‘The camera’s eye/Does not lie,/But it cannot show/The life within’. These lines are taken from W H Auden’s verse commentary for the 1962 documentary film Runner and reflect the poet’s scepticism about the most powerful medium of the century, a medium to which he contributed intermittently throughout his career. Born in 1907, Auden belonged to the generation that came of age with cinema, and for which cinema became an established part of the cultural landscape. His writings are peppered with film references, and his poetry and criticism reflect a wide-ranging if eccentric taste in movies. No other poet, apart perhaps from Cocteau, can boast such a filmography.
From September 1935 Auden spent six months working for the General Post Office Film Unit, and from this period comes Night Mail, the Citizen Kane of documentaries. Film buffs and Auden scholars will also know Coal Face, Negroes (released as God’s Chillun) and The Way to the Sea (an elaborate