The E-BNR aims to build a comprehensive & unique cross-artform guide to
the British neo-Romantic tradition,
from 1880 to the present day.
While the British Romantics of 1789-1824 have spawned a vast industry of
publishers, conferences & tourism, the later neo-Romantic traditions
remain largely neglected. The E-BNR is aimed at bringing this hidden
tradition to light.
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WHAT IS NEO-ROMANTICISM ?
Neo-Romantic artists have drawn their inspiration
from artists of the age of Romanticism or earlier.
Characteristic themes in their work include a
mystical approach to the British landscape...
ENTRY: Jennings, Humphrey
Humphrey Jennings (b. August 19, 1907 Walberswick, Suffolk - d. September 24, 1950 Greece)
was a British film-maker and one of the founders of the Mass Observation organisation.
Jennings was described by film maker Lindsay Anderson as: "the only real poet that British cinema has yet produced."
He was the son of an architect father, and a painter mother. He studied at Cambridge where, when not
studying, he created advanged stage designs and was the founder-editor of Experiment in collaboration
with William Empson and Jacob Bronowski.
After graduating with a starred First Class degree
in English from Pembroke College, Cambridge, Jennings undertook a number of jobs - including
photographer, painter and theatre designer. In 1929, he married Cicely Cooper. He
evenually found his niche in John Grierson's GPO Film Unit in 1934.
In 1936 Jennings helped with the organisation of the 1936 Surrealist Exhibition
in London, in association with Herbert Read and André Breton. It was at about
this time that Jennings became involved in the start-up stages of Mass Observation,
and was to make the film May the Twelfth as a montage of the 1937 coronation of
King George VI and Queen Elizabeth for Mass Observation.
With the outbreak of the Second World War, the GPO Film Unit became the Crown Film Unit,
a movie-making propaganda arm of the Ministry of Information, and Jennings joined the new organisation.
Jennings made only one feature length film, the 70-minute Fires Were Started (1943),
also known as I Was A Fireman, a wartime propaganda movie detailing
the work of the Auxiliary Fire Service, which blurred the lines between
fiction and documentary. This film, which uses techniques such as montage
is considered one of the classics of the genre.
He made a number of notable short films, inclusively patriotic in sentiment
and deeply interested in Englishness, such as: "Spare Time"; "Our Country",
"The Dim Little Island", "A Diary for Timothy" (written by E.M. Forster),
"Words for Battle", "London Can Take It!", and "Family Portrait" (his last film,
of the Festival of Britain). Co-directed with Stewart McAllister, Jennings' best
remembered short film, made 1942, is "Listen to Britain".
His films were often later criticised for being 'too poetic' by those who preferred
the straight 'grim social critique' approach that became the norm in the 1960s and 70s.
He died on the cliffs of the Greek island of Poros, while scouting locations for
a future film on post-war healthcare in Europe. He is buried near
T.H. White in the Protestant Cemetery at Athens.
His reputation always remained very high among film makers, but had faded among
many others. From 2001 this situation was partly rectified: firstly by the
feature-length documentary by Oscar-winning documentary-maker
Kevin Macdonald, Humphrey Jennings: The Man Who Listened to Britain
(Figment Films, 2002); and secondly by Kevin Jackson's
monumental 450-page biography Humphrey Jennings (Picador, 2004).
In 2003 his work was included in the Tate Britain retrospective
"A Century of Artists' Film in Britain". As of 2005, nearly
all the films of Humphrey Jennings are available on DVDs.
Jackson, Kevin (Ed.). The Humphrey Jennings Film Reader (1993)
Jackson, Kevin. Humphrey Jennings (2004)