Fires Were Started (1943 – Blu-Ray)

“Alright Johnny, had a bad night?”

‘Fires Were Started’ is in my ‘1001 Movies To See Before You Die’ book and has a place in the BFI’s Top 100, so I bought a copy of the second volume in the complete Humphrey Jennings series.  The film is about a typical day in the life of a London firecrew during the Blitz featuring a cast made up entirely of the actual firemen and women themselves.  This lends the film a documentary feel and a neo-realist air with the minute and everyday detail being fascinating.  As such, the nervous performances leave a little to be desired in the first third of the film as we are introduced to the characters and the routines of the fire service. However this all changes as the night closes in and the bombers begin humming over head, the crew’s training kicks in and the grim horrors of countless other real nights become written in their expressions.  The steely gaze from one firefiighter (Pictured above) as he heroically holds the line to let his friend escape a burning warehouse will be etched on your mind.  It’s a powerful sequence now but it must have been positively harrowing to watch in a London cinema at the time, preceded by newsreels of the actual Blitz.

The sharpness of the image on this Blu-Ray is astounding but the negative was obviously scratched to buggery.  The amount of damage does sadly become a bit distracting during the night scenes but that can’t be helped.  Apart from ‘Fires Were Started’ the packed disc contains six other short films from Jennings chronicling life in 40s Britain.

Here’s a brief clip of the film:

Also here is a clip from a documentary by Kevin MacDonald about Jennings which covers ‘Fires Were Started’:

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