chapter
Introduction
Pages 8

W hen British-born terrorists bombed London on 7 July 2005, killing 52 and injuringmany more, Londoners found resources and strengths within themselves morefamiliar from folk memory of the Blitz in 1940 and 1941. Many of the images Britons treasure from wartime were made under the auspices of the Crown Film Unit, a part of the Ministry of Information, tasked with keeping up public morale. The title alone of Humphrey Jennings’s 1940 short We Can Take It (GPO Film Unit) conjures up an impression of the chippy little cockney standing up to the incoming bombs of the Third Reich. His more famous Crown Film Unit films, Listen to Britain (1942) and Fires Were Started (1943), enshrine the carefully constructed myth of an indomitable resilience in the face of peril. Historians have begun to revise that myth and reveal the government incompetence and public panic that began to take hold as people found insufficient refuge from the onslaught of German bombers. Painful truths will not diminish Jennings’s iconic status in the documentary canon, tragically ensured by his premature death on location in 1950, but this casts a useful light on the plastic nature of documentary and the role it serves in the public consciousness.