The subject of Spare Time is working class leisure. The painter and filmmaker Humphrey Jennings had been part of Mass Observation, a group of artists and writers who saw the need for ‘an anthropology of our own people’. Jennings came to view his own role as that of ‘poet-reporter’. In this, his greatest peace-time documentary, he sets images against sounds without any voice-over commentary. —Tate Britain
Humphrey Jennings was born in Walberswick, Suffolk on 19 August 1907 and became not only a filmmaker but a photographer, literary critic, theatrical designer, poet, painter and theorist of modern art. While studying English at Cambridge, he designed the first British productions of Stravinsky’s A Soldier’s Tale and Honegger’s King David, and founded and edited Experiment with William Empson and Jacob Bronowski. By 1936 he was a leading Modernist and organised the International Surrealist Exhibition in London, along with Herbert Read, Roland Penrose and André Breton.
Jennings joined the GPO Film Unit in 1934. His early films, like those of Alberto Cavalcanti (with whom he often collaborated), were criticised by the documentary movement’s realists for their experimental qualities, and Geoffrey Nowell-Smith has argued that Jennings’ work is better situated in the context of experimental film and the European avant-garde than within the documentary movement.
In 1937 Jennings… read more