Simon Brown

Dufaycolor was one of the more successful of the British natural-colour cinema processes that were promoted in the 1930s. In the two years before the outbreak of the Second World War, the process, which had been undergoing a costly research and development phase since 1926, finally began to achieve a reasonable amount of success and exposure in the home market, only to be interrupted by the conflict as the labs were put towards vital government work. At the end of the war, Dufaycolor was launched again, but had lost too much ground in the international market to competitors like Kodachrome. By 1950 Dufaycolor as a cine film process was all but moribund, and the company was concentrating on producing still cameras, black and white roll film for still photography, and colour roll film for still photography. The colour film was being promoted mostly in Italy, “as in England and America the taste and requirement seems to be the more exaggerated colours of other processes”, [1] but this attempted expansion was unsuccessful.

My purpose here is to examine some of these Dufaycolor films and to use this examination to draw out issues regarding the conflict between the realist and the spectacular in British National Cinema. This debate has up until now been required to straddle a fiction/non-fiction divide. Both Pam Cook and Andrew Higson have been seeking to redress the notion that quality British cinema was and should be part of a realist tradition, but have done so by drawing new attention to previously despised spectacular genres. However, the realist tradition, though ingrained in fiction film, is inherently a non-fiction tradition, whilst the spectacular genres of Gainsborough or Merchant Ivory, or indeed the films of Powell and Pressburger are nonetheless part of British fiction cinema. I propose here that Dufaycolor films, which are part of a hitherto largely unexplored area of British cinema of non-fiction filmmaking outside of the documentary films of the so-called Documentary Movement, maintain within themselves the discourse of the spectacular, but placed here within the traditions of the non-fiction film. Such a discourse of the spectacular can perhaps be enlightening, especially within a type of film which as we shall see cuts across the political, gender and class boundaries of the Movement film, and addresses itself to a much wider and more generalised audience of the nation.

Up to the early 1930’s so-called ‘natural’ colour in feature films– as opposed to tinting and toning, though this was used in a similar vein - had been used primarily for a sensorial and sensational effect. In titles such as The Phantom of the Opera (1925) two colour Technicolor sequences were specifically designed to provide an added spectacular emphasis to a particular scene. Tom Gunning suggests that there is a basic dichotomy in the representation of colour on screen [2] . Initially, up until about 1960, when Gunning suggests that the number of colour films produced began to overtake the number of black and white, there was a certain novelty value in colour images. As he says, “color appears as something superadded to the more dominant form of reproduction” and adds that as such colour can evoke “a sensual intensity that can overwhelm its realistic and indexical associations” [3] . A useful contemporary example is the rise in the use of colour film in archive-based documentaries on television. Productions like The Second World War in Colour (Carlton/TWI, 1999) achieved success primarily due to the spectacular use of colour images to depict a history which has traditionally been seen only in black and white, as for example in The World at War (Thames Television, 1973-4). In The Second World War in Colour the content of the series is led by the spectacular colour images available, rather than the images used to illustrate a particular historical event.

By ‘indexical’ Gunning is referring to the photograph or film as a direct inscription of light onto photosensitive material that literally imprints the image in front of the lens. Colour is clearly an essential part of this homogenous whole. Colour images, he argues, can thus be read in two separate ways, either to promote and complete a photographic realism, as in the Bazinian sense of a ‘Total Cinema’, or as spectacle, as an extra to the familiar, established, association between the photographic and the black and white image. In other words colour may be both intertextual and extratextual. Gunning’s primary focus in his article is the silent period, and he argues the silent cinema tended particularly towards the spectacular use of colour, which could be added to the early film text as an additional attraction. But Gunning 's analysis of pre-colour cinema, leads him to conclude that the use of colour could be both realist and spectacular/sensual at once. The unexpected inclusion of colour tends towards both a heightened realism and a spectacular image.

Gunning uses both the term “spectacle” and the term “sensual” in relation to a non-Bazanian sense of colour. The idea of spectacle is closer to the idea of novelty. If colour on screen is unfamiliar, then presenting a film in colour is therefore spectacular. Hence advertisements would highlight the use of colour in a film (“all talkie, all colour” stated the promotional material for Warner Brothers 1929 release On With the Show). But colour also has a sensorial effect and can subliminally appeal to the senses. As Jules Guerin put it “color, like music, is the language of emotions”. [4] Gunning ties the sensorial to the spectacular, with colour being experienced as a power in itself. But the sensorial also has a place in the realistic mode, although simply in a less overt and more homogenous way. Now that all films are in colour, and black and white is considered uncommercial (for example Disney’s refusal to back Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, when Burton declared his desire to shoot it on black and white stock), the impact of the spectacular and the sensual is diminished. But it is self-evident that, as the dominance of colour rose and that of black and white declined, there must have been a point when the spectacular/sensual and the realistic/sensual mixed.

Take, as a for instance, the final emblematic Technicolor shot of the portrait at the end of Selznick’s Portrait of Jennie. Made in 1948, the final shot has three specific functions. Firstly, it draws the audience attention to the fact that this is a real portrait, hanging in a real gallery. Showing the painting in colour serves to separate the reality of the existing portrait from the ghostly fantasy world of the film itself, shot in crisp black and white. Also, it is designed to provoke a sensorial response. There is the shock of the sudden switch to colour that broadens the underlying awareness of the switch from fantasy to reality. We have the vision of Jenny in colour, which we have not yet seen. Our first glimpse of her in colour is through this portrait. Finally, this is a show-stopping moment (no doubt drawing upon the similar device used in The Picture of Dorian Grey three years earlier). Not only do the audience see for the first time the eponymous portrait, but also the first ‘natural’ Technicolor moment in the film, coming as it does after the mock green-tinted section of the night storm.

In the 1930s there was evident concern that colour images would become part of the natural order of cinema, as sound had done, rather than remaining as one particular palette a cinema artist could gather up for a particular effect. In October 1935, the trade newspaper Today’s Cinema discussed an article, which had appeared in The Times criticising the use of colour film and suggesting that the cinema was not required to portray events realistically and that the artistic potential of films could only be hampered by any increase in their power for realism.. . Rachael Low notes “there were…protests from highbrows, to whom it seemed that the visual essence of the film, the composition of form in movement by the use of light in black and white images, was threatened…destroying the essence of film art”. [5] Today’s Cinema was inclined to disagree, suggesting, “black and white is a mere mechanical abstraction, with no specially inherent aesthetic virtues”. [6]

Arguments ranged from that of The Times, to the pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo of Cinema Quarterly’s “until the retino-cerebral apparatus is more advanced than it is at present, it is improbable that we shall sensually enjoy coloured films, except for their purely kaleidoscopic characteristics”. [7] This basically suggests that the notion of form in motion is more comprehensible in black and white and that a colour system would “hide form and clarity, making the whole composition less exciting”. [8] Eric Elliot, also from Cinema Quarterly and quoted in Rachael Low, makes the observation that colour “trespasses on the field of vision. It provides an abstract spectacle imposed over the spectacle concrete”. [9] The suggestion is ironically that what colour adds to the image it actually takes from it, be that the artistic nature of the black and white image in favour of a grubby verisimilitude, or a spectacular overlay which detracts attention from the images themselves. The concept of colour appearing as a homogenous part of a realist text is never even addressed. Colour, it is perceived, can only be separate from the image and has no indexical potential.

Gunning mentions several historical arguments against the use of colour. For example, in the 19th Century, colour printing was considered inferior to the work of the artist as it was mechanically produced. Mechanical reproduction could indeed provide detail, but it could not interpret. Artistic colour could not be achieved mechanically. Also Gunning mentions that as colour images appeared at the beginning of the twentieth century in Sunday supplements and on the covers of dime novels they came to be associated with the popular and the sensationalist, as opposed to the artistic and the elite. [10] So we can see the arguments against colour suggest that its use can be both too realistic, and therefore not art, and at the same time too sensational, which as a concept is anti-realist.

The relationship between art and film is a complex one, and outside the scope of this article, but it is worth noting an example from the period of early cinema. One of the principal objections to the nude in cinema and photography as opposed to art was the fundamental reality of its presentation. A photograph could not be idealised as art could (artists would not necessarily reproduce the exact figure of the model, but adjust it to a more ‘classical’ form) and was also replete with pubic hair and vagina, something absolutely taboo in art and tastefully removed. Thus a photograph was more ‘real’ and the additional movement to be found in film gave an even greater sense of reality. There is an irony here in that the lack of colour in film intensifies reality, since colour in fine art had an aesthetic purpose. When Pathe introduced (stencil) colour into its risqué subjects such as Les Bains Des Dames De La Cour (1905) the company was attempting not to make the films seem more like reality, but more like art, since such risqué subjects could be legitimised by citing classical nude paintings. The argument here, that the absence of colour is more like reality and less like art, can be contrasted with The Times’ suggestion that the addition of colour is more like reality and less like art. As Gunning realises, the difference lay in current perceptions. Film as a new medium was chastised for lacking colour. Once black and white became the convention, the addition of colour came to be perceived as threatening.

When the article appeared in The Times in 1935, colour film was beginning to make more concrete inroads into the general world of cinema. Technicolor Inc. had perfected their three-colour system, and Becky Sharp had been released in July in the UK to great critical acclaim. The co-inventor of Technicolor, Dr Hebert Kalmus, had been in the UK in early 1935 and had struck a deal with Alexander Korda to form a British branch of Technicolor to be owned 50% by Technicolor Motion Picture Company in the USA, and 50% by a British group made up of Korda, Gerrard Industries and the Prudential Assurance Company. In addition to Technicolor, there were a vast number of colour processes vying for some sort of supremacy, including Dunningcolor, Ondiacolor, Gasparcolor and of course Dufaycolor.

But in the 1930s colour film was to all intents and purposes still an experimental concept. With all these different types of processes, all of which had their own inherent problems either in terms of practicalities or costs, it was not surprising that few studios or production companies whole-heartedly embraced, and were prepared to invest in, a particular format for feature production, preferring instead to experiment on shorter subjects, or better still, to watch other people experimenting. This was particularly true in Britain. As Major Adrian Klein, the spokesman for Dufaycolor, put it “the great difficulty in this country is that of finance…Even some of the bigger production companies are experiencing great difficulties in raising the capital they want”. [11]

The fundamentally experimental status and the added cost of each of the colour processes precluded the kind of breakthrough that sound achieved at the end of the 1920’s. There was no ‘conversion to colour’. Tom Gunning suggests that rather, “color appeared… as an innovation, encroaching on territory dominated by black and white”. [12]   Colour films started small, in animated cartoons, newsreels, documentaries and educational films, or as experimental sections in feature films. And for the majority of colour processes, this was where they stayed, before being forced out of business by the 1950’s by the larger, better financed American companies such as Technicolor and Kodak.  It is therefore in the short film field that the argument between realism and spectacle becomes more applicable, and relevant to Dufaycolor.

Rachael Low has ably charted the rise of the short film in the 1930’s in her two books on the subject. [13] She divides the short film market into several sections, including newsreels, animation, advertising films and documentaries. Dufaycolor would be used in films of all of these categories. In terms of documentaries, it is necessary to subdivide between the so-called Documentary Movement and the more ‘routine’ educational shorts and travelogues, as Low calls them. The Documentary Movement is primarily associated with the output of the Empire Marketing Board, The General Post Office Film Unit, and later the Crown Film Unit, plus certain personalities such as Paul Rotha, perceived to be part of the “Movement”. Companies such as Inspiration Films, Publicity Films, Rayant Pictures, and Gaumont-British Instructional Films put out the ‘routine educational’ shorts. Such shorts were neither always educational, nor routine of course. Not only did thy encompass travelogues, educational films, nature films and interest films, but producers also made use of them to make advertising films for commercial clients. This practice was the driving force behind the non-theatric circuit outside of the Movement, since it was partly the distribution requirements of commercial sponsors that helped to develop and fund the non-theatric distribution circuits of the late 1930’s. These shorts have as much right to be called documentary-realist films as the films of the Documentary Movement. What distinguishes them is that they lack the theorising and aesthetic principles of Grierson or Rotha. However, Rotha himself made a number of commercial films, including Roadwards for the Daimler Company, and it is important not to forget that the Movement films were based within the marketing departments of national organisations. Many of the most celebrated Movement films, including for example Night Mail (1936), were advertisement films for the GPO, whilst Housing Problems (1935) was sponsored by British Gas. At a most basic level, they are two sides of the same coin. Rachael Low was aware of this, suggesting that, “there were areas…where the commercial advertising film and the Grierson Documentary were seen to be alternative approaches”. [14] I shall therefore distinguish between them by referring to Movement documentaries and non-Movement documentaries. In the field of the documentary-realist film, Dufaycolor first appeared as part of the Movement proper, before dropping out to become almost exclusively the domain of the non-Movement documentary.

Grierson famously defined the documentary as “the creative interpretation of actuality”. [15] It is with  this oft-quoted phrase that one can argue for the relative suitability of colour in the documentary genre. To put colour into films where previously none exists and to use it to film non-fiction subjects is definable as the creative interpretation of actuality, since it is arguably more actual, and potentially equally creative as any other form of cinema language.

Many film historians, notably Andrew Higson, have discussed the basic dichotomy inherent within Grierson’s phrase, questioning the notion that actuality can be treated creatively. [16] In an attempt to reclaim the previously despised spectacular films of Gainsborough, Powell and Pressburger and Hammer, the critical debates around British cinema have shifted in recent years away from the realist tradition to engage with the concept of the spectacular. The course of this debate has also given rise to the concept of the heritage film in which the spectacular is necessarily placed in opposition to the realist tradition.  But rarely had that debate been extended to the use of colour in the documentary-realist tradition. Since the documentary realist tradition is also integral to the concept of British national cinema, I believe it is fruitful to extend the debate to include concepts of colour, and to Dufaycolor, the most successful British colour process of the period, in particular.  The addition of colour opens up the documentary-realist tradition to the concept of the spectacular.


The Dufaycolor Process – The History

Before approaching the debates, it is important to understand the history of the Dufaycolor process and its place in British cinema of the late 1930’s.

The Dufaycolor process was based upon a a four-colour screen still photography process invented by the Frenchman Louis Dufay in 1908 called the Diopticolore Process. The colour photographic image consisted of pairs of lines of complimentary colours, such as magenta and green, placed at right angles to a series of non-complimentary colours, such as cyan and yellow. This produced a mosaic pattern of green lines interspersed with rows of red and green squares. This mosaic pattern was situated between the base and the emulsion, and the photograph was registered through the base. The light then passed through this mosaic pattern, registering a colour image on the emulsion.

Dufay marketed his process in various forms until the mid 1920’s when his French Company, Versicolor, which he had set up to investigate the possibilities of the process for cine film ran into trouble. He had at the time working with him T. Thorne-Baker, a colour expert from Britain, who was asked by the British paper manufacturing firm, Spicers to report back to them on the possibilities of the process. He evidently responded favourably, since in 1926 Spicers bought the process, and set up Spicer-Dufay the same year.

Research into making the Dufay process suitable for cine film took place over four years at the Spicer plant in Sawston in Cambridgeshire, under the direction of T. Thorne-Baker. The research was undertaken in secret, without any publicity, until 1931 when Dufaycolor was presented firstly at the Royal Society in March, and then at the British Kinematograph Society in September. Dufay’s original process had been considerably improved, with a new mosaic pattern, called the reseau, of red and green lines overlaid at right angles with blue lines. The presentations were well received, James Williamson for example responded to the presentation at the BKS by declaring “From what I have seen to-night, it seems to me to be “it” – what we have been waiting for all these years”. [17] But despite this the process had significant problems, which needed to be overcome.

Firstly, there was the problem of the visibility of the reseau. The angles of the lines of the reseau (67 degrees to the frame for the red and green lines and 23 degrees to the frame for the blue) – had been chosen after careful experiment to minimise its visibility on projection. But by Spicer-Dufay’s own admission, the lines were visible as a series of diamond shapes on the image from the first six rows of any cinema. [18] In addition, exposure and projection both had to be through the base, in order that the light should shine through the reseau before hitting the emulsion.

This caused three significant problems. Firstly, the image was consequently darker than normal film, and so required more illumination upon projection. Secondly, any combined sound-track would, for the similar reason that light had to pass through the base and the reseau first, be necessarily quieter. And thirdly, due to these problems, the film had to be laced a different way from normal, with the emulsion facing away from the camera or projector lens, so that an extensive re-education programme was required for projectionists and camera operators using Dufay film. Both projectors and cameras required re-calibrating, since by lacing the film the other way round, the emulsion was a fraction of an inch further away from the light source, so re-calibration was necessary to ensure the picture could be focussed.  There were also problems of shooting in artificial light, and of cost.

The advantage that Dufaycolor had over Technicolor is that it was comparatively cheap. The stock and processing were more expensive than black and white film, naturally, but nothing like the £20,000 to £25,000 it was estimated that Technicolor added to a feature. [19] However, in the typically belt-tightening world of British feature film production, even a small extra expense would be problematic. The Dufay Company, in all its various incarnations, was at pains to promote the relative cheapness of its process, but being relatively inexpensive was not the same as being actually inexpensive. Dufaycolor prints cost around 3.5 pence per foot to make, about three and a half times the cost of black and white prints. W.J Gell, head of Pathe, claimed that the cost of a colour negative was five times as much as for a black and white negative, whilst the cost of a print was six times the cost. Horace Shepherd, whose company Inspiration Films used Dufay extensively claimed it was nearer four times the cost. [20] For a film with a length of 1000ft, this expense was large but not disastrous, but for feature length films of 6000ft or more, the extra few pence a foot added a substantial amount to the budget. In addition, although Dufaycolor was simple to use out of doors, requiring only a gelatine filter and little fiddling in the camera, its use in artificial light was problematic at best. It required at least one and a half times the usual amount of light for interior lighting, and also required that light sources were not mixed. For example, in lighting interiors for Dufaycolor it was inadvisable to use arc lamps and tungsten lamps.  The reason for this was that the three colours within the Dufaycolor matrix, red, green and blue, had to be balanced so that together they made white. This balance was created at the printing stage, but light sources are not consistent. For example, as sunlight is yellow rather than pure white, yellow light passing through the matrix would stimulate one colour above the others, causing an off-balance. To compensate for this off-balance, Dufay issued gelatine filters free. Using two different light sources was therefore impossible, since the filter could not compensate for both. Dufay were nothing if not helpful in terms of their customer relations, even going so far as to engage a company, Mole Richardson Ltd, to devise a lighting set-up for Dufaycolor interior shots which could be bought or hired direct from Mole Richardson themselves. The added complications of interior shooting, plus the extra cost involved, served to limit the attractiveness of Dufaycolor for the feature market, but did not prohibit its use in shorter subjects.

Spicer-Dufay, having raised their profile with the presentations in 1931, went back into the labs to continue research. In 1932, Spicers’ investment of £500,000 enabled the launch of a 35mm cine film at the end of the year, and more importantly, the British photographic firm Ilford made the decision to invest in the company and the process. Spicer Dufay (British) Ltd was registered in February 1933 as a private company with a capital of £600,000. Ilford’s main objective was the development of a sub-standard, 16mm, colour cine film for the amateur market, and this was the direction taken by the company throughout that year and most of the following year. The new 16mm colour film, along with an improved 35mm stock was presented at the Savoy Hotel in April 1934, and the 16mm film was released onto the market in September to great success, using the slogan “Dufaycolor: Everybody’s Colour Film”. The advertising emphasised the simplicity and the inexpensiveness of producing “a living and permanent record of life as you saw it”. [21] It was enthusiastically received, the Amateur Cine World proclaiming “Dufaycolor involves the user in no more trouble and but little greater cost than ordinary black and white film, and can be used with confidence by the veriest (sic) amateur”. [22] Within a month of its launch, the Thames Valley Amateur Cine Club had produced a 16mm sound on disc talkie. [23]

The following year, 1935, saw four significant developments in the history of Dufaycolor, which bring us back to the article in The Times about colour and to the point where our story begins. First of all, Spicer-Dufay (British) Ltd struck a deal with British Movietone News to film the Silver Jubilee of King George V, beginning a tradition which associated the use of colour with spectacular Royal events. Secondly, Len Lye completed his abstract film in Dufaycolor, The Colour Box, and it was acquired by John Grierson for the G.P.O Film Unit as an advert for the sixpenny parcel post. These films mark the beginning of the use of Dufaycolor in documentary film and newsreels. The third and fourth developments in 1935 are the release of the first full Technicolor feature, Becky Sharp in June, and the release in December of the British feature film, Radio Parade of 1935, which featured two sequences in Dufaycolor. These are outside the scope of this article, dealing as it does with documentary films and newsreels following the developments mentioned above. However, in terms of the rise of public awareness of colour and its eventual dominance in fiction film, the release of Becky Sharp is evidently important. As for Radio Parade of 1935, it remains along with Maurice Elvey’s 1939 feature Sons of the Sea one of only two fiction feature-length films which used Dufaycolor.

British National Cinema – Spectacle/Realism and the Spectacle of Reality

Although the current terms of the debate about British film have shifted recently to include the popular melodrama, John Grierson’s documentary-realism as exemplified in the Movement documentaries is still at the heart of the discussion. British national cinema has been characterised as an attempt to distinguish British cinema from Hollywood’s “irresponsible cinema of spectacle and ‘escapism’”. [24] Andrew Higson quotes the 1947 survey ‘The Factual Film’ which refers to the documentary - realist tradition as “Britain’s outstanding contribution to the Film”, [25] and this tradition has been frequently referred to as being particularly characteristic of British national cinema, indeed one that Higson claims, “dominated thinking about cinema in Britain”. [26] Higson takes issue with this notion, suggesting that it not only represents a simplified view of British cinema but that it has also “produced a film culture which is profoundly distrustful of anything other than a particular de-dramatised naturalistic form…hence the ossification of one particular aesthetic as appropriate form for the development of a responsible engaged cinema”. [27]

Pam Cook addresses the prevalent use of a consensus of canonical realist texts of theDocumentary Movement in her discussion of British national cinema in the 1940’s. She picks up the theme of ossification noted by Higson, noting that,  “British commentators on national identity appear to be remarkably attached to the realist canon”. [28] These same commentators dismiss for instance the Gainsborough melodramas and the films of Powell and Pressburger as anti-consensual, owing to their anti-realist, gothic style. [29]   By contrast the consensus films of the Movement, “draw on a rhetoric of realism in which the personal experiences of ordinary people are set in the context of real public events. They are governed by aesthetic restraint, employ a specific iconography, and episodic narratives in the effort to define themselves as part of a national cinema clearly distinct from Hollywood”. [30] Within this definition lies the suggestion that the realist aesthetic depends partly on a rejection of popular genres as spectacle and escapism.

It is important to note, however, that as mentioned earlier, the documentary-realist tradition encompasses only a relatively small number of non-fiction (mostly short films) that were made in the years running up to, and during, the Second World War. There was an entire other culture of non-fiction films outside of the EMB, GPO and Crown Film Unit that tend, again, to be largely dismissed. Although Grierson tells us himself that the original meaning of the word documentary was “travelogue”, he himself dismissed travel films and the like, stating “they do not dramatise, they do not even dramatise an episode; they describe, and even expose, but in any aesthetic sense, only rarely reveal…it is unlikely they will contribute to the fuller art of documentary”. [31]

This limited approach to documentary suggests that its value lies in its content. To reveal and to dramatise a subject is to contribute to the fuller art of the documentary. Philip and Kathryn Dodd trace the Griersonian ideology back to the nineteenth-century tradition of “Into Unknown England” writing, and quote Grierson as wishing to “travel dangerously into the jungles of Middlesborough and the Clyde”. [32] They note the intention of the documentarists to discover and reveal the culture of the working class and to “bring the middle classes and the poor into one nation”. [33] This they do by content and context, revealing the working class as either a victim, worthy of compassion (e.g. Housing Problems) or as fetishised male hero (e.g., Industrial Britain, Coal Face), worthy of respect. What is more, the landscape is predominantly the urban and industrial, rather than the pastoral. Partially, the Dodds argue, this is due to a cultural shift from South to North as the locus of masculine British-ness. Drawing on Alison Light, they suggest that in the late 1920’s the South was becoming increasingly feminised with the rise of suburbia and the new middle classes, who represented “an Englishness at once less imperial and more inward looking, more domestic and more private – and…more feminine”. [34] Thus it is suggested concentration on the male figure in an industrial landscape served to repair the fractured cultural identity of the male, and by extension the nation. After the grievous and perceived loss of an entire generation in the carnage in France and Belgium, the image of the heroic worker, aside from drawing upon the roots of the documentary movement in Russian montage aesthetics, serves to reassert the male figure in national identity. Grierson himself alludes to this, noting that the use of a working man as a national symbol in a “buy British” campaign created by the EMB caused an outcry to the tune that the EMB was supporting the Bolsheviks, and that “the thought of making…a workman…an honourable figure is still liable to the charge of subversion”. [35]

So the art of the Movement documentary, according to Grierson, reveals to the rest of the country, in the aid of an education of national community, an unknown Britain of the working class heroes and victims. What it does not do is invite women to join in, nor invite identification between audience and subject. Dodd again quotes Grierson who suggests “film can really bring the outside world alive to the growing citizen”. [36] The chasm between inside and outside is implicit in this phrase, and the outside to which Grierson refers is an outside for a southern middle-class intelligentsia, the outside of miners, industrial workers and slums. In crude terms, Movement documentaries present part of the nation, predominantly working class, to the other part of the nation that has, according to Grierson, a “superior taste in realism”. [37] And the nation is, furthermore, assumed to be, and is addressed as, predominantly male. Given the fact that Drifters was famously shown at the Film Society, once can surmise that Grierson’s audience of superior taste was middle class, as were most of the film-makers involved in the Movement. Yet the cinema audience in Britain in the late 1930’s was still, not only predominantly working class, but also made up of a large proportion of women. Bruce Woolf, one of the great producers of non-Movement Documentary subjects wrote in The Commercial Film that the film audience was predominantly female. [38] So it is possible to agree that to canonise the Movement as the high point of British film culture is problematic. It fails to address the needs of the audience, taking a middle-class viewpoint on the education of the masses, not just in images of nation, but also of what makes good cinema.

New criticism is seeking to address this issue. Pam Cook’s work on the Gainsborough melodramas, for instance reclaims, in the light of feminism, this despised ‘female’ genre. This was a genre of bawdy romps. It was popular and mass produced, and successful with female audiences. It was also a genre full of spectacle: of costume, of stars, of setting, each aspect drawing attention to itself from outside a homogenous reality. Its inherent historical lapses only add to this. Gainsborough, frivolous, spectacular, lurid and female, is traditionally held up to, and found wanting against, the masculine art of the documentary-realist tradition; intellectual, realist and male. It is also worth noting that Gainsborough is similarly held up and found wanting against the output of Ealing Studios. Ealing too is honoured for its realist tradition, its location shooting and its gritty urban life, its presentation of its comedy within real Britain. This too is tied in to an implicit and explicit male-ness, as Ealing  was very much a boys-own club under Michael Balcon.   Cook stakes a claim for Gainsborough as a part of British film culture,  and thus reclaims the spectacular and the female. Similarly, the non-Movement Dufaycolor documentaries are similarly feminised in their subject matter, dealing as they do not with the heroic worker or the working class victim, but with the pastoral, the rural, and the scenic. Whereas the image of the heroic worker is predominantly leftist in its connotations, and the majority of the Movement film-makers were on the left, the image of the rural is more inclusive. As Jeffrey Richards puts it, “the rural myth is to be explained in part by its appeal both to the Romantic Right and the Romantic Left. For the right the country meant the country house and the country church…for the left it meant…the village community, rural crafts and honest peasantry”. [39] Not only is the non-Movement documentary to be perceived as more feminine, it is also more politically inclusive.

Such films have an interest in history and culture, and are more likely to cover local crafts and beauty spots than heavy industry, as, for example, in Lakeland Heritage (pc Denning Films, 1939) and Devon (c1939). Devon, as described by a review in Today’s Cinema “shows the beauty of Teignmouth, Exeter, Plymouth and Ilfracombe, pausing to comment on the outstanding local features of each”. [40] Also the non-Movement films are spectacular in their use of colour. In The Lancashire Way (c1948) for example, the images specifically defy the convention of the industrial image of Lancashire, in favour of pastoral scenes of the Lake District, of woodlands, cottages and gardens. These images of rural “ravishing loveliness” (as the commentary gushes) have a further level of address to their female audience. The Lancashire Way is in fact an advertising film for Lanry, a miracle soap to cure the washday blues (all for sixpence, plus a small return on the bottle!) and  in the final minute directly addresses the housewife.  In the 1939 film Beauties of Britain women representing each nation of Britain are shown performing some sort of task which is similarly representative of that nation, for example the woman from Ireland is shown sewing, the woman from Scotland is shown at a loom. Each section begins with a shot of the particular beauty carrying out this particular task before the flower which is the representative of that nation, and is followed by a close up of the woman.  The film is, in fact, an advertisement for Galatea Toilet Soap and its kindness to hands. But the film clearly equates female beauty with national stereotypes. Far from building the nation from the image of the industrial working class male hero, here we see the nation represented by beautiful women, none of whom are seen in workers clothes, whose beauty is enhanced by the particular brand of soap.

The Heritage Film has been the subject of critical discussion as a new form of British cinema that is distinct from Hollywood. One of the key identifying factors in the Heritage Film is the notion of display, of a fetishistic insistence on the presentation of heritage features in the form of country houses, pastoral landscapes, elaborately decorated sets, and the customs and manners of the upper classes. [41] Pam Cook, looking at Higson’s arguments about Heritage Cinema, offers the insightful phrase, “(Higson) shares with (others) a distrust of spectacle as a potential distraction…from the more serious business of historical analysis” (my italics). [42]   However, it is this very notion of the spectacular display of realism, of authentic period detail which infuses the heritage film, and which distinguishes it from, amongst other things, the historical/gothic melodramas of Gainsborough and Hammer. Certainly Cook has ably demonstrated that one reason for the vicious attacks to which Gainsborough melodramas were subjected was their wilful historical inaccuracies or, as Sue Harper puts it, their qualities “which offend against the criteria of visual or psychological realism”. [43]

Although documentary-realism and heritage seem initially to be polar opposites, both of them contain, in their make-up, the core idea of realism, the one in terms of real people in real situations, the other in terms of (re) presenting the past with a fetishistic accumulation of ‘real’ detail. As Andrew Higson puts it, “A version of realism is…at work in the production and consumption of the heritage genre, just as it is in the documentary –realist tradition”. [44] The reason for taking these two areas for my purpose is that, in the heritage film, the idea of realism is bound up with the element of spectacle, that is, of something imposed upon the narrative. Thus imposed it stands outside of the diegesis, as, to quote Cook again, “a potential distraction”, whereas for the documentary film, realism is obviously an integral part of the overall aesthetic.  Conversely, as the realist film is deliberately anti-spectacle, it can be said that the use of colour should similarly exist outside the diegesis of the realist film, existing upon it as spectacle by the very nature of its sensuality and its novelty. As we shall see, this argument holds true within the Movement, where the use of colour was purely sensual.  However, if one looks beyond the Movement films to the Dufaycolor shorts produced by the non-Movement sector, we can see a more complex merging of the spectacle of colour and reality, which we might describe as ‘the spectacle of reality’. As we shall see, far from being imposed upon the realist text, colour can exist within the realist text as well as standing outside it.  As such, the resoundingly male, anti-female, anti-spectacle emphasis of the documentary-realist tradition gives way to a more feminised spectacle of reality.

What is more, and this will become evident as we look at the films themselves, this notion of the spectacle of reality serves to produce a more inclusive form for the documentary, a more national form. Instead of assimilating the heroic industrial worker into a middle class ideology of nationhood, or presenting a victim for sympathy and conscience, the pastoral and colourful topics of the Dufaycolor documentary invite an identification with the nation as locus, as a place, and a state of being. It does this precisely through this spectacle of reality, the spectacular and sensual presentation of real people within real images of the nation. It presents a nation seen as it is seen, in colour, with which an audience can identify. Roger Manvell suggested, “The realist urge is to see life steadily, to see it whole, to analyse society and the functions of mankind”, [45] and the idea of spectacle may seem to be anathema to such an analytical approach. But, if we are to see life whole, should we not also see it in colour, since everyday life, or as Grierson called it “natural material”, [46] is something we see in colour? On the other hand, can we then turn this idea upon its head and suggest that there are certain subjects which already contain a rhetoric of the spectacular, and which in the medium of colour film are being represented in a realistic context?  Sydney Box, noted producer of advertising films, wrote, “the colour film has considerable novelty value and is particularly suitable for presenting some products in an attractive light”, [47] evidently promoting the spectacular potential of colour. But as we shall see, part of the very nature of the presentation of those subjects that are particularly suitable is the blending of the spectacular with the real.



It is not perhaps surprising, given the more or less absent place of colour in the Movement films, that colour is introduced into documentary with the work of its two most controversial figures, Len Lye and Humphrey Jennings. Both were artists, and Jennings, was also a poet. For Lye, “film exist(ed) on the sensory side of art”, [48] and his experiments with colour film would seek to exploit the use of colour as a sensory experience. Lye was one of the very few filmmakers who worked in colour under the auspices of the Movement proper, as controlled, theorised and promoted by Grierson through the Empire Marketing Board, the General Post Office Film Unit, and later, after Grierson’s departure, the Crown Film Unit. Lye’s experiments are deliberately sensual, the combination of abstract movement and rhythm belie any kind of narrative functionality. Grierson saw clearly that Lye’s sensorial experiments could serve as advertisements since by their nature they were both striking and memorable and Lye was content for films like A Colour Box to be used to advertise the products of the Post Office. While Grierson realised, harking back perhaps to the Sunday supplements and dime novels, that colour could be sensational and popular, Lye’s experiments neatly side stepped any issues of the representation of form, since they were purely abstract and sensual. However, despite Higson’s assertion that “the documentary film units would become the site for the most systematic explorations of, and experiments with, intellectual and artistic ideas”, [49] it was only with the abstract, and the more overt advertising films produced by the GPO,  that these explorations extended to colour. With, for example, Lye’s A Colour Box (1935), Maclaren’s Love on the Wing (1938) or Lotte Reiniger’s Heavenly Post Office (1938). Grierson was happy to promote colour, or rather use colour to promote the GPO, in abstract form, but his cordiality did not extend to the live action subject. In Grierson’s world, colour was art, but not the art of the documentary.

Not all experimental films in Dufaycolor were produced by Grierson. Lye’s approach was taken up during the war by the Polish Film Unit, working in Britain on the extraordinary Calling Mr Smith (1944), directed by Franciszka Themerson using both live-action and animation. A film designed to draw attention to atrocities in Poland under the Nazis and to re-engage the support of the British people, it uses bold swathes of colour in a purely sensational way. In discussing the Nazi regime, sepia toned archive footage of marches gives way to images of fire which are coloured bright red, followed by a still image of a hanged man, also the same bright red. As it comments that Poles are forbidden to read and listen to certain things a huge red hand signalling stop is flashed upon screen. The voice over commentary invokes a Mr Jones, neighbour to Mr Smith (an invisible audience member whom the film is addressing), who refuses to believe that which he has not experienced for himself, while the use of colour, together with the blasting music of Brahms, is designed to create a sensual collage, an experiential effect. The film ends with four drawn images of a young girl’s haunted face which crosses the screen left to right in ever increasing shades of deep red. Abstract images of nature, trees and leaves, are superimposed against a blue background over the image of a record playing Chopin. The idea of the natural world, the natural order, of beauty, is represented by the blue background, the blue of the sky, the blue of calm, which is in turn complimented by Chopin. Chopin, we are told, is verboten (forbidden). The image changes to a naturalistic image of a black boot smashing the record, and the peaceful blue of the natural world breaks up around it.  This form of political animation is almost unique within the Dufaycolor output. Most of the animated films using the procedure are either purely abstract or more of a cartoon style, and the majority are used for advertising purposes, either for the GPO in the Movement films, or for household products like Rinso washing powder. In animated films such as these, self-evidently the issue of reality becomes sidelined in favour of the sensual and the spectacular.  It is to the live action films and to Humphrey Jennings that we must turn.

Dufay-Chromex, which had been formed at the beginning of 1936, made a concerted effort to break into the shorts market. With the feature industry still hedging, as described above, the shorts market was the obvious place to which to target the process. As educational shorts had never been included in the quota legislation of 1927, it was altogether very difficult to persuade exhibitors to screen short films as part of the programme. Exhibitors were required to show a specific percentage of British films by law, and, although for the most part they tended to actually show a higher percentage than was actually required, it did not behove them to show British productions which did not count towards the figures. Rachael Low indicates that the percentage of short films shown in cinemas had dropped to four per cent by 1935. [50] The short documentary industry, led by Grierson, was lobbying hard for a short film quota to the Moyne Committee, who were considering the options as so how to proceed when the 1927 Act expired in 1938. 

In the meantime Grierson was advocating the distribution of short films to non-theatric audiences, finding his inspiration in the flourishing non-theatrical distribution circuits of the USA and Canada. Although, he was quoted as saying that the audience outside of a cinema was bigger than the audience within it,  the difficulty of getting films into cinemas meant it was simpler to take them elsewhere. According to Paul Swann, by 1939 only one-third of the cinemas in Britain still showed single feature programmes, and the cinemas that showed double features devoted only 2.25 per cent of their screen time to short films in 1939. [51] The introduction of inexpensive 16mm sound projectors in the 1930’s had opened up a new market throughout Britain for road shows, the distribution of 16mm prints to local halls for screenings to local groups, and also schools and film societies. Local groups could include church groups, Women’s Institutes, the British Legion, Political Party Clubs, and Working Men’s clubs. Western Electric, who gave road show presentations via their subsidiary, Sound Services, claimed they had given over 40,000 shows of sound film programmes between 1934 and 1937. [52] They provided programmes of films for free, put together under the aegis of advertising film producers and sponsors. The films themselves were not limited to advertising films, however. Western Electric could supply technical films, travelogues of Britain or abroad, and even some entertainment films, for example Tom Mix westerns.  Non-theatric distribution was already common with workers’ organisations such as the left-wing film distributor, Kino, as well as the Co-Operative Wholesale Society, who had had a policy of making films and showing them to Co-Op meetings for some time, [53] but it was moving into the mainstream. By March 1936, Grierson could write that, “what seemed a year ago a movement cultivated in the name of propaganda has become today a spontaneous movement cultivated in a thousand quarters in the name of public education…The return to the community of the lecture club and the discussion hall is, to me, the bravest feature of the year”. [54]  

Insightful advertising men largely spearheaded the move into the mainstream away from the political left. Producers of publicity films, like Sydney Box, particularly took up such opportunities. Box was an old fashioned salesman in many ways. He advocated the use of road shows for publicity purposes, as these allowed for the most direct contact between the people and the product/manufacturer. The road show presentation consisted of a travelling showman, employed by the particular manufacturer, who could tour the country giving film shows in local areas. It was important that the showman makes no secret of the fact that the films he offered were propaganda, but the arrangement could work by mutual unspoken consent. For the publicist, local groups offered cheap circulation, whilst “most amateur groups”, according to Box, “are only too willing to accept the loan of sponsored pictures for their meetings”. [55]   Not only was it possible to show up at a pre-arranged meeting of a local group, but also Box advocates the use of invited audiences, hand-picked for special presentations in cinemas, halls or shops. Thomas Baird, a colleague of Grierson, suggested, and this figure is most likely optimistic, that by 1939 his non-theatric audience was as much as ten million people. [56] Regardless of how exaggerated this figure may be, it is clear that the non-theatric market was essential money and exposure for short film producers, so the ability to produce 16mm reduction prints was essential. This break into the shorts market was aided by the fact that in September 1937 Dufay-Chromex announced they had perfected a process of reducing 35mm Dufaycolor prints onto 16mm. [57] The same year, Dufay-Chromex, announced on 6th July that the company had acquired the services of Major Adrian Klein, one of the most important and influential experts in colour cinematography at the time. Klein had come from Gasparcolor, where he had produced a number of animated short films, but only one experimental live-action film, Colour on the Thames. The animated film had limited potential in the short film market beyond advertising purposes or cartoons, and Gasparcolor was not suited to live action, so Klein moved over to Dufaycolor. One of Klein’s first acts was to produce a series of short films sponsored directly by Dufaycolor, and to direct them he acquired the services of Humphrey Jennings. Klein had probably met Jennings when Jennings and Lye worked together in Gasparcolor on the Shell sponsored film, Birth of the Robot. It was announced in Today’s Cinema on 29th September 1937 that the shorts would “deal with various aspects of English life; shipping, agriculture and industry generally”. [58]

The topics sound like typical documentary subjects. But Jennings is known as an outsider in the Documentary movement, as well as a divided figure whose interests included the seemingly uncomfortable partners of surrealism and mass-observation, modernism and pictorialism. Whilst the Documentary Movement “was dedicated to improvement at an ideological level” and also “needed the rationale of ‘usefulness’ to get sponsors to put money into films”, [59] Jennings was neither a reformist nor a realist, but, as Geoffrey Nowell-Smith would have it, “a cultural entrepreneur and artistic innovator”. [60] Jennings’ interest was in bringing the extraordinary out of the ordinary and the everyday. Anthony Hodgkinson identifies Jennings’ key concerns as “the dangers of technology and a love of rural England” as well as “a joy in complex technology and (a) painters’ understanding of colour combinations”. [61] Jennings himself had specific views on colour;  “colour” he said  “depends upon sensations”. [62]   Commenting scathingly on the use of colour in the film Trail of the Lonesome Pine, he describes the hotel interior scenes as “unutterably awful…they smell of arcs and plaster, simply because they are in colour and because the colour has been put there on purpose to look good”. [63] Jennings’ comments neatly separate the sensual and the spectacular. For Jennings, the use of colour “purely to look good”, in other words for the sole purpose of spectacle, is distracting, since it draws attention to nothing but itself, especially when artificially produced in a studio. Jennings described the instinct for sensation as being that which has driven people out of doors to make colour films, since the sensual aspects of colour join the spectacular and the real. Colour is sensational, and if it is used to film ‘real’ things (Jennings mentions horses and trees for example) its use draws attention to the sensual and spectacular nature of real objects, the sensation both of the colour and of the object itself. When that object is false, for example a movie set, or indeed, as Jennings would have it, a movie star, all the spectacle of colour can do is draw attention to itself, the object having no inherent form beyond the fictional. As Jennings himself says, “one is satisfied with the sensation of dog. One is not so satisfied with the sensation of a star; and colour is sensation”. [64]

Thus we can see Jennings was drawn to the instinct for sensations  that colour made available for  the representation of reality. His interest lies in the sensations and the spectacular of real things presented in colour, not the spectacle of colour in its own right. Jennings’ colour films are not abstract, even though it was initially reported that he was due to make an abstract film. [65] He made instead three films in the winter of 1937-8, English Harvest (which was re-edited as the Farm), Farewell Topsails and Design for Spring.

Jennings does not over-engage with the colour. The commentaries for all three films make no mention of colour images, and Jennings takes no time from his subject to present shots of flowers, shop-fronts, or women in brightly coloured clothes – even in Design for Spring, which is about fashion. He avoids anything that is emblematically ‘colour’ but beyond the diegesis of his subject. His is an integrated and homogenous ‘realistic’ world, the colour ostensibly presented in a purely indexical way. But the use of colour is also spectacular, if only in terms of its novelty. It can stand outside of the text in its own terms. For example the films were announced in the press as being in colour, which would make them films of special interest, but in terms of the diagetic world constructed by Jennings, the colour is entirely integrated. The colour as used to depict Jennings’ subjects is both attraction and non-attraction simultaneously, and it is this we can perhaps term the ‘spectacle of reality’. Colour, like music, has a sensorial effect which can direct an emotional response. However, the other aspect of the use of colour suggests immediacy or reality, of seeing the world as it is. The American Cinematographer offered the opinion that “color gives a sense of actuality entirely missing from a black and white picture: It is…almost as though they (the audience) have made the trip with us, rather than being spectators at a movie show”. [66]  

Yet this is not to say that Jennings makes no use of the colour. It does serve his text on a metaphorical level. For example, in Farewell Topsails there is a sequence where a shot of the schooner leaving port is inter-cut with the faces of the men on shore, sailors, according to the commentary, “who watch with a regretful eye” for these are those “for whom there are no ships”. Throughout the film there is subtle colour contrast between the browns and greys of the shore, and the blues of the sea. Topsail Schooners transported chalky china clay, so Jennings palette is deliberately bleak, the browns of industry and the suits of the men in the village, the chalky grey-white of the clay, and then the blue of the sea and the black of the ship.  The blue of the ocean contains within it the rhetoric of the spectacular. Partially, this is due to the inherent romanticism of the ocean itself, but Jennings exploits this by juxtaposing its vividness in contrast with the dour earth colours of the shore. The use of these dour earth colours enables him to make this contrast without drawing attention to the colour of the ocean as an attraction. The ship is associated with romanticism, with the past, but also with hard work and labour. In keeping with the image of the Griersonian heroic worker, there are shots of the men on ship, stripped to the waist and pulling at the ropes to unfurl the sails, white skin against black and blue. But Jennings is not so interested in promoting the idea of the heroic worker, but in the image of the heroic people. Jennings has a respect for the masses of his mass observation. The image of the heroic worker contrasts with the inactivity of the shore, the men in brown, leaning against brown fences or posts in medium close up, the backgrounds devoid of colour – the working class as victim. The blue colouring conveys both the working class heroic male and the romanticism of the ocean and of sailing (or the poetry of the sea, as the commentary calls it), its colour acting as contrast to the browns of the ‘victims’ inactive on the shore. But the ‘victims’ are not on display as they are in Housing Problems, for example. The lack of colour on shore to contrast the bright blue of the ocean gives a sensual dimension to the plight of those without jobs and future. The sadness and injustice of the situation are represented on a new, sensory, level by the use of colour, beyond testimony or dialogue.

The colours are metaphorical but also spectacular, the ocean sections being more ‘colourful’ than those on land dealing with industry, unemployment, and the future. But the colour is also realistic. The blue is the blue of the sea. The grey is the grey of the clay, the brown in the brown of the factories.

In The Farm, Jennings’ palette is for most part blue with various shades of brown or gold.  It is a film in two parts. English Harvest was originally advertised in 1938, but not released until 1939. In 1938 The Farm was released. The 1939 release of English Harvest consisted only of the second part of The Farm, in which the harvest takes place. It seems possible  from the textual evidence of the film, that Jennings had nothing to do with the first section of The Farm, which for some reason was added to the material shot and edited by Jennings. The first half consists of  farm scenes, pigs, lambs, sheep etc being fed and so on, accompanied by a jovial commentary which is both informative and full of terrible puns. It shows little skill in shot construction, or mise-en-scene, and seems to have been shot in winter rather than autumn. Its use of colour is interesting in comparison with the second half. In the first half colour is used  purely indexically. The colour palette is the muddy brown of the farmyard and the animals, and the red brick of the farmhouse. No attention is dawn to the colour either through shot construction, choice of subject or juxtaposition. The second half, which was definitely directed by Jennings, concentrates on the harvest itself. Here Jennings places his characters firmly within the natural context. Shots of men working are framed against the sky. The farmhouse of the first section is no longer seen, there is no sense given of mankind’s own space, he is only framed within the natural world of blue and gold.

Although the film is, on the surface, a very traditional education film, following a particular process, the harvest, step by step, here we see Jennings’ preoccupation with the rural idyll and the teasing of the extraordinary from the ordinary. The film was made in 1937, at a time when Britain was re-arming, and when mechanisation was transforming agriculture (by 1938 the tractor was making significant progress in replacing the horse-drawn plough). The commentary introduces us to new machinery, but machinery still drawn by horses. The commentary also points out that life here is “no hurry, no rush”, and that “here is a peaceful state where thoughts of war have no place”. The Farm is “peace of mind”. 

This film too draws upon the Griersonian tradition of the heroic worker. The final emblematic shot shows two farmers, following their horses as they plough the fields ready for sowing, moving off in a line towards the setting sun, “his steel turned against the blue of the sky…(for this is) a job on which depends our daily bread”. The parallels with image of the soldier are obvious here with the use of the word ‘steel’ and the idea of labouring to produce our daily bread, which suggests the struggle for preservation of normality and tradition, as well as having spiritual overtones with its biblical reference. So in the light of mechanisation, here on the farm lies the heart of England, dependable, hard-working, spiritual and natural.

The review of The Farm in Today’s Cinema describes it as “delightful rural scenes in enchanting Dufaycolor…beautiful vistas…the whole building up into a truly attractive slice of rustic life which should be shown in cinemas throughout the country”. [67] In keeping with Jennings’ earlier comments, the ideas of the documentary are represented through the dialogue, and it is through the use of images in colour that he provides the sensations that give rise to the use of “delightful”, “beautiful” and “attractive” in the review. The use of the sensation of colour gives the extraordinary dimension to the ordinary life of the farmer. It gives it that poetic realism for which Jennings is often cited.  Andrew Higson suggests that poetic realism is a conjunction between surface realism and moral realism. He defines moral realism as involving “a moral commitment to a particular set of social problems”, [68] and that factual accuracy is bound up in the search for moral truth “focused on the figure in the landscape”. [69] However, Jennings is not searching for moral truth, but sensual truth. The truth he seeks lies not in the facts of the farm, but in the sensation of the farm as depicted in the use of colour. If the farm is “peace of mind”, the images of the workers amongst the golden fields, bathed in a warm yellow sunlight, provide the sensation of peace, of idyll, far better than words can do.  Here the fields, the gold of the hay and the blue of the sky form the spectacle of reality. The world which Jennings presents is one with which an audience can identify. It is a living, colour world, not usually seen in the town, but which can be perceived and understood. The commentary suggests that the farmers’ job is one which would defeat many a city dweller, suggesting that the purpose of the film is both for city and country, in other words, for the nation as a whole. It is a film for the city dweller, presenting a rural idyll of bright skies and golden colours, but it is also a film for the rural community, promoting their skills and traditions against those of the city. The rural landscape is a key emblem of British nationhood, and the colour presentation allows for a spectacular display of rural colours. The notion of display is important here, since it defies the need for interpretation. If a viewer has seen the countryside, he or she can relate to the images on a sensual level, perhaps inducing sense memories of smells or a particular event. But even if a viewer had never seen it, the film displays its glories. This is not a black and white world of the cinema, it is a colour world, like the world outside the cinema, and it is the audiences’ world. It is not necessary to imagine what it looks like in colour. It is displayed. Thus the use of colour is more inclusive. It does not reveal or dramatise, but in the spectacle of reality, it invites identification and inclusion.

Design for Spring is very much the odd one out in this group. Whereas the other two titles deal with particular aspects of rural or semi-rural life, and have a determinedly anti-industrial, anti-progressive stance, Design for Spring charts the development of designer Norman Hartnell’s spring collection. This was the film made in place of the proposed abstract film, and it seems possible that this was a last minute substitution, possibly at Hartnell’s request. It does seem that, after release, the film was criticised for being too much of an advertising film. It was withdrawn and re-cut into a shorter version which played down the Hartnell connection and was re-issued as Making Fashions. [70]   Both the other two films contain elements of Jennings more familiar themes, which Nowell-Smith identifies as “the idea…of an industrial nation, still attached both nostalgically and projectively to rural values”. [71] It is curious that Jennings never worked again in Dufaycolor, a format which he apparently regarded as ideal. It is possible Jennings fell out with Klein after the problems with both The Farm and Design for Spring.

Jennings was of course a particular talent. With the promotion of these three films,  Dufay-Chromex and Klein finally found the impetus which Dufaycolor needed to get producers to invest in the shorts market. In 1938 and into 1939 a whole slew of companies began production in Dufaycolor, including Inspiration Films, Publicity Films, Rayant Pictures and Merton Park. In addition, a number of sponsors were attracted to the process, including Morris Motors, The Guide Dog Association and the Co-Operative Wholesale Society, all of whom either produced or commissioned advertising films.

Of the forty-nine Dufaycolour titles I have so far identified from this period, by far the majority, some 34 altogether, could broadly be described as travelogues, divided into seventeen dealing with the British Isles, and seventeen dealing with locations abroad.  These travelogues are for the most part interest films revolving around a particular location, for example Lakeland Heritage (pc Denning Films, 1938) and the three part British Isles Series (pc Fraternity Films, 1939) which features Southampton, Devon and Isle of Dreams about the Isle of White.  The travelogue film is particularly relevant to the argument I am putting forward, owing to its emphasis on the pastoral and the scenic.

A typical example is Garden of the Sea, produced by Raymond Hill for Rayant Wanderfilms. Evidently shot before the war, it was released slightly later in 1942. A film about the Scilly Isles, this 20-minute film is in four parts. Part one is an introduction to life on the island, part two discusses the flower trade in tulips, daffodils, narcissi and lilies, part three is about the lighthouse and the lifeboat on the Islands, and part four is about the Abbey Gardens. Evidently this subject matter is designed to fulfil both its educational/instructive purpose as part travelogue and part industrial film, but also to showcase the colour photography in its garden and flowers sections. This film is a particularly interesting case, since it addresses both the masculine and the feminine. The Griersonian ideal of the heroic worker is there in the sections on the lighthouse keeper and the lifeboat-men, but also the garden and flower sections contain within them the rhetoric of the spectacular, encased within a realist presentation and discourse.

The film is directed in an energetic manner by Anthony Gilkison. Born in 1913 in Yorkshire, Gilkison was quite the innovator. In St Moritz, a travel film of the Swiss Resort made in Dufaycolor in 1938, he presented what was claimed to be the first slow-motion colour shots committed to film.  Here, in Garden of the Sea, he uses crane shots, rapid cutting, and unusual camera angles to keep the film lively and interesting. The film fulfils its obligations to the idea of documentary as social anthropological (“a journey through darkest Lancashire”), but in this case, it is a journey through brightest St Mary’s, largest of the Scilly Isles. As with the Jennings films, we see the attraction of British rusticity. These Isles are “far from the bustle of the industrial mainland” and “still maintain their prehistoric trades of fishing, farming and wrecking” (which, the commentary adds, has now been abandoned in favour of tourism).

We arrive on steamer day, when the boat arrives from the mainland, and a series of vistas of St Mary’s small town and the town life greet us. In these initial sequences, the colour is purely indexical. It does not draw attention to itself, rather presenting a homogenous, realistic colour world. It is in the sections about the flower industry that the film engages with its spectacular use of colour. Starting with a lengthy sequence shot in the flower fields, we then follow the flowers from picking to packing, and then being loaded on the steamer bound for Covent Garden. The commentary all the while provides details of the amount of labour involved, and the processes which are gone through in order to ensure that the flowers are as fresh as possible. It is for items such as this that Today’s Cinema suggested “In the instructional film and the travelogue…we are likely to find (the absence of colour…a distinct lack), when the commentator, uneasily conscious of the poverty of his material, is constrained to observe that ‘it is the flowers’ bright colouring which attracts the birds’ attention’ or ‘the deep blue of the lagoon is beyond description’. Colour is not a world of its own, conflicting with other worlds”. [72] Here the choice of subject contains within itself a spectacular rhetoric. The same is true for the final section, set in the Abbey Gardens. Such topics were naturally popular with the producers of the travel short, and there are various examples of similar subjects shot in Dufaycolor. These include the Julian Wintle production Behind the Dykes (1939) which has at is core a section on the tulip fields of Holland; and Follow The Sun (c1940), A British Foundation Pictures Ltd Film about the Canary Islands, which again takes times to explore local gardens. However, films purely about gardens or flowers are rare. Examples held within bfi Collections, such as Cobham Hall – Kent (date unknown) are, almost certainly, camera tests carried out by Dufay-Chromex themselves. Usually topics with a rhetoric of the spectacular are drafted in to the film to become part of it, rather than to take it over. Although they may be the main inspiration behind the idea for the film, the spectacular sequences almost always appear with sequences where the colour is simply part of a homogenous realist world.

It is appropriate that Garden of the Sea should have been released during the war. The commentary points out that the flower industry flourishes in the mild on the Scilly Isles “whilst the mainland lies in the grip of frost, and bitter winds strip off the last of the autumn leaves”. The analogy between the mainland being in the grip of winter and in the grip of war is obvious. At a time when gardens had been put aside for vegetables rather than flowers, images such as this and the palm gardens of St Mary’s Abbey would have obvious appeal.

As in Jennings’ films, the protagonists, such as there are, are ordinary people, flower pickers and packers, and later lifeboat men and lighthouse-keepers. Higson writes that the documentary images “tentatively articulates ‘the nation’ and ‘ordinary people’ as the same, rather than seeing the nation only in terms of the upper classes, as in the heritage film”. [73] But we have seen that in the Movement documentary, the ordinary person is more likely to be male, and his place is more likely to be the industrial north. Here the topic allows more of a sense of belonging between the subjects of the documentary and the viewing audience, a sense that the people in the film are their people, their space is the audiences’ space. As with Jennings’ film The Farm, I would suggest that the use of colour here serves to heighten that sense of identification. At a time when the UK mainland was given over to war work, to see a part of Britain which is still behaving as normal could provide a reassurance that the world could return to the way it was, that there is still and unchanging Britain. Even the coastal sequences of the ship arriving would seem remarkable given the absence of coastal defences. The colour of the gardens and of the flowers exist as pure visual pleasure, but also serve within the narrative structure to unite the world on screen and the world of the audience. These flowers are being picked and sent to Covent Garden for distribution within the UK. This world of bright colour is a world which is within reach, and what is more, it can come to you. It must be remembered that the cinematic world during the war was largely still a black and white world. In Britain particularly, colour stock was hard to come by, and the number of colour films coming from the USA was still relatively small. To see one’s own country in colour would certainly be spectacular in a novel sense if nothing else. The colour world  shows the audience its real world, with an added advantage for an audience which may be starved of such colour, certainly in the cinema, but also, to a lesser extent, in life. The use of colour not only heightens the sensation and the metaphor behind the image, but it also makes identification with the image more possible, simply because it is more real.

The documentary and the travel film can re-appropriate the nation for the audience. Images in colour allow for a greater sense of identification with the national space, showing it is as the audience sees it. Dufay-Chromex was well aware of this, and exploited it in their advertising for their amateur film stock; “Colour surrounds us on every side; why not capture it for your self and keep a living and permanent reminder of life as you saw it”. [74] In the commercial travel film, the idea of ‘life as you saw it’ is extended outwards to a national scale.

This idea is born out by the 1945 film by Empire Film Productions’ title, Our Inheritance (1946). Released after the war, it consists mostly of film shot before the war, a significant amount of which comes from an aborted project from 1939 entitled England My England. There are also a number of shots plundered from Jennings’ The Farm. Originally it was released in October 1945 as a simple farming film, Today’s Cinema describing it as “the story of the tillers of the soil who work from dawn to darkness…preserving Britain’s heritage” and then adding that it was “average”. [75]   As such it is remarkably reminiscent of Jennings’ The Farm and the approach which he took to the cyclical life of farming and the farmer turning his steel to the setting sun. However, it either proved unpopular or someone had a better idea, because it was re-launched in April 1946 in this new form, some 20 feet shorter, and this time Today’s Cinema, commenting on its dealing with “various places of interest” described it as “delightful”. [76]   Packaged with a new commentary, the film presents an image of Britain returning to normal after the war, a Britain which it describes as “a wonderful country for a wonderful people”. The film covers the length and breadth of the land, from London and the Lord Mayor’s Show, to the shipyards of the north, the highlands of Scotland (represented by caber tossing), rural villages, farms, hunts, chapels and cathedrals, pubs, markets and Royal Ascot. As far as possible, the film covers all classes, creeds (as long as they are Christian), and ways of life, all shot in Dufaycolor. After a black and white war, this again would have been likely to have been a special production, a spectacle, and is designed specifically in both context and subtext to help re-build a nation. The use of images shot before the war coupled with the post war commentary evoke a nostalgic lyrical Britain of  “lush meadows”, “pleasant homesteads” and “enchanting valleys” and a driving nation building ships to sail the seven seas for trade.

It is useful here to bring in as a contrast the Dufaycolor newsreel stories and the relationship between Dufaycolor and the Royal Family. The main use of Dufaycolor in the newsreel was for the coverage of Royal subjects, starting with the Silver Jubilee of George V in 1935, and following on in 1937 with the Coronation of George VI, Trooping the Colour, Armistice Day and the Naval Review at Spithead. Each of these was a patriotic subject, ideally suited to a special presentation. After the abdication crisis, and in the face of Germany’s aggressive re-armament, the nation could still unite under its monarch. The King’s Consort, Queen Elizabeth, was very popular indeed, and the shy and nervous Bertie, although nowhere near as emphatically adored as his older brother, nonetheless won the hearts of the nation. The colour newsreels both responded to and inspired patriotism and confidence in the monarchy. Each story was determinedly spectacular. Each new event was held up to be the first time it was filmed in colour. Seeing the royal coach in colour, or the Union Jack, or the household cavalry exploited the sensuality and spectacle of colour in the promotion of a patriotic vision. The King himself was well aware of this. In 1939 he invited Dufaycolor to film him at Plymouth in a series of moving image portraits. In full uniform, he stands before either a Union Jack or the twin guns of a navy destroyer. Clearly the message here is of a strong nation represented by a strong king before his flag or the might of his navy, the message pushed home by the sensorial power of colour.

Yet in all these items the idea of patriotism and nationhood is directed towards a specific figure, the King. He and the trappings which surround him are the focus of the patriotic image, of nationhood. In Our Inheritance, the patriotic image is no longer encapsulated in the King, but in the land. Instead of the spirit of the nation being embodied in the image of a personage of power, here the country and the people become the nation, that “wonderful land for a wonderful people” During the war, the emphasis shifted towards the community, in which each member did his or her bit, large or small, for the nation. This can be seen as a continuation of the democratisation of the media during the war, when for example the BBC for the first time began to use regional accents in its radio broadcasts. In 1935, Grierson could pick up on this necessity, indicating that “the West End stage…has lost the accent of the people”. [77] Yet Grierson, as we have seen, sought to promote social democracy through specific representations of the working class, whereas Our Inheritance presents a more inclusive national spectacle, disregarding class issues. Our Inheritance promotes a personal relationship between each person and the country/nation, irrespective of gender, age or class, hence the all-inclusive narrative of north, south, east and west. The images displayed are of the nation as being of the people, and the inheritance of the people. Far from being an aloof presence, or images that are designed to reveal part of the nation to the other part, here the filmmakers ally themselves with the audience of Britain in celebration our inheritance, a shared concept for both filmmakers and film viewer. Jeffrey Richards suggests that “perhaps what the war did was to create a greater degree of sympathy between the classes, more social mixing”. [78] One of the enduring images of the King and Queen, so prominent after the recent death of the Queen Mother is the image of the King and Queen, who stayed resolutely in London during the Blitz, and toured the bomb sites of the East End and the Underground shelters, meeting the ordinary citizens. Instead of hiding away in safety, they chose to share a common experience with the people. For all that their experience was nothing like that of the common people, the idea that they shared the horror of the blitz with the citizens of London is still a strong element of the national consciousness. Richards cites the notorious slogan of the early war years “your courage, your cheerfulness, your resolution will bring us victory”, [79] and the suggestion both in this slogan and the embodied image of the King is that of a structure of ruling class/subject class. As with the actions of the King, Our Inheritance abandons the concept of ‘your’ in favour of an image of a nation with no divisions or boundaries, united by what has been a common struggle. It is almost as if the working class, the ‘your’ of Richards’ slogan, is being gifted a place alongside the ‘our’, the ruling class, in the concept of national identity as a reward for its war time efforts.

Colour is used in Our Inheritance as a spectacle, but, as with the images in Garden of the Sea, the heightened realism of the images increases audience identification. This is their land after all, and the film shows it as they see it. What is more, the sensual aspects of colour can serve to intensify the patriotic message, the sense of nationhood and belonging. Although the review of the Dufaycolor film Devon in Today’s Cinema could suggest that, “the narration is certainly calculated to stimulate the interest of the Britisher in the beauty of his own country”, [80] the colour images give a sensory underpinning to the commentary, and also produce this sense of identification.

Although the colour can be seen to stand outside the text as spectacle, in its novelty value for example, its use is also intertextual, to intensify that national feeling which it seeks to promote. Our Inheritance, although not directed to Jennings’ standard, is reminiscent of  A Diary for Timothy. In discussing A Diary for Timothy Geoffrey Nowell Smith suggests that, “documentary film was…an agent both of producing the cohesion called for at the beginning of the war and of questioning it as the possibility for peace became imminent”. [81] While Our Inheritance does not contain such a notion of questioning, it uses the same collage structure as A Diary for Timothy, but here the identification comes not from the device of the young child, Timothy, but from the use of colour. Geoffrey Nowell-Smith observes that A Diary for Timothy is deeply sceptical about the ability of the country to change, a scepticism which he notes is “present in small details: while the commentary evokes ideals of reconstruction, a pane of glass smashes, as if to say reconstruction wont be easy”. [82] The commentary is not straightforward, it questions and juxtaposes its questions with the images. Our Inheritance is much simpler. Its sensual use of colour images evokes nostalgia for pre-war Britain, an idealised, inclusive Britain.

The sense of identification with the nation deriving from the use of colour images can also be harnessed from advertising purposes. The Morris plant at Cowley had its own film unit which made a number of promotional films for Morris cars, three of which were in Dufaycolor. Facts and Fancies begins with a poem about “the hedgerows of Britain, the green-hedges lanes, the homely village lit by its friendly panes…these are the little things that stir us still”. Ostensibly the film takes a tour around the countryside, which it describes as “this wonderful museum-the highways and byways of Britain”. The obvious use of the spectacular British countryside here as seen from a touring Morris car suggests that the Morris can give access to this countryside. The use of the word ‘our’ continuously in the commentary suggests this sense of belonging, equating pictorial beauty, national history, and accessibility through the Morris. On the other hand the Morris too is part of this landscape, equated with the national image the film presents, becoming, by association, part of the national heritage on view. This is a marketing ploy, of course. But the film uses the spectacle of reality of the British countryside in all its glorious colours, plus the commentary which informatively looks at various odd monuments, to promote a sensation of national pride into which the Morris is placed. There is also direct equation, as the film looks at the country’s smallest railway, smallest house and smallest pub, equating them with the Morris car, which has the smallest upkeep costs of any in Britain.

There are, of course, more types of films made using the Dufaycolor process than simply travelogues. The Co-operative Wholesale Society for example made two films using the process, The Co-Operette (1938) and Sam Goes Shopping (1938). Both films were considered to be prestige productions and featured the popular variety star Stanley Holloway, reprising his role as co-op Sam. The prime function of the Co-op films was entertainment, although they included obviously an educational aspect, informing people of the services, as well as trying to promote those services.  The inclusion of colour in these films is  to indicate this is a high-class production suitable for a known star, and so is spectacular in this sense. But it is also important to remember than Stanley Hollway’s persona of Sam is very much identified with the ordinary co-op worker, albeit a slightly dim-witted caricature. The star turn here is both intertextual and extratextual, as too is the use of colour. In Sam Goes Shopping for example, Sam goes to the co-op shop but can’t remember what his wife sent him there to do, though it begins with a ‘D’. Cue the shop assistants helpfully demonstrating all kinds of products to Sam as he tries to remember.  The colour within the films is used in a non-spectacular way, never drawing attention to itself as an attraction in terms of the diagetic world. It is outside the diagetic world, as a special production, that the colour exists as an attraction, rather like the presence of Holloway. Within the film, he is Sam. His star persona does not exert itself within the diagetic world. Outside of the diegesis, it stands as an attraction, a popular star to arouse interest in the film.

Rachael Low is reasonably scathing about the non-Movement short films. Her use of the word routine – or perhaps we could say mass produced – suggests this. She positively attacks the films made by Horace Shepherd’s Inspiration Films as being fundamentally worthless, considering  Shepherd himself to be little more than a hack who was driven out of business by the imposition of a cost quota for short films in the 1938 Cinematograph Act. Perhaps the canonising of the documentary-realist tradition of the Movement as the British contribution to film art has led to certain assumptions being made about the non-Movement films. I make no claims that the work of Shepherd, of Julian Wintle, of Rayant Wanderfilms is superior to the work of Anstey, Cavalcanti, Grierson, Basil Wright et al. Yet neither does Pam Cook suggest that Gainsborough Melodrama is better than documentary-realist film. She merely makes the point that it is not necessarily worse simply by not being part of the realist tradition. The Dufaycolor short films are part of that documentary-realist tradition, but come from a completely different direction, closer in fact the Gainsborough melodrama. They are populist, feminine and spectacular. They do not seek to educate a nation about itself, but to display it to itself.  Not to journey into darkest Lancashire and reveal its underbelly in any Orwellian way, but to journey into sunny Lancashire, to have a look a Blackpool, and to display its glorious inclusion in a wonderful nation.



Almost all of the existing writing on Dufaycolor concentrates upon technical issues, mentioning a few titles of interest. My purpose here has been to draw attention to the use of Dufaycolor and to make a case for the potential significance of Dufaycolor in British cinema studies. I have deliberately not chosen to do this by presenting an industrial study of the company, which is incidentally written in rough form, and will I hope be forthcoming soon. Instead, I have chosen to highlight the process by using it, and the films which use it, to offer some ideas which help to knit together the fractured theories of British Cinema, polarised by the overpowering legacy of the realist tradition. In doing so, in addition to adding to debates around the spectacle/reality issue, I have been able to draw attention to some of the films themselves, most of which are unknown, and to the context in which the process was used. [83]

Yet Dufaycolor is also representative of an entire area of British cinema which few have ever addressed, except of course for the inimitable Rachael Low. I want to end by suggesting that perhaps this neglected area of film-making has a contribution to make to British film scholarship.

One of the principal problems of non-fiction production outside of the Documentary Movement is that it is conceptually very unwieldy. Encompassing travel films, industrial films, commercial films, exploration films, educational films and instructional films, the subject matter and target audiences range far and wide, from schoolchildren to potential customers, from new employees to experienced surgeons. Low’s attempt to organise these films resulted in the useful but cumbersome categories of Documentary and Educational Films and Films of Comment and Persuasion. It seems clear that we need more than an overview of this area. Dufaycolor films have provided a useful way in, since in subject matter they represent a cross section of the types of films being made. But films in colour were prestige productions. They were more expensive than most, and so although they may represent a cross-section, they are not characteristic of all production. There is so much to learn about the production companies who were working in this area, about Publicity Films, Inspiration Films, Julian Wintle Productions and Rayant Wanderfilms. Not just what they were doing in the Dufaycolor process, but about their entire output. The road show presentation of these and the GPO Films is of great interest.  So to are the relations between distributors, production companies and commercial sponsors. These films were made to be seen. Filmmaking is first and foremost a business, and no production company makes films unless it believes that they will be seen. And this type of cinema, road shown as it was in local communities and schools, is a cinema which is potentially more ‘of’ the people than the realist tradition held up so readily. Surely then the films and their history must have something to tell us about themselves, and the time in which they were made and shown, plus the people who made, showed and viewed them. If nothing else, perhaps some will find this thought intriguing, and be moved to consider further. If so, it is up to archives and academics to work together and to explore this area, screening the films and putting them in context.


This article was written as the result of an AHRB Research Exchanges grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Board awarded to Professor Laura Mulvey, Director of the AHRB Centre for British Film and Television Studies.

My thanks go to my colleagues in bfi Collections, Jan Faull, Sarah Wilde, Mark Bryant, Heather Stewart, Rod Molinaire, Peter Simpson, Lynn Mcveigh, Anita Woodstock and Laura Muncer for making this possible, and to Stacey Abbott and Laura Mulvey for making it readable.



Barr, Charles, (ed), All Our Yesterdays, (London: bfi, 1986).

Box, Sydney, Film Publicity; a Handbook on the Production and Distribution of Propaganda Films, (London: Lovat Dickson,1938).

Burton, Alan, The People’s Cinema, (London: bfi, 1994).

Coe, Brian, The History of Movie Photography, (Ash and Grant, 1981).

Cook, Pam, Fashioning the Nation, (London: bfi, 1996).

Coote, Jack H., Illustrated History of Colour Photography (Surbiton: Fountain Press, 1993).

Coutlass, Clive; Pronay, Nicholas and Thorpe, Frances, British Official Films of the Second World War: A Descriptive Catalogue, (Oxford: Clio Press, 1980).

Davey, Charles, Footnotes to the Film (London: Lovat Dickson Ltd, 1937).

Gunning, Tom, Colorful Metaphors: the attraction of color in Early Silent Cinema, Fotogenia, www.muspe.unibo.it/period/fotogen/num01/numero1d.htrr

Hardy, Forsyth, (ed), Grierson on Grierson, (London: Faber and Faber, 1979).

Hardy, Forsyth, (ed), Grierson on Documentary, (London: Faber and Faber, 1979).

Harper, Sue, Picturing the Past: The Rise and Fall of the British Costume Film, (London: bfi, 1994).

Hercock, R. J., Silver by the Ton: The History of Ilford Ltd, 1879-1979, (Mcgraw-Hill Book Company, 1979).

Higson, Andrew, (ed), Dissolving Views, (London: Cassell, 1996).

Higson, Andrew, Waving the Flag: Constructing a National Cinema in Britain, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997).

Hill, John, British Cinema in the 1980’s (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999).

Hodgkinson, Anthony, and Sheratsky, Rodney E., Humphrey Jennings – More than a Maker of Films, (Clark University: University Press of New England, 1982).

Klein, Adrian, Colour Cinematography (2nd edition), (London: Chapman and Hall, 1939).

Limabacher, James A., Four Aspects of the Film, (New York: Brussell & Brussell Inc, 1969).

Low, Rachael, Film Making in 1930’s Britain, (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1985).

Low, Rachael, Films of Comment and Persuasion of the 1930’s, (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1979).

Low, Rachael, Documentary and Educational Films of the 1930’s, (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1979).

Richards, Jeffrey, Film and British National Identity: From Dickens to Dad’s Army, (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1997)

Swain, Paul, The British Documentary Film Movement 1926-1946, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989)

Taylor, Philip M., (ed). Britain and the Cinema in the Second World War, (London: Macmillan Press Ltd), 1988.



Cook, Pam, “Neither Here nor There”, ed. Andrew Higson, Dissolving Views, (London: Cassell, 1996), 51-65.

Dodd, Kathryn and Dodd, Philip, “Engendering the Nation,” ed. Andrew  Higson, Dissolving Views, (London, Cassell, 1996), 38-50.

Higson, Andrew, “Britain’s Outstanding Contribution to Film: The Documentary Realist Tradition,” ed. Charles Barr, All Our Yesterdays, (London: bfi 1986), 72-97.

Nowell-Smith, Geoffrey, “Humphrey Jennings: Surrealist Observer,” ed. Charles Barr, All our Yesterdays, (London, bfi, 1986), 321-333.



Amateur Cine World

American Cinematographer

Art in America

Cinema Quarterly

Commercial Film

Monthly Film Bulletin

Proceedings of the British Kinematograph Society

Sight and Sound

Today’s Cinema

World Film News



Dufaycolor Collection of the National Museum of Photography Film and Television, Bradford.

Public Record Office, Kew:

Records of the Supreme Court of Judicature (1945): J13/17820

HM Treasury Capital Issues Committee, Minutes and Papers (1943-1951): T266/161



Dufaycolor Films

Beauties of Britain (Dir unknown, p.c. Merton Park c1939)

Behind the Dykes (Prod Julian Wintle, p.c. Julian Wintle Productions, 1938)

Calling Mr Smith (Dir Franciszka Themerson, p.c. Concanen Productions, 1944)

Cobham Hall – Kent (p.c. unknown. Camera test c1934)

A Colour Box (Dir Len Lye, p.c. GPO Film Unit, 1935)

The Co-Operette (Dir Montgomery Tully, p.c. Publicity Films, 1938)

Design For Spring (Dir Humphrey Jennings, p.c. Dufay-Chromex, 1937)

Devon (Prod Nigel Byass, p.c. Fraternity Films, 1939)

England my England (p.c unknown. Unfinished project, 1939)

Facts and Fancies (p.c. Morris Motors Ltd Cine Department, Cowley, 1938)

The Farm (Dir, Humphrey Jennings, p.c. Dufay-Chromex, 1937)

Farewell Topsails (Dir Humphrey Jennings, p.c. Dufay-Chromex, 1937)

Follow the Sun (Dir Ronnie Haines, p.c. British Foundation Pictures Ltd, c1940)

Garden of the Sea (Dir Antony Gilkison, p.c. Rayant Wanderfilms, 1939)

H.P.O (Dir Lotte Reiniger, p.c. GPO Film Unit, 1938)

Isle of Dreams (Prod Nigel Byass, p.c. Fraternity Films, 1939)

Lakeland Heritage (p.c. Denning Films, 1938)

The Lancashire Way (Dir and p.c. unknown, advertising film for Lanry liquid soap, c1946)

Love on the Wing (Dir Norman Mclaren, p.c. GPO Film Unit, 1938)

Our Inheritance (Prods Moss Goodman and Victor Cochrane Hervey, p.c. Empire Film Productions, 1945)

Radio Parade of 1935 (Dir, Arthur Woods, p.c. British International Pictures, 1935)

St Moritz (Dir Anthony Gilkison, p.c Rayant Wanderfilms, 1938)

Sam Goes Shopping (Dir Harold Purcell, p.c. Merton Park, 1938)

Southampton (Prod Nigel Byass, p.c. Fraternity Films, 1939)


Other Titles

Coal Face (Dir Alberto Cavalcanti, p.c. GPO Film Unit, 1935)

A Diary for Timothy (Dir Humphrey Jennings, p.c. Crown Film Unit, 1946)

Housing Problems (Dirs Arthur Elton & Edgar Anstey, p.c British Commercial Gas Association, 1935)

Industrial Britain (Dir Robert Flaherty, p.c. Empire Marketing Board Film Unit, 1931)

Night Mail (Dirs Harry Watt and Basil Wright, p.c GPO Film Unit, 1936)

The Phantom of the Opera (Dir Rupert Julian, p.c. Universal Pictures, 1925)

Portrait of Jennie (Dir Wilhelm Dieterle, pc. Selznick International Pictures, 1948)



[1] Statement by Mr E Lightfoot, Chairman, for year ended 30 September 1949, PRO file T266/161.

[2] Ton Gunning, “Colorful Metaphors: the attraction of color in Early Silent Cinema”, Fotogenia, www.muspe.unibo.it/period/fotogen/num01/numero1d.htrr

[3] ibid.

[4] Quoted by Gunning, ibid.

[5] Rachael Low, Film Making in 1930’s Britain, (London: Allen and Unwin, 1985), 102.

[6] Today’s Cinema, 2 October 1935, technical supplement, viii.

[7] Pennethorne Hughes, Cinema Quarterly, 2, no 1(1933): 1.

[8] ibid.

[9] Eric Elliot, Cinema Quarterly 2, no 3 (1934): 163.

[10] Gunning, op cit.

[11] Today’s Cinema, 20 January 1939, 1.

[12] ibid.

[13] Rachael Low, Films of Comment and Persuasion of the 1930’s (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1979) and Documentary and Educational Films of the 1930’s (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1979).

[14] Rachael Low, Films of Comment and Persuasion of the 1930’s, 131.

[15] John Grierson, “The Documentary Producer,” Cinema Quarterly 2, (Autumn 1932): 8.

[16] Andrew Higson, “Britain’s Outstanding Contribution to Film: The Documentary Realist Tradition,” ed. Charles Barr, All Our Yesterdays, (London: bfi 1986), 72-97.

[17] Proceedings of the British Kinematograph Society 4 (November 1931): 11

[18] ibid, 8

[19] Rachael Low, Film Making in 1930’s Britain, 105.

[20] Today’s Cinema, 9 August 1938, 1, 12.

[21] Undated publicity brochure for Dufaycolor 16mm and 9.5mm film, Insight Research Centre, National Museum for Photography Film and Television, Bradford.

[22] Amateur Cine World, (September 1934): 272.

[23] Amateur Cine World, (October 1934): 332.

[24] Andrew Higson, “Britain’s Outstanding Contribution to the Film: The Documentary-Realist Tradition”, 74.

[25] ibid, 72.

[26] ibid, 76.

[27] Ibid 76, 77.

[28] . Pam Cook, “Neither Here nor There,” ed. Andrew Higson, Dissolving Views, (London: Cassell, 1996), 53

[29] Pam Cook, Fashioning the Nation; Costume and Identity in British Cinema, (London: bfi, 1996), 10-40.

[30] Ibid 21.

[31] John Grierson “The First Principals of Documentary”, ed. Forsyth Hardy, Grierson on Documentary, (London: Faber and Faber, 1979), 36.

[32] John Grierson quoted in Kathryn and Philip Dodd, “Engendering the Nation,” ed. Andrew Higson, Dissolving Views, 41.

[33] Ibid, 41.

[34] Antonia Light, quoted by Kathryn and Philip Dodd, ibid, 48.

[35] John Grierson, “The Course of Realism,” ed. Forsyth Hardy, Grierson on Documentary, 77.

[36] Kathryn Dodd and Philip Dodd, “Engendering the Nation,”, 43.

[37] John Grierson, “The Course of Realism”, 77.

[38] Bruce Woolf “Publicity Films seen mostly by women”, The Commercial Film (May 1935): 4.

[39] Jeffrey Richards, “National Identity in British Watime Cinema,” ed. Philip M. Taylor, Britain and the Cinema in the Second World War, (London: Macmillan Press Ltd, 1988), 44.

[40] Today’s Cinema, 13 April 1939, 12.

[41] See Andrew Higson, Waving the Flag: Constructing a National Cinema in Britain, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997), 176-271, and John Hill, British Cinema in the 1980’s (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999), 73-98.

[42] Pam Cook, “Neither Here nor There,” 57.

[43] Sue Harper, Picturing the Past, (London: bfi 1994), 3.

[44] Andrew Higson, Waving the Flag, 27.

[45] Roger Manvell, quoted in Andrew Higson, Waving the Flag, 198.

[46] John Grierson, “First Principals of Documentary,” 35.

[47] Sydney Box, Film Publicity: A Handbook for the Production and Distribution of Publicity Films, (London: Lovat Dickson, 1937) 33.

[48] Adrienne Marcu and Willard Van Dyke, “The Artist as Film-maker – Len Lye,” Art in America, (July-August 1966): 98-106.

[49] Andrew Higson, Waving the Flag, 187.

[50] Rachael Low, Films of Comment and Persuasion of the 1930’s, 62.

[51] Paul Swann, The British Documentary Film Movement 1926-1946, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 15.

[52] Ibid. 130.

[53] For example the Co-Op film The Magic Bracelet was released in 35mm for cinemas in 1928, along with a 16mm version for Co-op Society and labour movement branch meetings. See Alan Burton, The People’s Cinema, (London: bfi, 1994), 25.

[54] Grierson writing in the Manchester Guardian, quoted in The Commercial Film, (March 1936): 2.

[55] Sydney Box, Film Publicity, 38.

[56] Quoted in Paul Swann, The British Documentary Film Movement 1926-1946, 15.

[57] Today’s Cinema, 29 September 1937, 1.

[58] Today’s Cinema, ibid.

[59] Geoffrey Nowell-Smith, “Humphrey Jennings Surrealist Observer,” ed. Charles Barr, All our Yesterdays, 322.

[60] Ibid, 323.

[61] Anthony Hodgkinson and Rodney E. Sheratsky, Humphrey Jennings: More than a Maker of Films (Clark University: University Press of New England, 1982), 17.

[62] World Film News, (June 1936): 13.

[63] Ibid.

[64] Humphrey Jennings, quoted in Charles Davey, Footnotes to the Film, (London: Lovat Dickson Ltd, 1937), 122.

[65] Today’s Cinema, 5 October 1937, 20.

[66] American Cinematographer, Volume XV, (June 1934): 86.

[67] Today’s Cinema, 4 August 1938, 6.

[68] Andrew Higson, Waving the Flag, 190

[69] ibid.

[70] This information is given on the BFI’s SIFT database entry for Making Fashions. No source is given, and I am unable to verify these facts. BFI collections hold copies of both films, which are identical. I include this information here as it concurs with my own theory that the film was made due to some deal between Klein and Hartnell, which explains its sudden appearance, the dropping of the abstract film, and the unusual subject matter for Jennings.

[71] Geoffrey Nowell-Smith, “Humphrey Jennings: Surrealist Observer,” 330.

[72] Today’s Cinema, 2 October 1935, technical supplement, viii

[73] Andrew Higson, Waving the Flag, 196.

[74] Advertising brochure for Dufay-Chromex 16mm and 9.5mm amateur film.

[75] Today’s Cinema, 12 October 1945, 15.

[76] Today’s Cinema, 10 April 1946, 16.

[77] John Grierson, “The Course of Realism,” 81.

[78] Jeffrey Richards, Film and British National Identity: From Dickens to Dad’s Army, (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1997), 128.

[79] Ibid, 91

[80] Today’s Cinema, 13 April 1939, 12.

[81] Geoffrey Nowell-Smith, “Humphrey Jennings Surrealist Observer,”  330.

[82] Ibid, 331.

[83] . They are also not available, and this is one unavoidable argument. However, there are plenty of black and white shorts which are available, and I would also add that all three of Jennings’ Dufaycolor short films are available to view at the bfi and have been for some time, although they are rarely mentioned in discussions of his work. Work is proceeding to make more of these Dufaycolor shorts available for research at the bfi in the near future.



Last modified 4 November, 2002 ; web@bftv.ac.uk