John Krish, born in 1923, is by his own admission a reluctant film director. His passion for classical music led to ambitions of following his father’s footsteps and forging a career out of more melodic endeavours. But with life being the unpredictable journey it is, Krish found himself behind the camera directing as oppose to being in front of an orchestra conducting.

His subsequent body of work features a diverse range of films that would have been witnessed by cinema and TV viewers alike in decades gone by. The 1963 British Sci Fi Horror yarn UNEARTHLY STRANGER, for example, is widely regarded as his best work as a movie director. While on television, Krish was not only responsible for many diminutive public warning fillers, but also for the swinging chic in the opening credits for ITV’s THE AVENGERS series.

You only have to look back a couple of years though to see evidence that Krish is still producing quality and critically acclaimed work when he scooped the best documentary award for A Day in the Life: Four Portraits of Post-War Britain at the 2011 Evening Standards Awards.

It shouldn’t come as any surprise that Krish should get such an accolade as documentaries made up the bulk of his early work. Back in the 1950’s, apparently frustrated with non-fiction films and desperate to do something a bit more creative, he jumped at the chance to write and direct a film for the War Office. Although using actors and a semi fictional narrative, the hour long movie called CAPTURED was conceived with a view to being intrinsically used as a means of training for British soldiers. Its aim was to equip them with the skills of resisting interrogation.

Ironically this spectacularly backfired for Krish. The opening titles claim that "This film is RESTRICTED" meant his inaugural fictional movie was not given a public airing until screened at the NFT in 2004. Basically, it was prohibited to even be shown to rank and file servicemen unless a ‘senior officer’ was present.

But times move on and now in 2013, CAPTURED is the centrepiece of a new Blu-ray presentation by the British Film Institute as part of their much acclaimed FLIPSIDE collection. The original 64 minute black and white film has been rescued from obscurity and lovingly restored and transferred in High Definition by the BFI from the "best available 35mm fine grain elements held by the Imperial War Museums".

The movie delves into the indoctrination and torture practices that British Prisoners of War were subject to during the Korean War. It focuses on how the POW’s reacted and indeed countered these techniques. Although seemingly a fictional piece, Krish intensely researched the subject matter and was eventually put in touch with Farrar-Hockley of the 1st Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment who himself had been subject to 2 years detainment in Korea.

Some devilish interrogation techniques are portrayed in the movie and, although tame by today’s torture porn-esque standards, are still depicted with a definite element of realism throughout. Divide and conquer tactics using deviously coercive ‘good guys’ along with the more fear inducing tyrannical captors are combined with sleep deprivation and water torture methods to break the detainees resistance. Of course the Chinese did not see this as persecution – it was merely part of their duty to "re-educate".

CAPTURED is a piece of work that is certainly bolstered by its original intent and as a standalone film, although a little disturbing in places, would probably seem like conventional war drama fare. For all the disturbing scenes of torment I couldn’t help but chuckle at a soldier’s fearless retorts to his Chinese captors. "Shut bloody up you illegitimate of Madame Butterfly!" Or how about demonstrating that famous British stiff upper lip with a dose of ‘fuck you’ thrown in for good measure with the ultimate insult: "You’re all bloody well constipated!"

The BFI again flaunt their magical restorative wand by presenting an elegantly immaculate print. The detail within the 1.33:1 aspect ratio is quite phenomenal. In the many facial close ups, pores of clammy skin were patently evident which in turn communicated the filthy and humid conditions of the soldiers imprisonment.

But as intriguing as Krish’s intriguing military training film is, it only makes up about a third of the material on the entire disc. The EXTRAS section offers a fascinating retrospective of Krish’s directorial C.V.

I mentioned ‘fillers’ earlier and there are two perfect examples of these featured in the bonus section. Both run at barely a minute each yet exhibit Krish’s unique skill of being able to quickly get a sincere public safety message across with the impact of a jackboot to the gonads!

SEARCHING (1974) takes the viewer on a quite harrowing journey through the aftermath of a domestic fire. The combination of the flame ravaged house’s innards accompanied with the cheery calling of an unseen child’s voice definitely hammered home the message of "Don’t Let Children Play with Matches!"

THE SEWING MACHINE (1973), meanwhile, is a road safety film indicating just how quick (in this case 60 seconds) it takes for an unattended child to come to fatal harm on the street. Again Krish uses shock tactics to make the point. Rapid intercuts from a travelling motorcar to a young girl who is running toward her best friend across the street as her mother is preoccupied with the apparatus of the film’s title, only takes a few seconds to conjure a feeling of trepidation. While we don’t get to actually see the inevitable collision (though we do hear it), the camera lingering on the mum’s horrified expression says it all. It may come as no surprise to find out that the Central Office of Information received several complaints about that particular warning film. What IS striking though it was nothing to do with the girl’s untimely end: the complaints were due to the fact her best friend across the street was the first black girl to be featured in a public information film. Maybe Krish should have shown the mum embroidering her daughter’s school satchel with the words "National Front" to keep everyone happy!

By 1977 Krish’s warnings films about vehicular assassinations on the nation’s kids started to grow in ambition, creativity and length. THE FINISHING LINE (1977) is one of the most surreal and indeed gory public information films you are ever likely to see. Rather than the short sharp shock of the aforementioned fillers, TFL clocks in at 21 minutes and warns of the dangers of playing near railway tracks courtesy of a bizarrely lethal children’s sports day scenario.

But the esteemed director wasn’t simply satisfied to be pigeonholed in the ‘scare the shit out of parents’ business. A 55 minute film made by Krish in 1976 is a fly on the wall documentary come advertisement for joining the Prison Service. HMP (1976) follows three potential recruits, a grocer, an ex-Navy man and an electrician, as they are given an in-depth tour of HMP Maidstone.

Starting with the irony of the staff mess having a ‘one arm bandit’, their tour steadily reveals all aspects of prison life. At first this is quite absorbing but it soon becomes rather obvious what a heavy spin is being put on the role. When one prospective officer tentatively enquires how they deal with an inmate who is "acting subversively", he is informed they simply send along an officer that the lag gets along with so he can be ‘talked round’. Obviously the notion of actual violence occurring in jails is a quite preposterous suggestion!

The age old question of "Does Prison Work?" is also addressed. Unfortunately no definitive answer is given but, then again, we were listening to the impartial ramblings of the Prison chaplain as oppose to reoffending statistics.

Then there was the screw who spoke of how "fair" he was and how all the inmates "respected him" but ultimately called him Mr Bastard because of keenness to send them to the Governor on a ‘nicking’! But the real stand out moment of hilarity was when the question of sex, or more accurately lack of it, arose. Very diplomatically an officer explained that sometimes "men formed relationships with other men" and homosexuality did sometimes occur. But this diplomacy soon evaporated when asked by one of the civilians if the screws simply "closed the peephole and walked away" when discovering such an incident. The officers irritation as he explained due to the amount of sex offenders locked up, they simply couldn’t ignore such incidents and allow the nick to turn into one great big buggerfest was pure gold!

Krish’s body of work is undeniably unique so the final welcome addition to the disc is SHOOT THE MESSAGE, an exclusive 35 minute interview with the director about how he somewhat reluctantly got into filmmaking and of course the labours featured on the disc.

CAPTURED is not a Blu-ray I would normally have been drawn to if I am honest. But once I hit play I was honestly captivated and indeed jolted by the assortment of Krish’s projects. Anyone who grew up in the 1970’s will be at least vaguely familiar with information films of this ilk and that alone makes this a worth a look. The BFI have caringly made sure that the material featured on the Blu-ray is of optimum quality and not simply a collection of vintage clips crudely spliced together to flog a few copies of a shoddy "trailer" reel.

The Dual Format Edition retail package consists of DVD and Blu-ray versions featuring all of the material described.

Review by Marc Lissenburg

Released by BFI
Region B
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review