Swinging the Lambeth Walk

An Ingenious Abstract Colour Film Interpreting a Famous Dance Tune on the Screen in the Form of Moving Patterns
‘In this film coloured designs convey in simple visual form the rhythm of “The Lambeth Walk.” Patterns move and mingle in time to the music. The sounds of the various musical instruments are interpreted in as simple and direct way as possible, and each note was studied for its individual characteristics before it was drawn and coloured. Double-bass notes are conceived as thick cords of colour vibrating vertically on the screen, while the notes of the guitar are shown as separate horizontal lines. The different sound qualities are indicated by the extent of vibration, and the pitch of the notes by their position high or low on the screen.
The music is composed of excerpts from recordings by popular dance bands. Len Lye, a New Zealander, who developed this original film technique, chose the excerpts for their orchestration of the original tune, and aimed at capturing the emotional spontaneity of good jazz, rather than at creating an intellectual exercise in visual accompaniment.’
(Films of Britain – British Council Film Department Catalogue – 1940)

A memo from the 1945 British Council Film Department lists the reasons for films being withdrawn from circulation. It states that “Swinging the Lambeth Walk, a colour cartoon film made by Len Lye, is a failure in that no theatrical manager will show it. A sneak preview of this film was given at the Cosmo Cinema, Glasgow, but the audience howled it off the screen and the manager had to take it off before the reel finished.”

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