The BFi Southbank is to host a series of screenings and events mark both its 75th anniversary and the 75 years since the General Post Office (GPO) founded the GPO Film Unit, responsible for one of the most distinctive and well-loved bodies of work in British film.
The project will launch during the BFI’s anniversary celebration in September with the screening of Love Letters and Live Wires – a selection of the best of the of the Unit’s work – on 18 September followed by a discussion with leading figures exploring the GPO’s living legacy in documentary, advertising and the modern world.
The film will also be shown nationwide in selected cinemas and there will also be three double-disc DVD box sets released.
According to the BFI the short films are impossible to categorise because of their great variety and include a mixture of public information film, drama-documentary, social reportage, animation, advertising and many points in between.
Ostensibly created to inform the nation of how to use the Post Office’s services, the GPO Film Unit included some of the greatest film- makers and artists of the day, from the likes of Alberto Cavalcanti, Len Lye and Norman McLaren to W.H.Auden and Benjamin Britten.
The Unit is perhaps best known for its production of Night Mail (1936) one of the most enduring films of the British documentary movement. But there are many more lesser-known films which helped to extend the language of film. They are not only important documents of social history but also hugely entertaining.
Love Letters and Live Wires (1936-1939) is a selection of the best of the GPO Film Unit screening in cinemas nationwide. While dispensing clear and entertaining instructions on the use of such new-fangled devices as the post code, the telephone or the air mail service, these films brilliantly promote the GPO’s contribution to workplace efficiency, world trade and smoothing the path of true love.
Whether using avant-garde animation in Trade Tattoo (1937), or exploring the realities of delivering the post in the flooded Norfolk village of Horsey in The Horsey Mail (1938), the films offer a delightful insight into British life in the 1930s. The Fairy of the Phone (1936) is a musical
designed to educate the public in how to use the telephone as it truly became a mass communication device.