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Humphrey Jennings’ film Essay Sample

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Humphrey Jennings’ film Essay Sample

In order to assess the reliability of this source one will need to come to a conclusion as to what original effect this film was intended to have. The two possibilities open are, primarily, that Humphrey Jennings’ film was simply a documentary to show those of a later era the impact of the German bombardment, or, the film was designed with the intention of raising the morale of the ‘blitzed’ Londoners. Either way it would appear that the argument will end in inconclusive fashion, as no one today truly understands Jennings’ intentions.

If one were to argue the case that this film was a historical documentary then the evidence for such is strong. Jennings has decided to be as accurate as possible, for, instead of casting actors in the roles as one may have expected to see had the film been made for commercial benefits, Jennings has cast ordinary firemen with the aspirations of reaching a style similar to that of ‘fly on the wall’ documentary. This evidence combined with the piece that states that much of I was a fireman was filmed ‘on location’.

This means that Jennings decided to film his real firemen extinguishing real fires. This aspect obviously adds to the realism of the piece, but it also beg one to ask the question, why did Jennings wish to put his ‘actors’ in such a precarious situation (the real fire brigade were called out on numerous occasions when parts of the set collapsed!)? The answer for many is simply realism, but some believe that it was because Jennings’ was prepared to go to any routes in order to inspire the public.

From comparing the three sources (L, F and B) we see many similarities in their portrayal of the indomitable British spirit. All of the sources portray to some extent the reaction of the British people, their persistence with daily routine and the Londoner’s inability to panic, whatever the situation.

However, as I answered in question 1, source F is a form of propaganda common at the time, and, therefore it would be reasonable to assume that should these two other sources (L and B) conform to the same view then it may be possible to suggest that they too have links with propaganda. Having viewed source A, a photograph which was not published under the censorship laws (due to its representation of ‘defeat’ and ‘carnage’), and compared it to source L it is clear that the only reason that I was a fireman was published was its portrayal of living at the time. This style however, is now under close scrutiny, as, had the mood been as it was represented in I was a fireman what would the need be for censorship?

Another interesting observation is that the short film has a ‘movie soundtrack’ in it. This would have been very uncommon of the documentaries being filmed at the time, and therefore one has to ask whether the patriotic style music was included in a more subtle attempt to create an atmosphere common in many propaganda works of the era. This was accompanied by a script, an obligation in any film, (one knows this from a further source linked to I was a fireman written by Robert Oliver). This source, combined with that of the inclusion of the soundtrack means that one should be wary of labelling such a source a documentary.

The further provenance of this source is that it was produced by Humphrey Jennings in an attempt to make a poetic documentary as a training film for the voluntary firemen at the time of the Blitz. However it was dropped as such quickly, as the Blitz ended on release (but not as a cause of!!!) the film. This then gave the opportunity for the government to release the film to the general public which they did to great success. Here I have spoke of a poetic documentary which was found as a source in a film annual reviewing I was a fireman (Haliwell’s Film Guide), more commonly known as Fires were Started.

With such a provenance, and the reliability inconclusive one may further enquire as to the usefulness of this source. Primarily it is useful to recall the styles, dialogue and equipment required to make a film of any kind during the war. This source is also useful for a historian who may be working in research of styles of propaganda. If one believes this source to be propaganda then it provides an insight into the way Jennings and others were stylise their work to maximise the results. Finally this source may be useful to a historian on the Blitz as it is an accurate source to show how the firemen dealt with fire and other situations.

To conclude, there are many contradictory sources in the debate over the reliability of I was a fireman, and whichever one is believed will always cause controversy. However, in hindsight it is easy to say that this was a blatant attempt at propaganda by Humphrey Jennings, but I believe this source most reliable when in the context as quoted by the film guide, that ‘this was a poetic documentary designed for the training of voluntary fire fighters but later released for public viewing’.

Read next:

War Of The Worlds
The battle of Agincourt by, respectively, Laurence Olivier and Kenneth Branagh in their films of Shakespeare’s Henry V
Compare ‘Raise the Red Lantern’ with the action-type movie of Hollywood

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