Trade Tattoo (commercial for GPO) by Len Lye, 1937
In contrast to many of Len Lye’s other films, Trade Tattoo derived crucial visual inspiration from combining real images from found footage (discarded black-and-white documentary footage by the directors Robert J. Flaherty, Harry Watt, Basil Wright, and Stuart Legg) that had been defamiliarized through tinting or overexposure with collaged drawings and writing. The various real images of means of transportation − such as trains, ships, and planes or of workers sorting letters and loading mail − are made increasingly specific over the course of the film by means of numerous uses of superimposed texts (e.g., “by the power of correspondence”) and the animated pictogram of an envelope used as a leitmotif. Only at the end of the film does the appearance of the promotional message make it clear that the avant-garde image sequences constitute a promotional film for the post office: “you must post early to keep in rhythm … post early before 2 pm.” All of the keywords and slogans were set by Lye between the images in various typefaces, colours, sizes, heights, and rhythmic movements synchronised with music. Anticipating the extremely rapid cuts familiar from today’s music videos, advertisements and television trailers, Trade Tattoo featured very fast flashes of text (1/24 secs.) that can scarcely be deciphered, but which, in combination with the abstract patterns, contribute to the overall pulsating impression of the film. With the diversity of the images shown, the rapid cuts, and the many contrasts of writing and image, drawing and real photographs, both color and black-and-white, Lye manages to present the British postal service as a dynamic, flexible, efficient, and modern institution.