The Best of British Transport Films Volume 2 [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - United Kingdom - British Film Institute
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (10th October 2021).
The Film

The Best of British Transport Films Volume 2

British Transport Films was formed in 1949. Documentary filmmaker Edgar Anstey, who directed and produced a number of works in the 1930s and 1940s was placed as the head of the organization, committed to documenting the progression of the newly nationalized transportation division. From trains, highways, canals, as well as the seas, development in the postwar years saw incredible innovations in technological advancement as well as an increasing amount of people using them through various means from commuting, business, and holidays. The films produced by BTF ranged from training films for workers to promotional films for the public. Works showcased to the public what they did and how they did it. Introductions of new trains that would help passengers have smoother and faster travel, constructions of roads, canals, and railway for better infrastructure, holiday destinations around the country that were made easier and more enticing, and much more were part of their vast library of films.

While most of their films made were for contemporary audiences, it's fascinating to see these short films with retrospective eyes in the twenty-first century. They are historical documents of the always changing landscape of the United Kingdom, and are small time capsules that are incredibly valuable. In addition, many of the works were not a simple "point and film" amateur aesthetic, but genuine technicians of audio visual arts that were artistic as they were informative. Some of the shorts were sprinkled with staged happenings with actors, creative camera work, and even animation to show their audiences something that was fun to watch in the theaters. Not all were little masterpieces. Some were simple training films and works for public relations, with not very exciting personnel giving boring scripted narration in front of the camera. Yes, easy to make fun of, but they were authentic. Over 700 films were made by BTF from its inception until 1982, when the film division closed its doors. During the home video years, many of the shorts have been made available on VHS and DVD, and the BFI gave a selection of the shorts a wonderful Blu-ray release with "The Best of British Transport Films" in 2019. Though there was no indication it would be an ongoing series, the BFI have finally followed up the release with Volume 2, with twenty films from the library making their HD debut.

The following films are included in this two disc set:

DISC ONE

The Films (with Play All) (234:14)
- "The Wealth of the World: Transport" (1950) (19:56)
- "Berth 24" (1950) (42:19)
- "Ocean Terminal" (1952) (29:47)
- "Bridge of Song" (1955) (16:10)
- "A Day of One’s Own" (1955) (20:47)
- "Link Span" (1956) (24:48)
- "Holiday" (1957) (18:01)
- "The England of Elizabeth" (1957) (26:05)
- "Journey Into Spring" (1957) (30:04)
- "I’m a Litter Basket" (1959) (6:14)


DISC TWO

The Films (with Play All) (192:14)
- "Under the River" (1959) (22:10)
- "Snow" (1963) (8:07)
- "Reshaping British Railways" (1963) (23:59)
- "Thirty Million Letters" (1963) (29:32)
- "Glasgow Belongs to Me" (1966) (16:52)
- "Contact with the Heart of England" (1967) (8:42)
- "The Site in the Sea" (1970) (35:15)
- "E for Experimental" (1975) (19:40)
- "Promises Promises…" (1982) (23:12)
- "Inter-City 1250" (1982) (4:41)


"The Wealth of the World: Transport" and "Berth 24" are two of the earliest films made by BTF in 1950. "The Wealth of the World: Transport" is an important start to BTF, as it showcases the development of all things transport: automobiles, the railroad, airplanes, and boats are all showcased, and how each infrastructure connects the country through commerce and travel. Like many that came later, it was a narrated documentary short."Berth 24" is a lengthy short that not just a documentary. There is actual staging, scripted dialogue and characters and blurs the line between documentary and fiction. Focusing on the SS Bravo and its passengers and crew, the short is one that looks at the waters for travel and transport, as does the following shorts "Ocean Terminal" and "Bridge of Song". "A Day of One's Own" is an odd one by BTF, as it showcases random different women all across Britain from housewives to single women, all having a day to themselves traveling around their different towns. It doesn't particularly showcase one particular town as the women are from all parts of the country, and the use of transport, from buses to trains are not at all the main focus. Transport is not just for business, but also for the average everyday person as well. "Link Span" is not just about transport within the United Kingdom, but of ferries and ships that cross the seas to mainland Europe for travelers and for businesses. One of the most relaxing and fun in this set is the first color film in this selection titled "Holiday", showcasing tourists arriving in Lancashire for some fun in the sun, from amusement park rides and swimming in the pool, for everyone from children to grandparents. The jazzy score is also a standout with the fun images. But for every "fun" short, there must be something more serious as well. "The England of Elizabeth" is a history lesson through museum paintings that is more fitting for an old classroom session and might not grab the attention of viewers as much as many of the other shorts in this collection. Also educational, but much more fascinating is "Journey Into Spring", a precursor to BBC Earth documentaries as it looks at the beautiful natural spring season through the hills, marshes, grasslands where animals roam free. Finally, the most creative film is a public service announcement of all things with "I’m a Litter Basket". Giving voice and mind to litter baskets found at every train station across the country, these inanimate objects lament the fact that so much litter gets thrown on the ground, rather than being deposited into them. But it's not just narration that brings them to life, but in the latter half when the baskets start moving on their own, things become a fun fantasy that is enjoyable as it is an important message to commuters and cleanliness.

The second disc continues on with "Under the River", a fascinating black and white documentary on the construction of an underground tunnel between England and Wales by the Great Western Railway. "Snow" is an interesting short featuring... snow as it piles across the country along the train lines in winter, edited in a jazzy and experimental manner with the music cues. The short was quite a hit with audiences around the world and even with critics, as it was nominated for an Oscar for documentary short. The next short, "Reshaping British Railways" is a public information short with British Railways chairman Richard Beeching, who controversially made significant changes to the railways. In this short, Beeching addresses the camera about the reasons for closing down low service stations, increasing profits with freighters and reshaping the railways. Beeching was not the most exciting man to speak in front of the camera and this short does not make him seem like a trustworthy voice, but this short is quite important in the changes to the country's transportation passages from the 1960s onward. "Thirty Million Letters" is a fun color short that looks at the different transportation processes of mail delivery, from the conveyor belts in mail rooms, horses, planes, trucks, underground tram lines, and of course the postman going door to door. As for sightseeing, "Glasgow Belongs to Me" is a worthy one, looking at the city in Scotland and its surrounding rural areas with some average performances by the actors along with the song "I Belong to Glasgow" by Will Fyfe with great views of the city. Going back to the public service film, "Contact with the Heart of England" features chairman and general manager of London Midland Region, HC Johnson introducing the expansion of the electric railway system. Things return to the waters with "The Site in the Sea", which showcases the difficulties in dock building for large ships. Here the focus is on the British Transport Docks Board’s construction of the port in Port Talbot in South Wales, started in 1966, and completed in 1970. Speed is the focus in "E for Experimental", a short that takes a look at the Advanced Passenger Train, which were high speed passenger trains that could travel with speeds higher than 100 miles per hour with comfort. But even if the maximum speed could be faster, there were always chances of train delays. The problem is addressed in "Promises Promises…", a short that looks at different examples of how and why trains could be delayed and what train operators and staff do to reduce these incidents as the documentary follows both what they do for the passengers, as well as giving some information on the passengers themselves. Finally, "Inter-City 1250" is a short that looks at the journey of the Inter-City 125 high speed train, with footage of extreme high speed, cut with the smooth riding of the passengers inside.

All of the above shorts are making their Blu-ray debut, though these have all been released previously in the following collections:

"The Wealth of the World: Transport" (1950) - "The Land of Promise", 3-disc DVD set, BFI
"Berth 24" (1950) - "The British Transport Films Collection Volume 9 - Just the Ticket", 2-disc DVD set, BFI
"Bridge of Song" (1955) - "The British Transport Films Collection Vol 12: The Driving Force", 2-disc DVD set, BFI
"A Day of One’s Own" (1955) - "The British Transport Films Collection Volume 1 - On and Off the Rails", 2-disc DVD set, BFI
"Link Span" (1956) - "British Transport Films Collection - Vol. 5: Off The Beaten Track", 2-disc DVD set, BFI
"Holiday" (1957) - "The British Transport Films Collection Volume 2 - See Britain By Train", 2 disc DVD set, BFI
"The England of Elizabeth" (1957) - "The British Transport Films Collection Volume 2 - See Britain By Train", 2 disc DVD set, BFI
"Journey Into Spring" (1957) - "British Transport Films Collection - Vol. 5: Off The Beaten Track", 2-disc DVD set, BFI
"I’m a Litter Basket" (1959) - "The British Transport Films Collection Volume 3 - Running a Railway", 2-disc DVD set, BFI
"Under the River" (1959) - "The British Transport Films Collection Volume 1 - On and Off the Rails", 2-disc DVD set, BFI
"Snow" (1963) - "Geoffrey Jones: The Rhythm of Film", 1-disc DVD, BFI
"Reshaping British Railways" (1963) - "The British Transport Films Collection Volume 4 - Reshaping British Railways", 2-disc DVD set, BFI
"Thirty Million Letters" (1963) - "Night Mail", 1-disc DVD, BFI
"Glasgow Belongs to Me" (1966) - "The British Transport Films Collection Volume 2 - See Britain By Train", 2 disc DVD set, BFI
"Contact with the Heart of England" (1967) - "The British Transport Films Collection Vol 12: The Driving Force", 2-disc DVD set, BFI
"E for Experimental" (1975) - "The British Transport Films Collection Volume 3 - Running a Railway", 2-disc DVD set, BFI
"Promises Promises…" (1982) - "British Transport Films Volume 13: On the Right Track", 2-disc DVD set, BFI, reviewed here
"Inter-City 1250" (1982) - "The British Transport Films Collection Vol 12: The Driving Force", 2-disc DVD set, BFI

As far as I can tell by research, "Ocean Terminal" (1952) and "The Site in the Sea" (1970) were not released on DVD previously. Twenty films from the vast library of over 700 shorts by BTF, the second volume has a great variety of vintage pieces that are wonderful works of nostalgia, with informative shorts, creative shorts, as well as some slightly boringly narrated PR shorts to add to the mix. The UK has wonderfully kept records of the changes and happenings with infrastructure through films, and while that is wonderful that these have been produced and kept over the years. In comparison, other countries with technologically advanced infrastructure has barely kept something as organized and well produced as what BTF have done for the decades in existence.

Video

The BFI presents all 20 films in their original 1.37:1 aspect ratio in 1080p AVC MPEG-4. The original 35mm and 16mm film elements that are preserved at the BFI National Archive were scanned in 2K by Restore Studios. Each of the films were restored with color grading to minimize fluctuation and to restore balance to both black and white and color titles, damage removal of scratches and dust, and to stabilize the image to eliminate wobble and warping. Considering that the films were made by different staff and different stock and ranging from a 32 year period of works, the image quality differs between each film. The earliest films such as "Transport", "Berth 24", and "Ocean Terminal" have their weaknesses due to age of the black and white film, but they certainly are watchable conditions due to the restorations. Some of the later black and white films such as ""Contact with the Heart of England"" (which has some sequences in color) look exceptionally good with greyscale being deep and damage being minimal. Color films in the set can be hit or miss, with some having washed out colors and others having deep bold colors, all due to the stock used and the condition of the materials, such as in "Glasgow Belongs to Me" and "Promises Promises...". But age doesn't completely define how good the shorts look. The newest film in the set, "Inter-City 1250" is one of the weaker looking films with its color, clarity, and damage marks, while some older ones in black and white could have exceptional visuals. All these films might actually look better than their initial theatrical runs and are wonderfully preserved with these new restorations for current and future audiences.

There seems to be a small issue with the "E for Experimental" on DISC TWO. The short seems to be missing a second or two from the ending, as the music and image abruptly cuts off and goes straight to the menu on a single title play, or directly to the next short during "play all". No major content is lost as it's right at the end of the end credits, but viewers might be suddenly surprised as it doesn't cut to black and doesn't have the music fade out. Again, it is probably only a second or two that is missing, but it is noticeable.

Audio

English LPCM 1.0
All the shorts feature restored original mono audio. The audio tracks for each film were remastered from the original film elements. Like the picture, the audio quality will depend from film to film. Earlier films may have a bit of distortion in the narration and music, while later works or music only works will have a clearer and better sounding track. There are some instances of hisses and pops remaining though most have been digitally restored to remove any damage to the soundtrack. Narration is always intelligible, and there are no major errors such as audio dropout to speak of.

There are no subtitles for the films.

Extras

Booklet
A 24 page booklet is included with the first pressing. First is an essay by BFI curator Steven Foxon giving an overview of BTF and its history and re-evaluation of their works. There are notes on each film in the set, mostly written by Foxon, and a few by writers Tim Boon, Ros Cranston, Katy McGahan. There are also notes on the presentations, acknowledgements, and stills.


The first Blu-ray volume had a few extras with some audio interviews with Edgar Anstey and footage of Anstey shown at the Montreal Expo in 1967. Volume 2 sadly has no digital extras to speak of.

A clip of the 1982 short "Promises Promises..." from the set was uploaded to the BFI's YouTube page recently to promote the Volume 2 set, which is embedded below.

Overall

"The Best of British Transport Films Volume 2" is another great collection of vintage documentary shorts on the development of infrastructure over the course of three decades in the United Kingdom with twenty different works. Although no extras are available on the discs themselves, the set comes with a good booklet with information, and the HD transfers are very good. Recommended.

Note that the scores below reflect an average for all the shorts.

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

 


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