Fires Were Started

Also known as I Was a Fireman, this 1943 feature by British documentarian Humphrey Jennings mixes dramatizations and actual footage of a wartime London besieged by German bombs. Jennings intercuts women at phone banks, coolly taking reports and dispatching firefighters even after being injured, with spectacular night footage of blazing riverside buildings. Jennings has an excellent eye for physical details—the smoke and fire of a last-minute roof rescue are memorable—and dynamic compositions, but the film has a curiously lugubrious rhythm. Of course the firemen must make themselves tea, but many moments where the action is suspended briefly just seem odd. This newly restored print is excellent, with crisp blacks and whites. 74 min.

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