#183 (tie) – Listen to Britain (1942), dir. Humphrey Jennings & Stewart McAllister

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This ain’t no party. A British soldier keeps watch in Listen to Britain, a documentary of daily life in Britain after the Blitz that eschews traditional narrative structure to let the juxtaposition of images and overlapping sounds produce a larger, unscripted portrait of a nation in the grip of war.

There’s more than one way to fight a war. With World War II raging across Europe and Britain having been bombed on a daily basis, it wasn’t enough to fight the enemy, you had to boost the morale of the masses and connect with and encourage your allies. To this end, propaganda films were made in great numbers by every side in the conflict, and one of the most prolific British propaganda filmmakers of the Second World War was Humphrey Jennings. Jennings realized that overt propaganda often went down poorly with British viewers, as the people rejected transparent manipulation. So for Listen to Britain (1942) he and co-director Stewart McAllister tried a different tack — no narration, no dialogue — just the sights and sounds of Britain at war. The documentary format of the short film juxtaposes a number of musical performances (dance halls, church recitals, a pair of crooners, etc.) around domestic, industrial, and military scenes from everyday life in Britain. Classical music might give way to the sounds of a tank factory, and the images generally suggest a thriving nation bearing the deadly inconvenience of an armed conflict. The film’s experimental construction and lack of an overt message drew concern from powers that be that the theatergoers of Allied nations just wouldn’t get it, but Listen to Britain proved a rousing success at home and overseas. (19 min.) Continue reading

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#90 (tie) – Partie de Campagne (1936), dir. Jean Renoir

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Upswings & downpours. Young innocent Henriette attracts the attention of the locals (and grips the camera’s eye) as she exuberantly takes to a swing set in Jean Renoir’s Partie de Campagne — a short film in which it is the provincials who teach the city folk a thing or two about being jaded.

It’s a lovely day for a picnic, but the weather is liable to turn. Partie de campagne (A Day in the Country, 1936) marks the earliest Sight & Sound entry by renowned French filmmaker Jean Renoir, and strangely enough it is a film he never actually finished. Edited together by friends after World War II, the short film follows a family of Parisians as they spend a day out in the countryside sometime in the 1860s. A pair of local men take notice of the Dufour family, and decide to make a play for the attractive daughter, Henriette (and perhaps her mother too). While the know-it-all father and Henriette’s hapless fiancé do a bit of fishing, the women go off on a boating trip with the two men. Before long, the journey down the river turns amorous, until a storm intrudes. Comical and romantic, but pained and ambiguous, Partie de campagne is a deceptive film that manages to pack a whole lot into its brief running time. Renoir would go on to make fuller, grander statements about the human condition — notably list film #4 The Rules of the Game (1939) — but his humanity (and cynicism) are on full display in this beautiful, if incomplete, teaser. (40 min.) Continue reading

#93 (tie) – Un Chien Andalou (1929), dir. Luis Buñuel

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Au printemps…. About one second after this frame you realize you’re in for a very different experience with Un Chien Andalou.

In 1929 few had heard of Luis Buñuel or Salvador Dalí, two young Spanish artists living in Paris. If you know Dalí’s paintings, then you know his penchant for the absurd and tapping into the stranger depths of the subconscious. But before he gained renown as a painter, Dalí broke into the Surrealist art circle of Paris by creating this short film with Buñuel, who made his directorial debut with Un Chien Andalou. The film abandons all narrative convention to create a story (or more accurately a sequence of events and images) that takes its internal logic (or lack thereof) from dreams. Even the title of the film, which translates to An Andalusian Dog, has no connection to the events and imagery of the movie. The intent of the film, according to Buñuel, was to shock and confuse audiences. The director claimed that he filled his pockets with rocks during the first screening in case he had to defend himself against the audience. He was disappointed when they liked the movie. Oh, and for you connoisseurs of excellent music, Un Chien Andalou is the inspiration for the Pixies’ song “Debaser”. (16 min.) Continue reading

#171 (tie) – A Trip to the Moon (1902), dir. Georges Méliès

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That’s gotta hurt! One of the most famous images in the history of cinema also happens to come from one of the medium’s earliest triumphs, the 1902 science fiction romp A Trip to the Moon.

We will be bouncing around a lot in this blog, but we plan to generally present the Sight & Sound 250 roughly in the order in which they were produced. So without further ado, we present the oldest film on the critics’ list, the 1902 science fiction classic A Trip to the Moon (Le voyage danse la lune). French filmmaker George Méliès was a magician and one of the first directors to really exploit the possibilities of special effects and fantastical narratives. This short film draws from Jules Verne and H.G. Wells to tell the story of a group of surprisingly medieval scientists using a cannon to fire themselves to the moon. There they encounter a race of moon men and things get kind of crazy. The copy we watched was the hand-coloured version of the film and featured a score by the French ambient duo Air. (13 min.) Continue reading