Humphrey Jennings

Author: Keith Beattie

Humphrey Jennings has been described as the only real poet of British cinema. His documentary films employ a range of representational approaches – including collagist narrative structures and dramatic re-enactment – in ways that transcend accepted notions of wartime propaganda and revise the strict codes of British documentary film of the 1930s and 1940s. The resultant body of work is a remarkable record of Britain at peace and war. This study examines a productive ambiguity of meanings associated with the subtle interaction of images and sounds within Jennings' films, and considers the ideological and institutional contexts and forces that impacted on the formal structure of his films. Central and lesser-known films are analysed, including Spare Time, Words for Battle, Listen to Britain, Fires Were Started, The Silent Village, A Diary for Timothy and Family Portrait. Poet, propagandist, surrealist and documentary filmmaker – Jennings' work embodies a mix of apprehension, personal expression and representational innovation. This book examines and explains the central components of Jennings' most significant films, and considers the relevance of his filmmaking to British cinema and contemporary experience.

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