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Granton Trawler (1934)

Courtesy of Royal Mail Group Ltd

Main image of Granton Trawler (1934)
35mm, black and white, 11 mins
Director (uncredited)John Grierson
ProductionGPO Film Unit
CompaniesEmpire Marketing Board Film Unit
PhotographyJohn Grierson

The work of a trawler on the Viking Bank in the North Sea.

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Granton Trawler follows the small fishing vessel, Isabella Greig, as it carries out its dragnet fishing along the Viking Bank off the Norwegian coast of the North Sea. Grierson used the film to teach budding directors how to analyze movement photographically and how to make use of sound for contrapuntal editing. The soundtrack is made up of crude rhythmic noises that represent the thumping of the ships engine and atmospheric sounds congenial to being present on board. There is no commentary. The sounds were all post-recorded, simulated in the studio. (One of the fisherman's voices is Grierson's). Although not credited, Alberto Cavalcanti is known to have created the soundtrack as one of his first creative duties after arriving at the Unit.

It was shot during the Empire Marketing Board period and was finished after the unit had been transferred to the GPO. Surprising to Grierson, who had spent the First World War patrolling the seas on mine-sweepers, the weather between the Shetlands and the Norwegian coast was more than usually rough and Grierson, for the first and perhaps the only time in his life was, if not seasick, at any rate sick of the sea. He was using a tripod, as he insisted all Empire Marketing Board camera men should, and, with the tripod falling over in the stormy weather, the camera was waving all over the place.

When he returned to London and looked at the material he was gloomy. "See what you can do with it", he said to Edgar Anstey. Anstey had been somewhat despondent himself, but he began to make some interesting discoveries. When the camera had fallen over it had been left running and there were remarkable shots of the sky giving place to the deck of the boat and the horizon rising and disappearing overhead. He found that with this material he could create a storm in film terms irrespective of what the reality had been.

It was a classic illustration of two of Grierson's theories: you make the film from the material and not the words in which you first expressed the idea; and you let the film grow in the way it wants to go. Grierson, who had not forgotten the truth of his own teaching, was delighted. Granton Trawler has toured the world in festivals and retrospectives ever since and it remained a firm favourite of Grierson's all his life.

Steve Foxon

*This film is included in the BFI DVD compilation 'Addressing The Nation: The GPO Film Unit Collection Volume 1'.

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Video Clips
Complete film (10:11)
Extract (3:36)
Drifters (1929)
North Sea (1938)
Grierson, John (1898-1972)
GPO Film Unit (1933-1940)
The GPO Film Unit: 1934