On the Right Track: The British Transport Films Collection Vol 13
R0 - United Kingdom - British Film Institute
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (25th August 2019).
The Film

On the Right Track: The British Transport Films Collection Vol 13


By the 1960s, the railway system in Britain had connected passenger, businesses, and mail delivery for more than 150 years. With vast forms of improvements over the years, it had become very well organized and convenient for everyone, though as with any form of business there are the minor complaints that cannot be avoided. Trains not arriving on time, delays, inconvenience to and from station for passengers, overcrowding, prices, the list can go on and on. At this time British Railways tried to rebrand their image from being a commonplace that people took used to something sleeker as a form of transportation people wanted to take. The name was shortened to "British Rail" or "BR", new trains including high speed rails, computerized systems for improving accuracy and safety, and marketing and advertising for appeal. The British Transport Commission, the organization established in 1947 for the creation of PR travelogue films, training films, educational films, and more headed by documentary filmmaker Edgar Anstey continued their task of improving relations between BR and the public, while also creating content for the staff on how things are improving and how things should be improved.

"On the Right Track" is the thirteenth DVD collection of films created by British Transport Films, with this set focusing on British Rail's changes between 1964 to 1982. This is not a comprehensive set as the organization created hundreds of films during the period, but a healthy sampling of the various types of films created. On paper the BTF sounds like what the average public relations or industrial company would produce. Corporate training videos, public relations shorts, long form advertisements, educational shorts for schools - many of these have a notion of being laughable and unintentionally funny, whether seeing them in workplace training, school, or on "Mystery Science Theater 3000". The BTF was a step far beyond though. Employing documentary filmmakers and a crew of writers and operators that would later even go on to feature filmmaking, there was quite a bit of creativity and artistic freedom in their works. Works by the BTF were recognized even outside the UK, where their shorts were sometimes created for export, to be seen by investors, exhibitors, and for tourism bureaus from overseas. Not only were they well received by businesses, but even by filmmakers, as shorts from the BTF were recognized for their artistic merits including the Academy Awards in the United States.


"On the Right Track" features the following films on two discs.


DISC ONE

The Films (with Play All) (117:18)
* "We're in Business Too!" (22:19)
* "British Rail Is Travelling" (8:05)
* "Class 86 Locomotive" (25:22)
* "Careful Charlie!" (2:52)
* "People in Railways" (18:55)
* "Having a Fresh Look" (32:21)
* "Solutions?" (7:24)


DISC TWO

The Films (with Play All) (127:33)
* "What's Tops?" (18:44)
* "Rubbish by Rail" (6:09)
* "The Stage Is Yours" (11:59)
* "The 75 Tonne High Capacity Crane" (27:03)
* "Track 125" (19:33)
* "Promises promises..." (22:18)
* "A New Approach to Hong Kong" (21:47)


Fourteen shorts are offered here ranging from animated ("Careful Charlie!"), instructional pieces ("The 75 Tonne High Capacity Crane"), exhibitor films ("British Rail Is Travelling"), training films ("We're in Business Too!" and many more. The opening film from 1964, "We're in Business Too!" sets a good tone for what is offered on the set. Featuring interviews from commuters, the problem of the image of British Railways is addressed, as it is not a particularly positive image on why people use the railways. It's not about comfort or convenience, but because things are too far by car, or they have no other choice. The narrated short discusses what improvements can be made and how the image of the railways should be updated and improved for the modern traveler. Awareness for the employees is he first key in making changes. This is a short that was made for employees but it can easily be seen for the general public as it makes their voices heard and easy to follow. The more instructional films on the set here, such as "Class 86 Locomotive" from 1970 and "The 75 Tonne High Capacity Crane" from 1980 were created especially for operators for training, for operating procedures and safety information, as well as explaining the technology behind the machines. These may not have much practical use for the average viewer, but they are fairly well made comprehensive shorts that place safety first for the engineers and operators. Speaking of safety, "Careful Charlie!" from 1970 is the lone animated short in the set, which features the character of Charlie - an accident prone character that shows what not to do while on the job. It may not have the antics of Disney's Goofy's instructional shorts, but these Charlie shorts created were for internal use and the character himself was not a commonplace outside of the British Railways offices. There are quite a few shorts here that promote the technological advancements of the British Rails - "Having a Fresh Look" from 1970, "What's Tops?" from 1974, and "Track 125" from 1981 feature computerized improvements in safety and time keeping, plasma technology, changes to sleepers from wooden to metal, and much more for the future of the rails. "Promises promises..." from 1982 is a great narrative short, featuring a very simple premise - why are some trains late? In the narrated short, various happenings on one particular train have a domino effect on becoming later and later. First at five then at fifteen, the even longer, due to station staff errors and miscommunication, the errors are sometimes unavoidable as it shows, and never puts the blame on the passengers (even though there are some passenger mistakes like not closing the doors themselves or others).

The various shorts on here are well made and organized, without relying much on stock footage but instead with choreographed scenes and documentary footage shot for the productions, so colors are consistent as well as camerawork and editing. Not all are top of the line, as some of the acting can be a little cheesy and the scripted portions can be stilted with the non professional actors involved. Whether the people that were interviewed in some shorts were real interviewees or ones given a script is questionable, but considering some of their interview camera setups and how well things were short, we can speculate as the latter. British Transport Films continued for quite some time until their demise in the 1980s, but thankfully many of their shorts have been preserved by the BFI for future generations. Sure they are dated, and many of the films have no particular purpose for today's viewers but the sense of nostalgia and seeing a series of actually well made industrial shorts are well worthy of preservation.

Note this is a region 0 PAL DVD set

Video

The BFI presents all fourteen shorts in the original 1.37:1 aspect ratio (non-anamorphic) in the PAL format. With all fourteen films coming from different generations and different film stock, consistency between shorts will differ, with some being extremely good, and some being a bit poor. Many of these films were shot in color, and for the most part the colors and details are excellent. The film with the exception of "Solutions?" and "A New Approach to Hong Kong" were scanned in 2K from the original 16mm and 35mm materials and digitally restored. Colors of the shorts were balanced for consistency and stability, damage marks removed and image being eliminated of wobble. Film grain is still left intact and overall looks very filmlike in the restored appearance. There are some minor damage marks still visible, such as "British Rail Is Travelling" having tramline marks and dust still fairly visible, and an overly orange tone to the image especially to the beginning and ending. "Solutions?" and "A New Approach to Hong Kong" were not given the higher status in remastering, and oddly the newest film in the set "A New Approach to Hong Kong" from 1982 suffers the most from faded colors and constant damage marks throughout. It may not be ideal but the short itself is watchable - just not anywhere near the beauty of the image of many of the other shorts.



















Audio

English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono
The original mono tracks are presented in Dolby Digital. Almost all the shorts feature narrated audio and post production music and effects and for the most part sound fairly good. Narration is clear and music is always relegated to the background without overpowering the voices. There are some where the narration is a bit on the tinny side such as "British Rail Is Travelling", so not all is perfect. Sometimes shorts can have crackles in their audio, affecting opening and closing reels, but for the most part the remastered mono tracks are clear and crisp though not particularly exceptional.

There are no subtitles offered for the shorts.

Extras

Booklet
The 12 page booklet features an introduction by Steven Foxon from the BFI National Archive, plus short information on each of the shorts by various writers, plus film information, transfer information, acknowledgements, and stills.

Overall

"On the Right Track" is another fine collection in the British Transport Films Collection, with a look at modernization which ironically looks vintage in the eyes of the twenty-first century. The BFI has given fine transfers for the shorts here, and even though there are no on screen extras, the set comes as recommended.

The Film: B+ Video: B+ Audio: B Extras: C- Overall: B

 


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