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BFI 100: 89 – Fires Were Started (1943)

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Continuing the now resurrected journey of watching each of the British Film Institute’s 100 best films of the 20th Century. Starting at 100 and working my way to Orson Welles’ The Third Man at number 1. This time, the 1943 film Fires Were Started. I’ll try to keep these short updates relatively spoiler-free. Consider them a small record of moving through this series.

Fires Were Started © Crown Film Unit
© Crown Film Unit

The second world war theme continues into film number 89 with Humphrey Jennings pseudo-documentary, Fires Were Started. This is a fiction, however, the film tells the story of a wartime sub-fire station and its officers. It does so, not with actors, but instead using the firemen themselves and this lends the film a veracity and immediacy it may not have achieved otherwise. Coming hard on the heels of a light wartime comedy, the frightening realism of Jennings film is particularly stark; not only dropping you at first into the firehouse as we are introduced to a new recruit, but also into an out-of-control fire on the wharf as the film reaches its climax. Watching the film for a second time, it kept my attention. I was reminded how many of the scenes are shot in a style reminiscent of wartime documentary photography.


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