This is the second year that Downwood Films is having a January Sale, with all DVD titles priced at £4.95 until the end of the month, so this is a good opportunity to get hold of the ever-popular town history films before they go back up to £9.95 in February.
Although this new-look website tells you that Downwood Films divides its production work between traditionally-made documentary films and digital video promotional material together with the ever-popular recording of school concerts and shows, aesthetically its sympathy lies with the shooting of film using mechanical movie cameras, as mentioned in the “About” section. Nowadays, many people see this as being out of date, but I beg to differ and have to say that the look of many new programmes on television, almost invariably shot with digital camera equipment, is not very pleasant or relaxing on the eye. You might ask, does it matter? Surely the content of the programme is more important than its look, and is the digital look really that bad anyway?
My answer is that it’s very much a matter of opinion. Quite honestly, I would much prefer to watch a classic black and white film from the 1940s and 1950s than a lot of the stuff being peddled today, and the reasons for that are numerous. Let’s begin with the photography: black and white is a truly abstract medium, it makes no pretence at being reality, and therefore it has a charm all of its own, and it sets a mood and atmosphere that colour cannot match. Ah, I hear you say, that is merely an accident of photographic history! Black and white photography was invented before the colour process, so that’s all people had available for many years, but as we see the world in colour, surely it is more natural to want to view films and television programmes in the same way?
I am aware that there are many people who simply refuse to watch old black and white films, but do they realise what they are missing? I have the Ealing Comedies on DVD, and recently watched “The Maggie”, made in 1954, which tells the whimsical tale of an ancient Clyde puffer boat whose rascally captain secures a contract, by deception, to deliver a cargo of valuable household plumbing and bathroom fittings belonging to a wealthy American airline executive who has purchased a house on a Scottish island. It has all the hallmarks of an old Ealing film and is an absolute delight to watch – but it would lose much of its character if it were in colour. As it is, the black and white photography of Gordon Dines is a joy to behold. The script, acting and direction take us back to a world that simply no longer exists, but when I look at some of television’s modern offerings, I know how I would rather spend my few hours of viewing. Why, oh why, can we not make films of that calibre nowadays?
Modern films and drama, which are heaped sky-high with grandiloquent praise, often seem to me to be full of fast-paced action, incessant noise, leading characters with “problems” and soundtracks where you’re often straining to hear what they’re saying, when you’re not being driven up the wall by bland and unmelodious electronic music. And I don’t wish to be pessimistic, but I really don’t see any improvement on the horizon, I just fear it will get a whole lot worse.
It is perfectly ridiculous to say that old films are invariably out of date. They may represent another period, yes, in the same way as classical music does, but the demand for that is as high as ever and will undoubtedly remain so.