Sunday, 16 November 2014

Dylan Thomas, Nazis and Christmas shopping

These Are the Men is a 1943 propaganda film co-scripted by Dylan Thomas that ridicules the Nazi leadership, anticipating by sixty years the kind of YouTube prank we today take for granted. It's a ten-minute short using sequences lifted from Leni Reifenstahl’s Triumph Des Willens in which Hitler, Goebbels, Göring, Streicher and Hess deliver bombastic monologues in dubbed English confessing to their multiple inadequacies, their words courtesy of Thomas. It's a simple, powerful and often  hilarious debunking of Third Reich rhetoric.

This clip is incomplete (but the only version I could find online). You can find the whole film on a fascinating collection of eight Thomas-scripted films (all dating from his brief but productive stint in wartime documentary) on Dylan Thomas - The War Films Anthology, issued by the Imperial War Museum.

I admire a handful of Dylan Thomas poems (most of them from Deaths and Entrances) and I like some of his prose (especially Adventures in the Skin Trade, his uncompleted novel). His letters are marvellous (and proof that he could be, much of the time, a real shit). So are some of his BBC radio broadcasts, the ones collected in Quite Early One Morning. I don't go a bundle on Under Milk Wood and on the whole, long after an adolescent infatuation with the whole Thomas myth, I now think he's a schoolboy's idea of a poet, and too much of his stuff is densely compacted, shallow and meaningless. A very few lines aside it doesn't make its way straight to the heart to the mind. It stays on the page.

But here's a thing. Yesterday at the annual Small Publishers' Fair (a marvellous annual event in Holborn's Conway Hall), I picked up Finding Your Way to Dylan Thomas, a 'micro-book' published by Jeremy Dixon under his engaging imprint Hazard Press ('written, designed, and made by hand in Wales'). The subtitle is 'A photographic trail through Laugharne, West Wales.' The images depict all the local 'heritage' signage directing visitors to sites connected with the poet, a witty idea suggesting the commodification of the life and work (and especially the life). Hazard Press's micro-books are ingeniously crafted from a  single sheet of A4 paper and are an unalloyed delight. They are all ridiculously cheap and I'd like to buy the lot. At two quid a pop you may feel the same way, so why not shop early for Christmas:

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