That Is Why English "Documentaries" Appeal
And Exhibitors Are Finding That It Pays To Show Them
From a Film Correspondent
FOR about ten years a little group of enthusiasts in Soho Square have been going around telling people that one of the most important things that the British screen can do is reflect the real life of the people who make up this nation. This indefatigable group, led by John Gricrson, have written articles, made speeches, and, most important, have made films to prove their point.
They have shown that there is definitely more appeal in films made of real people doing the work of the world than in most of our films which come from the film factories with their synthetic humanity.
The English documentary film-makers have been successful because they have that very necessary artistic gift of being able to look up to their subject. In making a film concerning a mail train sorter they are able to vest him and his job with the warming dignity which men must recognise in each other if they are to live happily together.
Public Exhibitors Waking Up
During its ten year period of develop. ment the documentary film has been attracting an ever-growing audience. These films of reality have been enthusiastically welcomed by cinema-goers with jaded appetites resulting from years of studio fare. Thus far the documentary audience has been mostly non-theatrical; schools, churches, village halls, and organisations of one sort or another have been the principal exhibitors of documentary films.
However, the realist filins are being shown increasingly at public cinemas to enthusiastic audiences.
One of the happiest examples of this trend is to be found at the Carlton where the new G.P.O. documentary, North Sea. is showing. This picture, directed by Harry Watt and produced by Cavalcanti, represents the high-point in the development of documentary.
In contrast with the avowedly imaginary characters carefully announced in every Hollywood film, North Sea's creeping title states "The story of this film, and all names, characters and incidents mentioned or shown, are entirely authentic. The film reconstructs, as it actually happened, an incident common in the life of deep-sea fishermen."
Real Drama In a Storm
Go to see these Aberdeen fishermen leaving their homes and walking through the sleepy streets to board the John Gillman. Find out what the port looks like to men who spend their lives pulling fish out of the sea. Prepare yourself for one of the most exciting and dramatic presentations you have ever seen on the screen when the John Gillman is hit by a terrific storm.
The reactions of the crew to this crisis are the high spots of the film.
The drama is all implicit in the natural events which take place and there is no necessity for imposing any make-believe superficialities. When the picture is ended with a pizzicato sweep over the coastal wireless stations which are giving vital assistance to many boats like the John Gillman, you will feel that you have really dug down into the lives of a crew of Aberdeen fishermen whose families have come to look like old friends to you.
A Very Loud Noise
The G.P.O. and particularly Harry Watt, the director of the illm, are to be congratulated on this fine piece of entertainment and exciting record of the life of a few of Scotland's fishermen. They have not only lifted the documentary to new heights, but they have made a noise that will be heard through even the sound-proof wall of our shiniest studio.
So far, the United States, which has to such a large extent pre-empted the field of fiction films, has had to take a back seat to Great Britain when it comes to documentary.
This will be a very important back seat if they continue to make films like The River, which is showing at the Berkeley. The story of the film is the story of the Mississippi River Valley, of its floods, the suffering of its inhabitants, and the principal cause of its troubles—the profligate cutting down of the valley woodlands and thus letting the winter and spring rains go rushing down a thousand miles to the Gulf of Mexico carrying a large part of the valley with them.
Grim Photography, Colourful Prose
The story has been told in a breathtaking way in this film made by one of Mr. Roosevelt's New Deal agencies. Mr. Pare Lorentz, who is chiefly responsible for The River, has done a masterful job in assembling beautiful and sometimes grim photography with colourful, poetic prose for a commentary and a Mississippi musical score.
As a result it is a highly entertaining film, and it is difficult to see how the film can fail in its original purpose which was to arouse public feeling against the selfish exploitation of natural resources, The River comes to a close on a constructive note showing how an end can be put to this ravaging of America's inland empire. The dam-building, tree-planting, and crop rotation plans take on dramatic significance in this study of greed and misery.
North Sea and The River are not films that you will sit through because you know they are supposed to be good for you. You will find in them genuine entertainment and the excitement which only artistic recognition of reality can bring.
Editor of The Month Unwell
Fr. Joseph Keating, S.J., editor of The Month, is under treatment for a fatigued heart. He is stated to be doing well, but his doctors have prohibited visits and correspondence for the time being.
Fr. John Murray, S.J., assistant editor, will be in charge of The Month until Fr. Keating resumes work.