Technology and the GPO Film Unit

A Colour Box, Len Lye‘s experimental animation made for the GPO Film Unit in 1935. The original element was creating by painting directly onto raw 35mm film base, which was then duplicated using the Dufaycolor process.


Technology and the GPO Film Unit


This is an extended draft of a chapter that is published in Scott Anthony and James Mansell (eds.), The Projection of Britain: A History of the GPO Film Unit, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan (2011), ISBN 978-1-844573-74-5, pp. 188-198.


This chapter considers the unique approach to technology taken by John Grierson‘s GPO Film Unit. The handheld Newman-Sinclair camera, the Visatone-Marconi sound system, colour processes that were either experimental or heavily modified from the form in which they were initially marketed and distribution and exhibition on 16mm were all innovations that were developed by this group of filmmakers. The chapter argues that this was primarily a case of invention (or, strictly speaking, adaptation) being the child of economic necessity, but that the influence of these technologies on the resulting films has all too often been dismissed by earlier writers as simply restrictive. In conlcusion, I suggest that these technologies presented the GPO’s filmmakers with opportunities as well as constraints.


Please note that the version available for download here is an earlier and substantially longer version of the chapter than the one published in the book.  It includes background coverage that was edited out of the published version (because it covered the same ground as other contributions to the book) and a more extensive discussion of case studies.

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