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H.P.O., The (1938)

Courtesy of Royal Mail Group Ltd

Main image of H.P.O., The (1938)
35mm, Dufaycolor, 4 mins
DirectorLotte Reiniger
Production CompanyGPO Film Unit
AnimatorLotte Reiniger
MusicBrian Easdale

Animated commercial for the 'Heavenly Post Office'.

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The H.P.O. (which stands for Heavenly Post Office) was one of two films that the German silhouette animator Lotte Reiniger made for the GPO Film Unit shortly after leaving Nazi Germany with her husband Carl Koch. Unlike the much more characteristic fairytale narrative The Tocher (also 1938), this consists of a series of brief vignettes, all with the aim of promoting the GPO's greetings telegram service.

This is embodied here by three angels: a postman, a typist and a supervisor (who scrutinises the others and what's happening on the ground through a telescope). While the humans and animals are presented in Reiniger's familiar silhouette style, the angels are presented as white sketched outlines, the sky and clouds clearly visible behind them. Individual freeze-frames make the heavenly sequences look deceptively similar to Norman McLaren's virtuoso Love on the Wing (also made for the GPO that same year), but Reiniger's technique is quite different: the angels are also cut-outs, albeit involving transparent material edged in white.

If the film is ultimately less satisfying than either The Tocher or Love on the Wing, this is because Reiniger has conscientiously put the message ahead of the art: by the end of the film, only the dimmest viewer will be unaware of what is being promoted, since the motif of receiving a greetings telegram is shown so many times. That said, the angels are charming creations, and the scenes with the stork (discovering a human baby on a water-lily pad) and the fox have all the magical atmosphere of Reiniger's other fairytale creations.

The twinkling, flute-dominated score was by Brian Easdale, then a recent graduate of the Royal College of Music who gained his first professional film-music commissions with the GPO Film Unit. A decade later he would win an Oscar for his original score for The Red Shoes (d. Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger, 1948).

Michael Brooke

*This film is included in the BFI DVD compilation 'We Live in Two Worlds: The GPO Film Unit Collection Volume 2'.

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Video Clips
Complete film (3:38)
Excerpt (0:27)
Tocher, The (1938)
Easdale, Brian (1909-1995)
Reiniger, Lotte (1899-1981)
GPO Film Unit (1933-1940)
The GPO Film Unit: 1938