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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...

I REMEMBER, I REMEMBER

UK, 1968
This film might have been called Grierson on Grierson on Documentary. The Grand Old Scot of the documentary film, the man who virtually coined the word "documentary" for the idea of making the cinema… More »

A CANTERBURY TALE

UK, 1944
A CANTERBURY TALE a 1944 black and white production by Powell and Pressburger. was the first of their productions to be restored by the British National Film Archive The American release version of t… More »

Design For Spring

UK, 1938
... ... 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 pr… More »

English Harvest

UK, 1939
... ... 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, Constab… More »

Spare Time

UK, 1939
... ... 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 »

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