In classic Jennings style these two intimate and moving poetic portraits of a besieged Britain go against the conventional mould of wartime propaganda.
Listen to Britain – 1942 / UK / 20mins
Fires We Started – 1943 / UK / 80mins
Public information documentary; morale booster; propaganda film – any of these descriptions could be applied to the many 10 to 20 minute shorts that flourished during WW11. But, surprisingly, it was for his contribution to this body of work that Humphrey Jennings has been described by many as the only true poet of English cinema.
Jennings’ films covered the whole of the Second World War in Britain. His quiet, emotive style produced some of the most memorable film images of the War; Listen To Britain (1942) and Fires Were Started (1943) being of particular note. Both films are trademark Jennings; a series of brilliantly simple comparisons between scenes from everyday life and the horrendous, unreal struggle of the war effort.
In Listen to Britain – capturing the sounds of wartime Britain – and Fires were Started – celebrating the bravery of Britain’s fire fighters – Jennings paints astonishingly intimate portraits of a besieged but stoic Britain, and never mentions the oppositions. It’s an impressive aesthetic arsenal that undoubtedly expanded the scope and vocabulary of documentary.