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British Documentary Grierson and the GPO

vikiwalden | Wednesday May 13, 2009

Categories: Film, Documentaries, British, Other Topics

Scottish, John Grierson had been educated in America during the 1920s, where he became fascinated by the power of cinema and how it controlled the masses’ responses and reactions. However he found himself disappointed that Hollywood pushed entertainment, entertainment, entertainment, over juxtapositions of entertainment and education.

Grierson’s Influences…

Sergei Eisentstein - Battleship Potemkin Part I (1925)


In America he helped prepare the release of Eisenstein’s Potemkin, he was a great admirer of Soviet Cinema both for its artistic innovations and because of the government’s control over film to make sure that it was educating the viewers.

He admired Flaherty because of his search for funding outside the industry- through corporate sources (Fur Trade - Nanook of the North). But he was critical of the fact he shown little concern for improving modern society. Grierson is also known to have criticise Flaherty for being over poetic, even though his GPO Unit adopted an incredibly poetic attitude to its most popular films.

Documentary - The Grierson Way:

“The documentarist must deploy a wide range of creative skills to fashion the “fragments of reality” into an artefact that has a specific social impact: that is educationally instructive, or in some measure, culturally enlightening” [it should be]... “a creative treatment of actuality, being aesthetically satisfying while also having a clearly defined social purpose.”

((Hardy 1979; 35-46) Izod and Kilborn,1998;426-427)

In 1926, when reviewing Flaherty’s Nanook of the North, Grierson coined the term “Documentary” and since it has been used as a description of most factual films and programming.

In 1927 Grierson returned to Britain where he met Stephen Tallents, head of the Empire Market Board (A government institution in charge of promoting British products worldwide). Grierson made his first short, Drifters for the board in 1929, which could not get cinematic release (being...

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