Four-part series using rare, private and commercial film and photographic archives to give poignant and surprising insights into the 1930s, a decade which erupted into colour as ... See full summary »
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2009  

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 Narrator 4 episodes, 2009
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Four-part series using rare, private and commercial film and photographic archives to give poignant and surprising insights into the 1930s, a decade which erupted into colour as polychromatic photographic technology came of age and three important processes - Dufaycolour, Technicolor and Kodachrome - were brought to the market. Written by BBC

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travel | film history | See All (2) »

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Documentary

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16 July 2008 (UK)  »

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1.66 : 1
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A counterpoint commentary
8 April 2016 | by See all my reviews

I know this series has received a negative review here on IMDb, as well as similar criticism at Amazon.co.uk, where you can buy the DVD series. But I want to provide a counterpoint, and offer my own take.

First, I love the genre of early colour film, and have invested in digitizing many home movies myself, from a wide range of subjects and eras. Finding significant colour film that is shot well is really very rare. Finding footage that is well preserved is only getting more difficult, and as for preserving the names and stories of those behind the camera - that is often the first element to disappear.

And as such, this series is exceptional. These films have survived, along with at least some of the stories of the cameramen, and their subject matter. From a preservation perspective, this can usually only happen when films are preserved for a time within a family of means, and then are donated to a film archive that can afford to preserve and promote them.

As for the criticism of the commentary, I shall say this. Most commonly, amateur films of this era had no sound whatsoever. It was exceedingly rare that Harry Wright went as far as he did to add soundtracks to his films, and it's true some of the original commentary is naive, immature and incorrect. But the series clearly points this fact out. And the talking heads are not just offering a single voice; there are a host of subject matter experts that weigh in, adding to the interpretation of the film, not subtracting from it. These films and takes are typically quite short, so of course you're going to have interruptions of the footage. If you want pure, unadulterated early film footage, try watching some at archive.org, and see how long you are kept engaged and entertained, in silence.

Make no mistake; the commentary does provide context and interpretation, some of which may be mired in fact as well as opinion. As always, you need not believe everything you hear. If the series has provoked your own strongly held beliefs, then bravo! It has succeeded engaging the subject.

I really enjoyed this series and have watched it repeatedly. I just wish there was more of it.

Here is a very short description of the filmmakers and much of the footage that is explored in the series:

Episode 1: A World Away

Rosie Newman (born Neumann) (1896-1988) was the British born daughter of a wealthy Bavarian banker who shot films of many exotic destinations like India and Egypt. When war breaks out, she films from the home-front, one of few filmmakers permitted to shoot the aftermath of the Blitz, resulting in her 1946 film "Britain at War".

Episode 2: Wright Around the World

Harry Wright (1876-1954) and his brother Bolling Wright travelled the world collecting films and footage from exotic locations. This episode ends with their travels to the 1939 World's Fair in New York, as well as the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco.

Episode 3: Adventures in the Americas

More films of Harry Wright. Harry worked closely with the Amateur Cinema League, and was the founder of the Cinema Club of Mexico. He produced and/or gathered some 2,000 films, perhaps the largest collection of film in Mexico at the time. Harry also 'commissioned' a series of amateur ethnographic films by Ed Myers. This episode leads up to the founding of the Churbusco Film Studios, and Harry Wright's honeymoon film to Hawaii with his second wife Helen Middaugh.

Episode 4: End of an Era

T.H. Brown, a dentist from Middlesbrough visits Germany in 1937.

Jacob Hertz & family from Brooklyn visit Germany and ultimately their Jewish family in Poland in 1937.

American Hall Clovis and Eleanor Steele visit continental Europe in 1938, including remarkable footage from Berlin, as well as rare views of rural life in Czecholslovakia and Hungary.

Eva Braun's home movies of Hitler are also featured, as well as her voyage on a "Strength Through Joy" cruise ship.

Chicago paediatrician Benjamin M Gasul (a Jewish émigré) and his wife Lala travelled to Russia, and along the way, they saw the Jewish Quarter in Poland.

David Glick, Jewish American lawyer who shot South American film from 1939 showing the voyage of a Pan Am Clipper, with the back story of a humanitarian rescue.

In America, Walter Bollenbacher & his wife went on a cruise around the world in 1939, visiting Hawaii first, then SE Asia, Sri Lanka, then Italy, before coming home due to the war.

* There isn't a good detailed listing of all the film clips in the series, so I've transcribed most of this info from the episodes themselves. But the DVD also includes a 6 page essay booklet written by David Okuefuna, who also worked on the Wonderful World of Albert Kahn, another superb series on even earlier film.


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