Film Poetry: Humphrey Jennings and British wartime propaganda
Lindsay Anderson called Humphrey Jennings “the only true poet of the English cinema”. This lecture asks whether propaganda can be poetic through an exploration of two of Jennings’ GPO and Crown Film Unit productions from 1940 and 1942, London Can Take It and Listen to Britain. Jennings was a polymath, British surrealist, one of the founders of Mass Observation and a key figure in the British documentary film movement of the 1930s. As for many of his generation, his great moment was the Second World War. His challenge was to project an image of Britain under attack that was culturally varied, democratic, progressive, tolerant, good-humoured and with a rich history. Jennings did more than most to construct the propaganda image of the ‘people's war’ and offer a vivid portrait of the nation in sound and pictures. Using clips from these films we will consider the nature of propaganda and ask why Jennings’ films evoke such deep emotional responses among British audiences to this day.
About the Speaker
Alan Sennett studied modern history at Sheffield City Polytechnic, took an MA in Political Sociology at Leeds University and obtained a PhD from The University of Manchester. He works for the Open University, Liverpool University and various adult educational organisations in addition to freelance lecturing, research and writing. He is part of the Manchester Continuing Education Network (MANCENT) that delivers adult education courses of university level in the North West. His main areas of research and publication concern the Left in the Spanish Civil War and film propaganda. He is the author of Revolutionary Marxism in Spain, 1930–1937 (Brill, Leiden 2014) and articles in the Journal of Popular Film and Television and Framework. Current research includes the collaboration between the Dutch filmmaker Joris Ivens and American writers Ernest Hemmingway, John Dos Passos and Archibald MacLeish that produced the pro-republican propaganda film The Spanish Earth (1937).
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