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Len Lye

While I'm not currently a member of a film society, I don't regret the 10 years that I spent with film societies and the BFFS. For one, I've ended up married to ias as a direct result, but more importantly, I've been introduced to a wide range of cinema and filmmakers that I just wouldn't otherwise have been exposed to (and I'm fairly certain that ias would probably have put those in the same order).

One such filmmaker is Len Lye, a New Zealander who worked in the GPO (General Post Office) Film Unit in the years before WWII. During this time, he produced a number of experimental films using a technique he called direct animation, in which the images were painted or scratched directly onto the celluloid. In order to justify this work to his paymasters, the films usually had some postal-related advertising message tacked on at the end.

The GPO Film Unit was a incredible hotbed of talent; headed by John Grierson, it employed a number of the leading experimental filmmakers of the time, including Lotte Reiniger and Norman McLaren (best known for his later work for the National Film Board of Canada).

But back to Lye. Last week, ias and I took a day off to see the Modernism exhibition at the V&A (more in another post). Tucked into one of the later rooms was a video loop showing Lye's Rainbow Dance; the music from this film was on a constant loop, so we'd had an inkling of what was to come. I was so distracted that I quite failed to drool over the Tatra T87 in the same room...

So, gleaned from YouTube (thank heavens for Web2.0), here are three of Len Lye's finest, three joyful, jazz-infused paeans to parcel rates, post office savings accounts and the importance of posting early:

A Colour Box (1935)

Rainbow Dance (1936)

Trade Tattoo (1937)

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oh my, they're wonderful! I especially liked Rainbow Dance.

Thank you!

God bless the GPO - particularly Tommy Flowers. One of my top heroes a different field but what a fantastic organisation


Fantastic - I don't know how I missed that one in the exhibition!

They didn't have the whole of Rainbow Dance, just a thirty-second excerpt (as was sadly the way with all the film resources). It's a shame that they didn't have the full versions available in the shop; I for one would have bought many of them.

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I knew that it had basically folded - have there been further developments?

Thanks for the links!

My pleasure! I was hoping that some enterprising soul had uploaded other contemporary work, particularly that of Oskar Fischinger, but sadly not. There are a couple of Lotte Reiniger films, including her Heavenly Post Office, another GPO Film Unit film.

I should probably check the other social video sites as well...

"Trade Tattoo" brings to mind "Tal Farlow," which follows auto workers at a Chrysler plant here in the States, using jump cuts in rhythm to the African or jazzy sounding music. Shudders!

I don't think I've ever seen "Rainbow Dance," though. How beautiful, and thanks again for the link.

I just showed these three to my daughter. I'd taken her to a retrospective of experimental animation films a couple of months ago, and when "A Colour Box" started she said, "Is that 'Colour Cry'?" Ah! I'm speechless.

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