A Colour Box (1935)

A dizzying parade of dancing lines, squiggles, dots and arabesques is set to a joyful Cuban soundtrack. A Colour Box is probably one of the most innovative uses of film in the history of advertising and a tribute to the instincts of the GPO Film Unit under John Grierson. In order to turn an abstract film into a GPO advertisement, Grierson came up with the idea of inscribing a few words at the end of the film to promote the use of the postal service.
Len Lye originally planned a self-sufficient abstract film. When John Grierson watched A Colour Box, he was so impressed by it that he suggested adding some words extolling the value of the parcel post which are incorporated into the final minutes of the film. These words are somewhat incongruous in the context of the film but they are incorporated appropriately.

A Colour Box was created by the application of paint directly onto film stock itself, dispensing with the need for a camera. This was the first time Lye had painted directly onto film. He then used tools such as a camel-hair brush and a fine-toothed comb to build up colour textures upon the filmstrip. He presented a mass of complex and jumbled movements by painting directly onto celluloid, creating a sense of off-screen space. Lye used the soundtrack as a creative base by associating particular shapes with certain sounds, so that there is a loose relationship between sound and image.
This short film was also notable for being a colour film. Lye used the process of Dufaycolor at a time when colour film was still in an experimental phase.
A Colour Box so impressed the judges at the International Cinema Festival in Brussels that they invented a category for it and awarded it a medal of honour.

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