Artists and experimental filmmakers in the 1920s and 1930s showed their films in clubs such as the Film Society in London. Their manifestos and ideas were debated in magazines devoted to film’s avant-garde such as Close Up and Film Art

Films showing in this section: 

Hans Richter and The Film Society Workshop Everyday 1929-67
Norman Mclaren Seven Till Five 1933 [silent]
B Vivian Braun Beyond This Open Road 1934
Humphrey Jennings Spare Time 1939

Hans Richter and The Film Society Workshop Everyday 1929-67

17 minutes. Collection: BFI National Film & Television Archive 

The German Dadaist painter and filmmaker Hans Richter showed his abstract films at the Film Society in London on three occasions in the 1920s. In 1929 he also ran a film-workshop for the Society, in which Len Lye, Basil Wright and another visiting artist Sergei Eisenstein took part. Everyday follows a well established avant-garde form: ‘a day in the life of a city worker’. The film was completed by Richter in 1967, when he also added the sound. 


Hans Richter was born in Berlin in 1888. Associated with Zurich-based Dada during the First World War and then De Stijl, by the early 1920s Richter was in Berlin and part of a fragmented group interested in ‘absolute film’ that included Viking Eggeling, Walther Ruttmann and Oskar Fischinger. His promotion of the new art led to travels throughout Europe. He left Nazi Germany in 1933 and moved to the USA in 1940. He died in Switzerland in 1976. 

Norman Mclaren Seven Till Five 1933 [silent]

9 minutes. Collection: BFI National Film & Television Archive 

Norman McLaren was a student at the Glasgow School of Art, when he made Seven Till Five for the school’s Art Film Group. It shows a day in the life of the school. It is silent. 


Norman McLaren was born in Scotland in 1914. He studied at Glasgow School of Art, where he ran the Film Society. His early abstract film experiments and anti-war film Hell UnLTD, gained him an invitation from John Grierson to work at the GPO Film Unit, where he perfected his painting-on-film technique. A pacifist, he moved to the USA at the outbreak of War, working with Mary Ellen Bute in New York, before taking up what proved a life time’s residency at the new National Film Board of Canada, again at John Grierson’s invitation. He died in Canada in 1987. 

B. Vivian Braun Beyond This Open Road 1934

7 minutes. Collection: BFI National Film & Television Archive

B Vivian Braun worked in the film industry and was the editor of a succession of magazines devoted to ‘advance-garde cinema’ such as Film Art I933-7. Beyond This Open Road reflects the leisure pursuits of London middle-class youth in the 1930s: fitness, sporty clothing, cycling and rambling beyond the new suburbs. And implicitly, filmmaking. 


B. Vivian Braun was the publisher of several journals dedicated to ‘advance-garde cinema: Film (one issue) I933, Film Art 1933-7, and New Cinema (one issue) 1936. These journals included reviews and polemic by Fairthorne, Moholy-Nagy, Blakeston and others. Braun also briefly ran the Forum Cinema ‘London’s advance-garde cinema’. His filmmaking may have run to four titles, of which Beyond This Open Road appears to be the sole survivor. 

Humphrey Jennings Spare Time 1939

18 minutes. Collection: BFI National Film & Television Archive

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. 


Humphrey Jennings was born in 1907. He studied English at Cambridge University, and was active as a painter before joining the GPO Film Unit in 1934. He helped organise the International Surrealist Exhibition 1936, and was one of the instigators of Mass Observation; these contrasting intellectual movements equally shaping his film work. He died in Poros, Greece in 1950. See Humphrey Jennings: Filmmaker, Painter, Poet edited by Mary-Lou Jennings, BFI 1982.