Made for the New York World Fair of 1939, Spare Time is an incredible portrait of the prewar working class and an early illustration of Humphrey Jennings’ genius.Unlike many films of the Grierson’s school, Spare Time does not expound on social, economic or industrial problems. As art historian David Mellor has argued the film offers the strongest concentration of pop iconography in any work by a British artist until the emergence of Tom Phillips and the Independent Group in the 1950s.
Throughout his life, Jennings worked steadily on a literary volume entitled Pandemonium, a compendium of human responses to the introduction of machines in the industrial revolution. Spare Time works as a similar cinematic catalogue, capturing the fads and pastimes of inter-war Britain.
Humphrey Jennings was born in 1907 and became not only a filmmaker but a photographer, literary critic, theatrical designer, poet, painter and theorist of modern art.
While studying English at Cambridge, he designed the first British productions of Stravinsky’s A Soldier’s Tale and Honegger’s King David, and founded and edited Experiment with William Empson and Jacob Bronowski. By 1936 he was a leading Modernist and organised the International Surrealist Exhibition in London, along with Herbert Read, Roland Penrose and André Breton.
Jennings joined the GPO Film Unit in 1934. His early films, like those of Alberto Cavalcanti (with whom he often collaborated), were criticised by the documentary movement’s realists for their experimental qualities. He was described by film critic and director Lindsay Anderson 1954 as: “”the only real poet that British cinema has yet produced.