not actors but lennings was able to elicit from them a sense of the commonplace equally free from pretension and self-consciousness that few other filmmakers have been able to emulate

He and his editor Stewart McAllister have crafted a subtly modulated narrative tempo. From the relaxed rhythm of the afternoon to the tension of the evening the urgency of the call to action to the dogged task of fire fighting, the let­down of the morning after, when weariness is stronger than grief, to the consummately upbeat finale as the merchant ship, saved from the fire, begins its voyage to the sea.

It may say more about us than it does about Humphrey Jennings that Fires Were Started is rarely discussed unless the topic is 'documen­tary'. Perhaps because his producer was responsible to no fewer than four government agencies for the proiect, or because the actors improvised their dialogue, or because the 'neo-reaiism' tag was subsequently bestowed upon a transitory stage of Italian cinema which was patently more fictional. Whichever and how many of these factors may apply Jennings's achievement resists classification while it con­tinues to inspire. It created a fashion and yet has remained impervious to fashion.

See also...

The Silent Village

... ... The grimmest in tone of all Jennings' work and essentially a fiction film, The Silent Village is both a memorial and message. ... ... ... The Nazis destruction of the Czechoslovakian mining ... More »

Words for Battle

Eight minutes of movie magic. We see con­temporary (1941) footage while we hear Lau­rence Olivier recite an idiosyncratic selection of English literature and the Gettysburg Address to the ... More »

English Harvest

... ... Shining with the soft hues of early colour and with Jennings evident love of the English landscape, each shot's composition reflects the classical balance and harmony of the romantic ... More »

Spare Time

... ... With little natural sound-the soundtrack consists largely of music from onscreen sources-and sparse commentary, the film shows how people spent their non-working hours. Overflowing with songs ... More »

Design For Spring

... ... Famous dress designer Norman Hartnell, his 1938 studio and the working world of cut­ters and seamstresses, is the focus of this early Jennings work. it is one in which he uses a colour ... More »

Diary for Timothy

... ... A fitting conclusion to Jennings' war record, this film of old death and new life-a war ending and rebirth-takes the form of a story addressed to a new-born child, recounting the sacrifices ... More »

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