British Film Institute Classics

If you’ve never appreciated what it is that the BFI does, all you need to do is have a look at their impressive film catalogue. Tasked with the job of preserving Britain’s film heritage, the BFI are never idle, and at Vintage 2011 we had the pleasure of presenting some of the best known films from their collection as well as some obscure gems that deserve recognition today.

These films are moving, funny, and most of all relevant – whether Ministry of Information films that take you on a journey around everyday wartime London, or 1960s feature films that allow you to look into a world of new-found sexual freedom, our audiences were captivated by these wonderful films; many of which have been re-mastered and re-released on Blu-Ray with stunning results.

Listen to Britain (1942) – A short Ministry of Information film produced during WWII, this film depicts a day in the life of Blitz-torn Britain. The result is a sublime composition of scenes of ordinary life in an extraordinary time. With poetic beauty, it tells the story of the human spirit. Directed by Humphrey Jennings and Stewart McAllister, starring Chesney Allen, Bud Flanagan and Myra Hess.

Withnail and I (1986) – This is a hilarious journey around the dysfunctional world of Withnail – gloriously and gratuitously acted by Richard E Grant – and ‘I’, who are a pair of clueless Londoners that set off from their squalid flat to a country cottage in the Lake District. The audience is left wondering if these two comical genius half-wits will even survive their wine-soaked encounter with the Cumbrian countryside. One of Britain’s favourite cult films, it is directed by Bruce Robinson, and stars Richard E Grant, Paul McGann and Richard Griffiths.

London Can Take It (1940) – A short Ministry of Information film, the documents 18 hours of the Blitz. After the Nazi air force delivers their nightly barrage of bombs, London awakes and goes back to work with their morale not only intact, but as this film states, higher than ever. A propaganda film that aimed to show the war’s effect on ordinary people and turn public opinion in favour of bringing the USA on side against Germany, this remains a powerful document today. Directed by Humphrey Jennings and Harry Watt.

Permissive (1970) – This is one of many films re-released as part of the BFI’s Flipside series, which aims to rescue weird and wonderful films from obscurity and make them available once again in high-quality editions.  When Suzy arrives in London, she is unwittingly plunged into the world of the ‘groupie’. The soundtrack by prog rock legends Comus, Forever More and Titus Groan adds to the gritty atmosphere and produces a dark British counter-cultural aretefact that’s shot through with grim authenticity. Directed by Lindsay Shonteff, starring Maggie Stride and Gay Singleton.

Under the Table You Must Go (1970) – This documentary takes the audience on a trip around the pubs and clubs of London in the weird world of 1970 – often surreal, it’s a truly jolly trip that is worlds away from the wine bars that line the streets today. Directed by Arnold L Miller.

Nightmail (1936) – It’s a simple idea, beautifully executed – this short film follows the night mail train from London to Scotland, with music by Benjamin Britten and poetry by WH Auden that mirrors the rhythm of the train’s wheels. An evocative and nostalgic piece of beauty. Directed by Harry Watt and Basil Wright.

That Kind of Girl (1963)– Another classic from the BFI’s Flipside, this film was greeted at its finale by roaring applause from our last audience of the Vintage weekend. It gives a brilliant glimpse into the world of 60s Britain, while exploring the ‘issue’ of sexual promiscuity and venereal disease after a beautiful au-pair wrestles with the affections of three men. Directed by Gerry O’Hara, starring Margaret Rose Keil

Screened at Vintage at the Southbank Centre, July 2011