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UK 1947


...I’ve had a preview of Portrait of a Miner, the BFI’s two-DVD set offered in tandem with the cinema series, with an accompanying booklet by Patrick Russell, the curator of the series. It’s a tour-de-force collection of unusual and recently archived documentaries about the industry filmed by the National Coal Board from the 1940s to its demise in 1984. Some are well- scripted propaganda dramas or bizarre educational films, some imaginative spin-offs into animation, fantasy and frolic. All the films in this five-hour collection are so good that they ache for repeated viewings.

There’s King Coal, a cartoon with emotional saucepans, boilers and chimneys. The green robe of the benevolent giant King Coal morphs into trees, happy houses and household appliances. Balletomines features strapping miners in a drag ballet of Coppelia. Hungarians in Britain showcases the hidden fascinations of English as a second language. “I want to go up the British miner but I do not know if the British miner wants me to go up.” In The Shovel, we can underestimate the action of lifting and tossing coal, with Errol Flynn- style flicks of wrist, fist and blade. Man Failure details the distracting dangers to miners of women, especially naked ones.

Excerpt of review from Ken Russell located HERE

DVD Reviews

DVD Review: BFI (2-disc - National Coal Board Collection Volume One) - Region 2 - PAL

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Region 2 - PAL

Runtime 5:47:00

1.33:1 Original Aspect Ratio
PAL 720x576 25.00 f/s

Audio English (Dolby Digital Mono)
Subtitles English, None
Features Release Information:
Studio: BFI

Aspect Ratio:
Fullscreen - 1.33:1

Edition Details:
• 52 Page Accompanying Booklet

DVD Release Date: September 28th, 2009
Keep Case with Cardboard Slipcover




I was anticipating 6-hours of gray, depressed and bleak post-war Britain - perhaps traits strongly evident in a UK coal pit.  What I thought would be a marathon of depressing propaganda shorts, turned out to be anything but. To be sure, there are several vignettes that fit my preconceived mold, but the vast majority of the films presented here celebrate the absurd and the offbeat. Included here are fantastic cartoons, hilarious (oftentimes unintentionally) safety films, and fascinating individual portraits of the miners and their lives outside of the mines. Yet, more than just this, we get an invaluable historical document. For someone born in the states long after the heyday of coal in this country, the impact that coal had a mere sixty years ago here and elsewhere can seem out of reach or unreal. This set helps to create a vision of a time and place that's now gone. Even for those like me who lacked any experience with the British coal industry, you can't help but feel as if you've learned a good deal of the pre-privatized world of British coal by the time the last film finishes. However, my favorite films in this set are those that are less history lessons and more celebrations the off-the-wall and absurd like, Balletomines with a group of miners dressing up as ballerinas, or Man Failure with its spotlight on the more gruesome and lurid ways in which one can lose life and limb (hint: they involve imagining one's self being bayoneted on a beach, or recounting skinny dipping episodes with gratuitous nudity). Trust me, these and others films in the set are a real hoot.

The BFI has clearly put a lot of loving detail into this 2-disc release. As the booklet tells us, each short was digitally mastered in high definition using the best available elements. While the booklet warns us that some of the material has dirt, dust, or other damage marks, these are few and far between. Instead, some of these films look immaculate, showing no damage or signs of their real age. The same goes for the audio. Although the set contains the caveat that that there will be occasional instances of pops, crackles, and other digital interference, these are hardly noticeable, and almost all of the films come off as reasonably clear. The set also comes with faithful and unobtrusive subtitles that I found quite useful at times (especially in the fast talking and accent-heavy animated short Hands, Knees, and Bumps a Daisy). Finally, the set also comes with a fifty-two page booklet with essays on the set as whole and each individual film. The booklet also contains not to be missed reproductions of memorandums concerning the films and gorgeous images scattered about.

For a set that I had some initial trepidations about, this turned out to be a real winner. Watching the the discs over two nights, the set's nearly six hour run time flew by, and left me wanting a volume two. For anyone interested in British history or simply having a good time, this set is a must own. I give it a high recommendation.

 - Brian Montgomery


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