Notes by Rodney Giesler [scroll down]
Born Dorset 13.11.1919. Father an accountant. Educated at Bryanston School. Spelling and memory bad. Intrigued by cinema after Basil Wright’s visit and screening of Song of Ceylon. Interested in graphics, photography and ceramics. Did a course at the Reiman School in London. Some refugee “Bauhaus” teachers there. Passed with highest marks, never having passed an exam before. Asked to start a photographic department for an ad agency. Project cancelled by outbreak of war Brain surgery precluded call-up. Taught art at a prep school in Potters Bar. Joined Naval Intelligence at Oxford. Job involved copying thousands of maps and tourist guides relevant to war theatres sent in by public. Spent four years there. Borrowed a large copying camera from the Suez Canal Company. Very cumbersome. A1 sized papers. The copying process. Used a Gandolfi whole plate camera he had made. Whole plate camera from Hunter Penrose, specifically for copying. Worked a seven-day week. Later, taught evening classes at Oxford School of Art. Made a film on his curriculum. Architect colleague saw it and introduced him to Paul Rotha. War was ending. Joined Rotha’s animation department. Embraced Otto Neurath’s ideas on Isotypes. Incorporated Isotype diagrams. Work contracted to Diagram Films. Rotha worked to very high standards. Wolfgang Suschitsky his cameraman. Stepped in when Su was ill. First experience as cameraman. Worked on Worker and Warfront and Britain Can Make It for the COI. The tin of buzz track. Shattered by Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will (45 mins)
END OF SIDE ONE
More on his reaction to Triumph of the Will. Awakened political feelings. A motivation in future films. The split at Rotha. Formation of Films of Fact. Working for Donald Alexander. Wrote and directed a film for the Cotton Board: The Brush Stripping of Cards, An attempt to share good practices around the industry. Trouble with the cameraman Stan Rodwell. The film’s showing caused a riot. For the first time it generated conversation between each mill manager. Only one copy made. But
it revealed the value of co-operation. Went on to make a series of visual aids for the Ministry of Education, the first one being the History & Development of Letterpress Printing. And one on paper making. Sylvia Crammed his assistant, later his wife,the importance of the technical adviser. Stanley Morrison, deviser of the Times New Roman, superb. Morrison passed him to Sidney Cockerill, William Morris’ secretary, who had a huge collection of Morris’ drawings. Another person who inspired high standards. The truth and standards embodied in documentary. Subtleties of choice and appreciation. Became Governor at the Bath Academy of Art. Clifford Ellis the principal who recognised the power and importance in film, Agreed to the job on this basis. John Piper co-governor. Rotha runs into financial difficulties from overspending. COI (Denis Forman) refuses to bail him out. Had to see rushes at the labs. Perfection has its financial limits. Contrast with television where quantity rules over quality, having time to get things right, what worked and what didn’t — is vital. Important to be clear on whom the audience was, end what needs saying. Planning is cheaper than production. Took over Rotha’s contract. Finished “Printing” film.
Moves to British Instructional Films Designs displays for the first Edinburgh Festival to explain differences between documentary and features. Arthur Elton recruits him to make a film for the City of London for the Festival of Britain. Also a film on
banking BIF closes and he moves to Associated British Pathe. Both films put through Pathe. Banking and the Farmer made first. Bridging a gulf of ignorance. (45 mins).
Working with Peter Baylis and Jack Howells on Festival of Britain films. The workings of the City of London. The clubbable atmosphere, Each man’s standards matched with his neighbour. Film limited to 17 minutes. The cost of recording sound on 35mm film. Made a stereoscopic film with Raymond Spottiswoode Cameras put into a projection box, and action in the cinema. With Pathe from 1948 to 1957. Made Majesty in the Air and Travel Royal for B.O.A.C. Misapropriated prizes. Short Spell as producer with Pathe Pictorial. Mountbatten’s keenness in front of the camera. Enjoyed the speed of working, and resourceful cameramen. The “fancy that” factor. Terry Ashwood the editor, Pathe Pictorial pioneered 16mm, which allowed greater flexibility. from there went to Pathe’s Commercials department. Demands placed on film technicians by the agencies. Did it the agencies’ way in the morning, and the right wav in the afternoon. The lessons learned front shooting commercials. The famous actress who wouldn't be taught the techniques of commercials. Then directed Heights of Danger for the Children’s Film Foundation shot in Austria.
Admiration for Mary Field. She insisted on seeing the film without the sound to ensure it made sense as a picture. (45 mins)
Turns down offer from Mather & Crowther. Farewell to Howard Thomas. Return to documentary. Disastrous year with Rayant Pictures. An arrogant manager. Joins World Wide Pictures. as a producer making films for Unilever. Worked with them for twenty years. The Physics & Chemistry of Water with Desmond Bernal. And Water in Biology. Worked well with Laurence Mitchell at Unilever. Enlightened sponsorship. The need for music and titles to help the projectionist. Importance of high calibre subject adviser. Films praised by the experts themselves. Luxury of composed music Enhancing a cohesive feeling towards the sponsor internationally. Challenges of Your Mouth showing the development of teeth in the jaw. Had to get across to primary school children as well as dental students. Presenting complex ideas as simply as possible. Used facilities supported by the sponsor. Made films for the Civic Trust and Wimpey. Brian Finch the sponsoring officer, Riverside 2000 the corporate epic. Paul Jennings wrote the commentary. COI rejected the blank verse because it was untranslatable. Straight English version made. In the end the Jennings version survived. Film on Taylor Woodrow’s irrigation project in Romania. Funded by the World Bank. Few film resources there. Had to take film stock with him. Post production in London agreed. Dumbfounded by antiquity of films made by State Film Unit. to freelance technicians available there. Stifling bureaucracy to overcome. forced to use State Film Agency. (44 mins)
Obstructionist behaviour of Romanian bureaucrats. Rebels at their obtuseness. Backed by Taylor Woodrow. Forced to use State film Unit. No sense of urgency. The party member who didn’t work. Things changed. Unit appreciated being made to work, and to work with someone who cared. No one cared in Romania. Decried the misuse of energy and skill caused by party dogma. Denied creative satisfaction by the party system. Last World Wide picture for Department of Health on sex education for teenagers. Needed to span the age gap from teenagers to their teachers. Scripted by Michael Bakewell. Half a dozen trigger films to stimulate discussion, It was emotional education. Hostile reaction of the press. Deflated by the teachers who actually used the films. They were judged not by the people who used them. Retired at 60 by World Wide. Invited by Dora Thomas to join Shell. New film on Malaria. Great creative freedom. Warm reception of film by WHO. They expected an advertising film. Shell wanted just to be associated with a film that would be useful. It needed to affect governments. Spreading the gospel down to village level. Received a BMA award. Dora Thomas left, and he found her replacement very unsympathetic. Also did a film on oil searching. Discovered his dyslexia at 74. (37mins).