Harry Birrell Presents Films of Love and War AKA Harry Birrell: Films of Love and War (Blu-ray) [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - Network
Review written by and copyright: Rick Curzon (20th June 2021).
The Film

"Beautifully composed, captivating" The People's Movies

"A document of some of modern history's most extraordinary moments" Daily Mail

A prolific yet unknown filmmaker, Harry Birrell created films throughout the 20th century.

Harry was given his first cine-camera as a boy in 1928 and spent his life recording incidents great and small his entertaining and errant adventures are recorded in over 400 films, diaries and photographs that were recently brought to light by his granddaughter Carina.

His home movies of family events and fine romances now ache with fond nostalgia but Harry's life was also filled with far away adventures and the film captures a vivid sense of wartime years spent in Bombay, the jungles of Burma and the mountains of Nepal. From commanding a battalion of Gurkhas in the Indian army at the start of the WWII, to dangerous sorties deep behind enemy lines in Burma at its end; from the ballroom dances of his youth in the 1930s to teaching his children to twist in the 1960s Harry filmed his whole life with the intimacy of home movies but on the scale of Lawrence of Arabia.

Matt Pinder's beautifully composed, captivating documentary delivers one man's cinematic vision of the 20th century and his own incredible journey through it.

Video

Fascinating documentary about Harry Birrell (1918-2013), a man obsessed with cinema and who shot enormous amounts of home movies; some 400of them in 16mm starting when he was only 11 years old. This fine documentary is about his work and presents many excerpts from his films and comments from friends, family and historians.

Image is generally string with all modern HD sequences looking about as good as you'd expect; the image won't blow anyone away but is well up to par for a production such as this. The 16mm footage looks surprisingly good although there are signs of age; density changes, colour fluctuations, specks etc. Grain is very present on all of the filmed material and can be quite heavy; much less so on the new digital stuff.

Colours are healthy with some nice primaries; flesh tones are warm an well defined. Black levels are rich with the newer material having good shadow detail and depth. The 16mm varies considerably with some crush here and there and detail being limited by the format. Contrast is low key and supportive although seems stronger in the filmed bits with the occasional mildly blown out highlights; this was shot on the go home movie style after all.

The BD is obviously the disc of choice with the separately released DVD being the same image wise but obviously much softer and lacking in detail at times. The encoding of both gets the job done and I could see no signs of obvious digital tinkering.

One thing I must point out is the bizarre choice of the filmmakers to frame this documentary in Scope format at 2.4:1 because it frequently requires the footage to be reformatted from the original Academy 1.37:1.

PAL / MPEG-2 / DVD9 / 2.4:1 / 90:08
1080/24p / AVC MPEG-4 / BD25 / 2.4:1 / 90:08

Audio

English LPCM 2.0 Surround (Blu-ray)
English Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (DVD)
Subtitles: English HoH

A solid soundtrack in which the LPCM on the BD is encoded for surround although the surrounds are purely used for score and the occasional ambiance. This is a front centric track no matter which disc you get but obviously the BD presents it uncompressed and the DVD lacks some range by being lossy Dolby Digital. The DVD's track will only play in surround when boosted through an amp on ProLogicII or similar.

Decent subtitles for the hearing impaired are provided on both discs.

Extras

2018 Interview with Johnny Birrell (4:53)
2018 Interview with Anne Birrell (3:34)
2018 Interview with Judy Birrell (4:53)


New interview material used to promote the film tells something of it's production but is fairly superficial. Presented in 1080/24p 1.78:1 with lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo.

"1939: London Diary" 1939 short film (11:54)
"Officer Cadet Training Unit 165.: A Filmic Impression of Life at an O.C.T.U." 1940 short film (2:50)
"1944.: Around Tamu and Imphal" 1944 short film (7:57)
"1959: When We Are Young: To a Four Year Old Life is an Adventure." 1959 short film (7:43)


More fascinating excerpts from Birrell's films but like the main film presented cropped to 2.4:1. 1080/24p with lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo.

Trailer (1:50)

Promo piece 1080/24p 2.4:1 with lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo.

Packaging

Standard clear DVD and BD Keepcases.

Overall

An excellent documentary given both DVD and BD treatment from Network in a welcome release. Image and sound re strong and the extras are decent enough. Not going to win any awards as disc of the year but the BD is well worth getting for obviously being a much stringer presentation of the same material.

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

 


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