My City Again

From Humphrey Jennings’ WORDS FOR BATTLE, a WWII propaganda short made with Jennings’ typical romantic wildness and sensitivity. Structured around a series of speeches about Britain, by various poets, writers and statesmen, all read by Laurence Olivier, it’s very effective and rousing. This shot of Edinburgh appears during a Churchill speech (“We shall fight them in the hills…”) The hill here is Salisbury Crags, part of the Queens Park and the large hill Arthur’s Seat, part of an extinct volcano that also provided us with the fist of igneous rock Edinburgh Castle sits on.

Look at all that chimney smoke! That’s the reason our older buildings are all black, though they’re made from light-coloured sandstone. The soot mixed with all the moisture in the Scottish air and formed smog, painting our streets on dense charcoal shades. I love this dirty town.

12 Responses to “My City Again”

  1. Being from Detroit, I can appreciate your love of a dirty town, although in terms of dinge we could do a whole lot worse. And of course I have to acknowledge that Edinburgh’s historic heritage well surpasses that of this city of ours.

  2. Wonderful still! I haven’t seen this one of Jennings(so far I’ve seen Listen to Britain, A Diary for Timothy, I Was A Fireman, the first is my favourite).

  3. Still to see I Was a Fireman, which sounds very interesting. Listen and Diary are deeply moving and powerful works.

    I bet Detroit’s history is fascinating, even if it hasn’t been a city for 500 years or whatever. “Right where you are standing / Dinosaurs did a dance,” as Talking Heads put it — everywhere on Earth is equally old!

  4. Jennings’ approach to documentary-propaganda is closer to experimental and avant-garde film than anything else and the use of sound in his films is incredible. A Diary for Timothy is the beginning of the non-fiction essay film of the likes that Chris Marker pioneered later on and which Terence Davies brought back to Albion’s shores with Of Time and the City. That Hamlet sequence(with John Gielgud as the Prince) is incredible and Michael Redgrave’s narration is a masterpiece as well.

    Fires Were Started/I Was A Fireman is Jennings’ sole feature length film and technically his only fiction work, it’s a recreation of a firefighters squad whose job is to put out buildings lit to blazes by the blitz, it used the original firefighters as non-professionals and shot in the real locations where it happened, in others super-duper neo-realism avant-la-lettre though it looks like nothing like what is associated with Neo-Realism.

  5. Apparently Jennings was influenced by the surrealists in his use of strange juxtapositions. I think it was Raymond Durgnat who rhapsodised about an edit in Listen to England, from air raid helmets hanging on coat-hooks, to the heads of an audience in a church concert. The cut really makes you consider the fragility of those exposed skulls.

  6. Jennings’ brand of surrealism (as outlined by Ray Durgnat) greatly influenced Lindsay Anderson.

  7. Yes, he’s practically Anderson’s only real precedent in British cinema.

  8. mmedin Says:

    Seems like you have the bane of my springs in your neighborhood, too. Trees. You know it’s spring here because everyone sneezes. Look at my neighborhood on Google satellite and you’ll see how many, and ponder that there were many more before disease took a lot of them. Four on my lot alone, and I’ll be damned if I replant a single one. There might appear to be one in my backyard, but it’s not, it’s angled over the yard. All in all, I’d rather have smog.

  9. The picture’s taken from a hill that’s basically a public park. However, my street, H— Gardens, lives up to its name by possessing flocks of pollen-spewing ents, poisoning the air with their filthy naturalness.

  10. mmedin Says:

    Anything that spews pollen is my enemy. The sulfurous spots of pollen I see on our neighborhood sidewalks are hideous signs of spring. One of the reasons I like San Francisco so. Lot less of that nonsense there.

  11. Yes, but I think all those car chases up and down the bumpy hills would wear on my nerves.

  12. mmedin Says:

    Aw, you get used to it, getting airborne here and there. Besides, you’re a chump if you actually intend to drive in San Francisco. I stopped doing that 20 years ago. There’s enough trolleys, buses, trolley buses, light rail, and commuter trains around to take a person anywhere.

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