Friday, July 9, 2010
This is the Night Mail crossing the border,
Bringing the cheque and the postal order,
Letters for the rich, letters for the poor,
The shop at the corner and the girl next door.
Pulling up Beattock, a steady climb:
The gradient's against her, but she's on time.
Past cotton-grass and moorland boulder
Shovelling white steam over her shoulder,
Snorting noisily as she passes
Silent miles of wind-bent grasses.
The opening of Night Mail by W.H. Auden, which was used to glorious effect in Harry Watt and Basil Wright’s Night Mail, a documentary film made by the General Post Office Film Unit, United Kingdom, released in 1936. I first saw this at The New School in New York City in a documentary course, probably in the 1970s. The course also included showings of Pare Lorentz’s The Plow that Broke the Plains and The River, 1936 and 1938 respectively. Each seemed to have the same haunting rhythm of Night Mail. (I have wished for years that such talent had turned their directorial skill, their facility with language and their cameras on the work of Vachel Lindsay.)
Postscript: I attended the film course in the fall of the year and the instructor/presenter delighted in showing us Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph des Willens on Halloween night. She thought it more frightening without the English subtitles -- and she was correct.
Click here for a You Tube showing of Night Mail.