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Established in 1946, the Central Office of Information (COI) was a successor to the wartime Ministry of Information and was responsible for producing thousands of films which celebrated Britain, its people and their achievements.

This second volume in the COI Collection surveys the subjects of architecture, design and fashion. Highlights include: Designing Women (1948), Joyce Grenfell takes us through the dos and don ts of home furnishing; Brief City (1952), modernist architecture and design on show at the Festival of Britain; Design for Today (1965), Hugh Hudson s day-in-the-life of British design; Insight: Terence Conran (1981) and Insight: Zandra Rhodes (1981), Peter Greenaway and Michael Nyman team up in an early collaboration; The Pacemakers BIBA (1970), a look at the work of Barbara Hulanicki.

This volume also boasts two newly commissioned scores by electronic pop band Saint Etienne. They give Designed in Britain (1959) and Design for Today (1965) a contemporary music make-over, whilst still retaining some original features. An accompanying booklet provides authoritative notes, along with Hugh Hudson s recollections of making Design for Today.


 DVD Reviews

DVD Review: BFI (The COI Collection Vol. 2) - Region 2 - PAL

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Region 2 - PAL


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

Audio English and Spanish (Dolby Digital 2.0)
Subtitles English, None
Features Release Information:
Studio: BFI

Aspect Ratio:
Fullscreen - 1.33:1

Edition Details:
• Fully illustrated booklet including comprehensive contextualizing notes and essays from academics and film historians
• Two new scores by electronic pop band Saint Etienne

DVD Release Date: March 22nd, 2010
Two Disc Keep Case



I really need to be less cynical going into my reviews. Although I have loved each of their previous compilations, I wasn't too eager going into this one since I find subjects like interior design and fashion to be interminably boring. Just how interesting could the COI have made these films, I wondered as I put the first disc in and began to watch the gleefully surreal "Designing Women" in which a pair of newlyweds in postwar Britain attempt to design their flat with the aid of two magical designers. It's films like these that make the COI collections (and the GPO before them) so valuable. The filmmakers in this anthology were tasked with creating either documentary or propaganda by the Central Office of Information, but made it so much more. Instead, films like "Designing Women" and a handful of others from this set became minor masterpieces, showcasing both the message that the COI wanted to convey and the artistic spirit of the participants. To put this another way, I couldn't have been more wrong with my pre-viewing appraisal. This is a truly wonderful set and we are so very, very lucky that this batch of films have been rescued from obscurity. From here on I will no longer harbor any suspicions concerning the interest that I might have in these releases. Instead, knowing that the BFI still has an unbroken record of quality anthologies, I will enter each and every one in the future expecting them to be filled with the gems of British documentary film making.

Predictably, many of the older films in the collection have some damage on them, from scratches to dust and dirt. Yet, even though these films were understandably enough not restored, they still were all given new HD transfers and in a few cases it really shows. The image quality is very good on some of these films, but soft on others. I would be remiss to not point out here the the absolutely lovely nature of these films. After collecting my screen caps, I probably had enough to construct full reviews out of each and every short. For a series that is so heavily influenced by the aesthetics of its day, the most of the films reflect this with a glorious succession of gorgeous and sensuous images.

The films are presented in their original English, with the exception of "24 Horas: Men's Fashions" which is a Spanish version of "This week in Britain 750: Men's Fashions" (also included on disc 2). The Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack sounds fairly good here, and given some of the limitations of the earlier films, I think that it was a wise decision to present them using this format. That being said, there are some films (i.e. the oldest in the bunch) with faint crackling that's only noticeable with the volume pumped up. Surely though, this won't be a problem for the average viewer. Additionally, there are two new scores performed by the band Saint Etienne that can be chosen to play instead of the film's original audio. While they are interesting tracks, there are a couple of points to note. First, the narration in the introduction to "Design for Today" (the only dialogue in the film) was left intact and the new song plays after the introductory remarks. Second, the BFI only possessed the combined film elements for "Designed in Britain" (One of the most fascinating shorts in the set, by the way), hence the audio of the songs overlap the audio of the short. Yet, this isn't a problem. Watching the film without the narration (and the subtitles can always be activated if you'd like to read the original wording) adds a new level of enjoyment to the images. Saint Etienne did a marvelous job with their work here and I think that both they and the disc's producers deserve credit for their hard work. I'd definitely recommend listening to all of the tracks if you get the chance. The English subtitles included on both discs are clear and do not obstruct the image.

The only extra that comes with the disc is a 25 page illustrated booklet that contains a reprint of the essay on the COI from volume 1 as well as short essays on the themes of both discs, all of the individual films, and the technical aspects of the release.

Let me reiterate. This is another amazing compilation of documentary and propaganda short subjects that were lovingly preserved in the BFI's vaults. Oh, what I would give for the chance to explore those! This is a real treasure and I now eagerly await a possible volume 3. Highly recommended.

 - Brian Montgomery


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