Every now and then it is great to look back into the past and watch old films of a different era to see just how the world once was. The BFI have released a collection of short films, mainly informational from during the War. These films were shown before main films at the cinema and acted as reminders for certain things such as renewing a ration book, making the perfect cup of tea or even to get enough vitamins from the rations that you are allowed.
These short films are fascinating as well as archaic and in places sexist. Amongst them is an absolute gem of an informational film called Fitness Wins: 4 and 20 Fit Girls. The film follows a group of women in grey tunics at their local community centre completing some fitness exercises to ensure that after a day of standing at work they are in good shape and maintain good posture. What makes this film a gem is the fantastic narrative that is over the top of the footage. Every single move is explained in great detail. As part of the workout there is also mention of the fact that women must concentrate on their feet to ensure that they are supple and are therefore able to keep you feeling fresh whilst doing the housework, shopping or standing about at your job, the very mention of this is sexist but another great piece of commentary is the fact that at the beach, women look perfectly nice from the head to the ankles but the feet are something that need work. In the era of the war, this would have been a perfectly normal comment, but in this day and age, its sexist and outdated. However, it did produce a laugh and due the sheer posh tone of the voice it didn’t come across as vindictive at all.
There are some other great informational films worth a mention, such as Tea Making Tips, ABCD of Health and Round Figures. Tea making tips gives the six golden rules to making a perfect cup of tea that everyone must follow. It is amazing to see the amount of effort that one put it into it when now all we use is a teabag in some hot water for a little while with water straight from the kettle. It is also easy to understand why there were people who were just employed to make the tea. A very long process indeed.
ABCD of Health talks about the importance of getting the A, B, C and D vitamins and in particular using the rations that are allowed in order to do it. They use two children and building blocks to demonstrate the importance in a brilliant visual way. This film could actually be used to demonstrate the importance today, just now we are lucky to not have the restraints of rations. Round figures shows the importance of having great posture, either in the way we walk, stand or sit. Again, its not something that is the up most importance today but the film could actually be very useful, in particular, how to sit in the workplace.
In each film, it is great the see the animation that is used to show diagrams and highlight points. At the time in which they were filmed it must have been completely new for audiences to witness something like this and must have been mesmerising, therefore captivating the audience to take the tips on board. The films do seem a little outdated to us now, but they are interesting and one thing is very clear, they were much needed during the war. It is easy to see how these films could’ve created solidarity amongst everyone when times were worrying. Think of wondering how you are going to feed your children on basic rations, as soon as you saw an informational film there is no doubt you would feel a little better. It cant be a bad thing to look back and see some wonderful short films that were produced when everyone came together to get through an awful time.
3 / 5
Prd: James Blackford
Curator: Sue Woods
Run time: 151 mins
The set is available to buy now from all good home entertainment retailers or by visiting www.bfi.org.uk/shop. Each set also contains an illustrated booklet with essays, film notes and full film credits.