Fires Were Started

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British Film Institute, 1999 - 79 pages
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Humphrey Jennings (1907-50) was perhaps the most gifted filmmaker of the British documentary movement. Involved in the Mass Observation project of the 1930s, Jennings' talent lay in picturing ordinary life in ways that were inventive yet authentic.Fires Were Started(1943) is his major achievement. A film about a day's work for a unit of the National Fire Service at the height of the blitz, it blends observation with fictional reconstruction to achieve a particularly poignant kind of propaganda. Lindsay Anderson expressed the opinion of many commentators and viewers when he wrote inSight and Sound(in a 1954 article reprinted as an appendix to this volume) that Jennings was "the only real poet the British cinema has yet produced." But how could a documentarist also be a poet? This is one of the questions addressed by Brian Winston in his highly engaging study ofFires Were Started--a question that is particularly relevant today in the wake of the massive public controversies surrounding "faked" documentaries. For Winston documentary filmmaking is always "creatively treated actuality" and must be taken as such if it's to be properly valued and understood.

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