Monday, August 16, 2010

Humphrey Jennings

Humphrey Jennings made Fires Were Started (1943) as a staged reconstruction of the London Blitz of the fall of 1940, when German planes dropped bombs every night on London. The film may have originated as a propaganda piece, but it works well as a procedural document of how a trained team of men attack a devastating fire. Jennings worked with actual firemen, whose good humor and tenacity strengthen the film. Along the way, the men recreate a daring rescue from a collapsing building. Action scenes are cross-cut with women clerks and telephone operators playing out their supporting roles (bottom still). Jennings's close-in shots show the growing exhaustion of the firefighters, who, during the Blitz, often worked 24 hours straight to prevent the spread of fires from building to building (top two stills).
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Documentary Starts Here by Nancy Kalow is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.