Monday, November 19, 2007

Humphrey Jennings: Anthology Film Archives, November 23-25

For those who are spending a lonely Thanksgiving in New York (I don't mean to presume that all of us film buffs are socially damaged; perhaps you are simply getting away from your extremely close-knit families for a few hours), think about seeing some of the Humphrey Jennings documentaries that Anthology Film Archives has programmed this Friday through Sunday. Jennings's best films - which I take to be the short Listen to Britain (1942) and the feature Fires Were Started (1943) - are records of the home front in World War II England. (He died in an accidental fall in 1950, at age 43, before fully coming to grips with peacetime.) Following the principle of counterpoint, Jennings used the intrinsic import of his subject matter to justify his concentration on delicate formal issues, and his films are a series of quiet collisions of self-sufficient audiovisual environments. (Listen to Britain is explicitly introduced as a film about sounds, in case the viewer needs help in identifying Jennings' hyperaware pursuit of the poetry of reality.) It sometimes seems to me that pre-Bazinian critics lacked the language to get at what Jennings was up to, so that the literature on him is heavy on slightly misleading references to montage and surrealism.

Fires Were Started screens on Friday, November 23 at 9 pm and Saturday, November 24 at 8 pm; Listen to Britain is part of "The Films of Humphrey Jennings: Program 1," which screens on Friday, November 23 at 7 pm and Sunday, November 25 at 5:30 pm; and also screens with Kevin Macdonald's biographical Humphrey Jennings: The Man Who Listened to Britain on Saturday and Sunday, November 24 and 25, at 3:30 pm.

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