Humphrey jennings’s ‘film fables’: Democracy and image in the silent village

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5 Citations (Scopus)


This essay explores modernism’s aesthetic and political implications through examining the works of Humphrey Jennings. The essay takes as a starting point the tension inherent to the democratic aesthetic of Mass Observation between the individual observers and the editors who write up. This tension can be effectively examined in terms of what Jacques Rancière calls ‘film fables’: the Aristotelian ‘fable’ of dramatic action and cinema’s ‘fable’ of egalitarian treatment of ‘passive’ images. The essay argues that the paradox between the two ‘fables’ can be observed in Jennings’s works, especially in his essays on Thomas Gray, his ‘report’ poems, and The Silent Village (1943), a dystopian propaganda film set in a Welsh village invaded by Nazis Germany. By looking at these works, the essay illustrates how the utopian longing for ‘pure art’ in modernism is related to the impossible idea of ‘democracy’.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)133-154
Number of pages22
JournalModernist Cultures
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2020 May
Externally publishedYes


  • British Surrealism
  • Documentary
  • Jacques Rancière
  • Mass Observation
  • Propaganda

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Music
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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