With so much material on offer, it is, as is often the case, unfortunately impossible to discuss each of the works in detail for reasons of space – therefore this reviewer can only focus on some of these fascinating films. . The first is the 21-minute short “Beside the Seaside” (1935) by Marion Grierson, which depicts Britons indulging in one of their favorite pastimes: having fun by the sea, by the from the sea, by the beautiful seaside, although some of the entertainment on offer at the amusement park not only seems outdated, but will offend today’s sensibilities with blacked-out singers (Uncle Mack and his minstrels ) performing music hall songs and jokes. Btw Marion Grierson, born in a mining village near Stirling, Scotland, was the sister of older and perhaps better known documentary filmmaker John Grierson.
Next up is Evelyn Spice’s ‘Behind the Scenes’ (1938) and this 16-minute effort offers a wonderful behind-the-scenes look at London’s zoological gardens, although we start at the London Docks where exotic beasts in cages are unloaded and driven in a van through the capital until the final destination is reached. While watching zookeepers feed the animals (and heck, talk about individual requirements) and even befriend some of them, it must be pointed out that there are aspects that may well enrage animal activists as we witness to elephants trained to balance on a drum or chirp chimpanzees are herded into taxis to perform all sorts of television tricks. You could argue that in the case of elephants they would be safer in the zoo rather than being left in their natural habitat – only to be killed by ivory hunters, but there is a good balance between everything and not only standing on a drum to delight the spectators. Of particular interest are the different types of food required for all the different species.
Ruby Grierson (sister of Marion and John) was also to follow her siblings in jumping on the documentary bandwagon, her 10-minute short ‘They Also Serve’ (1940) is an appreciation of hardworking housewives in Great Britain. -Brittany. Mary Field’s “4 And 20 Fit Girls” (1940) follows a group of young women having fun in a fitness class in an attempt to temporarily leave the physical and psychological stresses of World War II at the front door. Muriel Box (here credited as Muriel Baker) invites us to a merry afternoon at ‘The English Inn’ (1941) – a 10-minute appreciation of idyllic country life where locals gather at the inn for a good pint and conversations galore.
Brigid ‘Budge’ Cooper’s “Birth-Day” (1945, 21min) is a joint effort between Data Film Productions, the Ministry of Information and the Ministry of Health of Scotland, dealing with the incredibly high infant mortality rate in Scotland due to poor and overcrowded housing, inadequate hygienic conditions, difficulty with nourishing food, and husbands generally absent on wartime service duties. We follow one of the young mothers (played by Molly Weir, best known for her role as Hazel the McWitch in the BBC series ‘Rentaghost’) and her own struggles. Kay Mander’s ‘Holmes for the People’ (1945, 22min) chronicles the plight of five British working mothers across the country who have to make do with grossly inadequate living conditions which make their daily domestic chores all the more difficult – calling for an urgent need for better housing in post-war Britain. On an equally pessimistic but important note are Jill Craigie’s ‘Children of the Ruins’ (1948) – a 10 minute cinematic essay on the forgotten children of war and Margaret Thomson’s ‘The Troubled Mind’ (1954, 21 minutes ) on the subject of mental health. .
Yet Sarah Erulkar’s latest documentary ‘Something Nice to Eat’ (1967, 20 mins) features supermodel and David Bailey muse Jean Shrimpton in a perfectly designed modern kitchen while narrator David De Keyser whets our appetites collectives in explaining why the French in particular are so much more imaginative when it comes to cooking in general and cooking with ingredients that the British (this was in 1967, remember) avoid, such as garlic and herbs or cream and wine used for delicious sauces. Given the nation’s obsession with American-style junk food and rising levels of obesity… not much seems to have changed since then. We’re salivating over mouth-watering dishes presented by John Addey and precise instructions on how to whip up the perfect light-as-air cheese soufflé or prepare other classic dishes such as beef bourguignon should break the barrier when it’s It’s about making meals from our continental neighbors that are, let’s face it, usually tastier than the more bland English dishes. We then follow the camera around various street markets where vendors offer all sorts of fruit and vegetables (homemade and otherwise) with De Keyser noting that many UK households are still rather unadventurous when it comes to using at maximum herbs and others. effect in the kitchen. Incidentally, the film was sponsored by the Gas Council – one can assume that at the time people could still afford to cook with gas…
Special features on THE CAMERA IS OURS include a short Q&A with Sarah Erulkar from 2010, a brief but intimate portrait of Kay Mander in her home in Dumfries, Scotland (shot by Barney Snow in 2000) and a documentary 92-minute film by Lizzie Thynne called ‘Independent Miss Craigie’ about the extraordinary life of this pioneering woman who not only worked as a director but also wrote the scripts for Gregory Peck’s 1954 comedy ‘The Million Pound Note and the 1957 thriller “Windom’s Way” starring Peter Bouvreuil. One of Craigie’s greatest personal successes was the 1949 drama ‘Blue Scar’ – a moving tale of love, music and above all coal mining in Abergwynfi, South Wales, and the docu de Thynnes focuses at length on Craigie’s determination against the odds to see this project through.