16 May 2014
The work of New Zealand filmmaker Len Lye has made a new mark as one of a postage stamp series commemorating master works of British film.
The new stamp collection issued by the UK’s Royal Mail on 13 May 2014 features Lye’s animation film A Colour Box as one of the ten stamps in a series that celebrates “Great British Films”.
Six of the stamps show scenes from movies made after World War II including David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Hugh Hudson’s Chariots of Fire (1981). A sheet of four stamps commemorates documentaries produced by the General Post Office (GPO) Film Unit in the 1930s.
The GPO Film Unit was established in 1933 to produce documentary films, of which Lye’s A Colour Box was one, about postal and telephone services.
Lye made A Colour Box in London in 1935. It earned a special place in film history as the first ever ‘direct film’, made without a camera by painting images directly on celluloid. Lye’s film was screened in cinemas throughout Britain and was seen, according to British film historian David Curtis, “by a larger public than any experimental film before it and most since”.
A Colour Box went on to win a Medal of Honour at the 1935 International Cinema Festival in Brussels. In the following year, when presented at the Venice Film Festival, the screening had to be stopped because of a noisy demonstration by fascists and Nazis who condemned the film as “degenerate art” because of its modern style.
The film has been restored to its original bright colours and issued on DVD by the British Film Institute (BFI), which describes Lye’s work as “brilliantly inventive and technically accomplished”.
And now the British post office has added its stamp of approval.
Royal Mail says of its Great British Film series: “This stamp issue takes in landmark films, epics and influential movies that evoke the distinctiveness and quality of British film…across key genres”.
The Royal Mail consulted experts, polls, the public and the BFI in selecting which films to honour on the Great British Film stamps.
Len Lye biography author Roger Horrocks says: “Lye’s film looks as original and colourful today as it did in 1935 – a standout even among those nine other famous films.’
“It’s great that the work of a New Zealand-born film-maker is being celebrated by Royal Mail. Maybe there’s an idea there for our own postal service?” Roger says.