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Experiment on the Welsh Hills, An (1932)


Main image of Experiment on the Welsh Hills, An (1932)
35mm, black and white, 19 mins
DirectorArthur Elton
Production CompanyEMB Film Unit

The work of the Welsh sheep farmer and the development by the Plant Breeding Station of grasses suitable to the Welsh hill pastures.

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Slow-paced and pedagogical in intent, Experiment in the Welsh Hills is chiefly interesting for its distinctively modernist treatment of the British landscape.

Empire Marketing Board debutant Arthur Elton uses abandoned mining equipment, menacing cloudy skies and the alien harshness of the Welsh landscape to bring an unmistakably Dovzhenko-influenced tinge to British cinema. Other Soviet borrowings include the use of CAPPED-UP film titles to mirror the difficulty that the Welsh hill farmers face in driving their flocks over the Black Mountains.

However, despite the film's thematic insistence that the greater application of science can help farmers tame their environment, Elton's short is essentially romantic. Its imagery frequently recalls Hollywood westerns, with sheep farmers taking the place of Californian cattle drovers. As Elton's previous EMB work had involved producing 'children's films' by chopping together clips from old American films (such as The Covered Wagon, 1923) this similarity is perhaps not coincidental.

Acquired by commercial distributors Gaumont-British in 1933, Experiment on the Welsh Hills was re-cut to fit a similar 'scientific' niche to the company's popular Secrets of Nature series. Newly entitled Shadow on the Mountain, the shortened film's visual qualities were more markedly pronounced. Elton's framing of ploughed fields as if they were paintings by Miro served as a filmic equivalent of John Piper's cataloguing of the Picasso-esque oddities of English church decoration and Paul Nash's avant-garde paintings of Avebury.

Scott Anthony

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Video Clips
1. Improving the hills (1:55)
2. From mountains to lowlands (0:46)
3. Pollination (2:29)
Complete film (19:08)
Country Comes to Town, The (1933)
Elton, Sir Arthur (1906-1973)
Empire Marketing Board Film Unit (1926-1933)