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PostPosted: Mon Mar 02, 2009 5:00 pm 
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colinr0380 wrote:
The booklet was also fascinating. I was glad to see that each film has a page of notes devoted to it, along with some essays covering the history and general background of their production. It was interesting to learn that the early organisations promoting sexual health were closely linked to the eugenics movement (I guess the Second World War put a stop to that collaboration), and that many of these organisations were voluntary and local in nature before the government got involved in such matters much later on.

If you're interested in more background on this weird but major trend, check out Peter Cohen's documentary Homo Sapiens 1900. It's very much a companion piece to his excellent The Architecture of Doom - the earlier film provides the 'payoff' largely missing from Homo Sapiens 1900 - but it's fascinating and scary all on its own, tracing the evolution of the eugenics movement in four countries: the USA, Germany, the Soviet Union and Sweden. All sorts of propaganda and pop culture-fuelled dichotomies collapse when you start digging the historical dirt.


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PostPosted: Tue Mar 03, 2009 1:36 pm 
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I should have also noted that in Whatsoever A Man Soweth that there is a rather ironic ending of Tom's first, perfect, child innocently asking "Daddy, why can't baby see?" followed by a brutally abrupt ending leaving Tom in the clutches of his guilty conscience. Sort of a "What did you do in the war?" guilt provoking question, though in this case it would more aptly be "Who did you do in the war?"

Any Evening - After Work (1930)

This film feels much more naturalistic than Whatsoever A Man Soweth and less stagey in its first half, as one working class chap (flat caps abound) tells his mates about a girl he met on the streets the previous day. I'm not entirely certain whether they are meant to be characterised as prostitutes or not - the two women he meets seem to be wearing matching hats and furry coats and are first seeing dolling themselves up in a store window, and then are seen conferring and nodding to each other over whether to go over to speak to our main character as he wanders past with a gormless expression on his face in a brief intercut shot. My guess was that there is just the inference of 'looseness' without the suggestion of money changing hands here, just a general lack of moral character in young women since they make the first move on him.

The man pairs off with the younger woman and they walk into the countryside. Then the film cuts back to the young man making all his friends jealous as he regales them with his encounter and that "I'm seeing her again to-night." After receiving a warning that he doesn't know anything about the girl, which he rebuffs, we cut back to the couple in the country in a shot that beautifully fades out just before they kiss (watching this the first time I thought this seemed incredibly prudish - the young man doesn't even get to enjoy a kiss before being hit by syphilis!)

It cuts to "a few days later", where the gentleman is obviously feeling the onsets of VD through an inability to play cards (though more likely he just has other things on his mind!) He chats to a friend about his concerns (a different one from the friend who gave him the warning earlier) and is casually told "you better see a doctor". I liked the way that his friends give him the correct advice but because of the main character's bragging about this girl they seem to either be trying to deflate his fun or implying that it served him right that he might now be ill, which help to make it seem understandable that our main character may not consider taking their advice seriously. There is a very nice use of two previous intertitles superimposed over the man holding his head in his hands (the latest comment that he should see a doctor followed by his earlier rebuffal of his first friend by saying "I can take care of myself") before he seemingly makes up his mind to go.

But when he reaches the doctor he cannot bring himself to enter and instead roams the streets until seeing a sign advertising a talk on 'The Problems of Life and Health' with film showings. Perhaps it is the Dave Formula score that suggested this to me (this is my favourite out of the three silents that were scored as the beautiful jazzy theme of the happy opening turns into dark cyclical buzzes of confusion and fear), but there was a weird feeling of the character getting caught in a Inland Empire style mental fugue of entering a cinema and sitting and watching this film of him going to the cinema and sitting and watching this film, and so on! Luckily there turns out to only be a lecture rather than a film showing occuring, but there must have been a strange meta-feel to be in the audience in a similar lecture theatre (maybe there for similar reasons) watching this sequence!

This is also an interesting way for the lecture to be introduced, since it is emphasising the important role that such lectures and films have in reaching and educating some men who would never have the nerve to see a doctor. By not being so 'official' they may seem less threatening and more just like going to the movies for the afternoon (it also helps that this sequence works as a kind of self-justification for the filmmakers to point to in order to prove that their role is fulfilling an essential unmet societal need). However by not being official or accountable, it allows the lecture to be less serious and academic and more a series of over-egged scare stories!

Now we get to the lecture portion and once again we have enormous screen filling intertitles full of paragraphs of text introducing the audience in the film, and the audience watching the film of the audience, to Gonorrhoea and Syphilis (I wouldn't be surprised if that was meant to be the provisional character names of the young ladies we met earlier!) The text is not particularly difficult to read but it again strikes me that the film itself is rushing through the dry informative stuff in order to get us to the shocking real life victims of a disease or flight of fancy case studies, where the real interest seems to lie.

The lecturer immediately proves himself willing to alienate half the audience by commenting that it is not just prostitution but lazy and ignorant youths with no morals who spread the disease. For some reason though this strikes a chord with our main character who flashes back between the lecturing intertitles to his liaison with the young lady (who I'll call Syphil for short!), culminating in showing us what was withheld earlier in a medium close up as the couple have their first, fateful, passionate kiss. So that's why it cut away so prudishly earlier!

Now we get to case study portion of the film, where every type of social horror caused by venereal disease is played out for maximum impact - in the style of Whatsoever a Man Soweth (I think there must even be a talent pool of blonde haired 5 year old girls for the early sex education films due to the similarities between the children here!) a sailor on shore leave passes the disease on to his wife, signified by their having an argument. Their child even gets the disease in an off hand manner by having shared a towel with her parents and is next seen in hospital. The nun taking care of the girl doesn't respond to the question of whether the parents can take her home soon, from which we can infer that she died horribly soon after! (The lecturer himself, in what will turn out to be a rare moment of mercy, does not explicitly tell us the girl's fate but we can assume the worst!)

A farm worker is then shown losing his job after being unable to carry out his labouring duties because of an inflamed knee caused by gonorrhoea. So VD causes you to drift into unemployment (how do you 'drift' into unemployment anyway? I thought it happened quite suddenly!)

The lorry driver whose neglected syphilis caused him to have slow reactions in his arms and legs. This is illustrated by him shuffling to his truck, starting it up and then accidentally crushing a workman waving a red flag to death when he is unable to stop properly. So venereal disease will cause you to kill!

The next case study is a particularly pertinent one for our troubled times - the City Banker! (It's not just poor people, you know!) Apparently venereal disease causes "General Paralysis of the Insane" - delusions of having an abundance of money that makes you prone to ostentatious displays of wealth. This is illustrated by a man coming home and presenting his son with a book and his wife with a brooch - at which point she hurriedly runs to call the doctor who carts him off to the mental institution. The son appears to have then been sold to the bank his father used to work for as an indentured servant...and then gets congenital blindness, so the child cannot even work as a slave anymore, causing his family to become destitute, as the lecturer states in a final abrupt intertitle.

The next one is rather perfunctory. A steelworker who was a long term sufferer of syphilis and never followed through with treatment has a heart attack strike him at the wrong time and falls to his death.

It does seem that a lot of these case studies extrapolate venereal disease into wide ranging areas where the disease is really only one thing that exacerbates already existing difficulties (the bastard employers; labour intensive work in dangerous places, for long hours and far from home; being a banker and the associated delusions of wealth and power being in such a position normally causes!) that combine to tip people over the edge rather than being the main cause for their unhappiness. The suggestion should have been more that venereal disease impairs judgement rather than the sensational emphasis on the death and destruction so played up in the case studies, it seems to me.

(Though I suppose they held back somewhat. I'm surprised there was not a case where contracting the disease drove someone to kill in a fit of madness, for instance!)

We then return to our main character, and the rest of the audience, having been deeply affected by the lecturer (there's a nice sequence of hands clapping faster and faster in speedier edits, which was scored to sound to me like a stream train building up momentum!) Our character is then provided with an extra admonishment to get to an arranged appointment at a hospital's treatment centre when he approaches the lecturer afterwards.

Cue the happy ending as our hero is assured that he will be completely cured as long as he follows the doctor's advice, stays the course of treatment and (implied) keeps on the straight and narrow from now on!


Last edited by colinr0380 on Wed Mar 04, 2009 2:01 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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PostPosted: Wed Mar 04, 2009 8:00 am 
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How To Tell (1931)

A very effective film which takes the refreshing point of view that responding to children's questions about sex and biology honestly introduces them to such issues early on which, as well as avoiding unnecessary confusion caused by the use of euphemistic terms, increases the likelihood of more open conversations in the future about other issues that come up, such as VD.

A mother putting her children to bed is asked by her son why his younger sister was born a girl. This prompts her to speak to her husband about how they should approach such questions in the future (the sets here are quite stagey, especially in the long shot of the couple's living room, but beautifully lit). Her husband wishes to take a full disclosure approach following some incidents from his childhood, which we flashback to, of his being told that babies come from a cabbage patch causing him to be upset that he cannot find any "twin sisters" after digging up the garden. And then a situation at school when he embarrasses himself in front of the other kids by showing his naivete in understanding what some graffiti is representing. Finally he tells his wife about his first infatuation (never a good move, but she does not seem to mind!) which he ruined by acting shyly in front of the girl, which she takes for disinterest.

In most of these cases it doesn't seem to be any failing of his though - I could barely make out what the graffiti was meant to represent, and anyway did he really want to impress those kids through his knowledge? And the girl he was so infatuated with is very quick to write him off and wander over to an older monocoled gentleman playing cards (a rare case of the younger man losing out!) It seems a shame it affected the young man so much, but it does show his sensitivity that he does still care, even if at the same time it seems insensitive to talk about the 'one that got away' so longingly to his wife! That is an example of their refreshing openness with each other though, and the couple resolve to answer all questions that are asked of them to the best of their ability so they "shan't suffer the agony of mind we suffered".

I love the shot of the couple sitting together, thinking of what to do that ends this sequence. It seems very tender in a way, and suggests their comfort with each other as they work through the issues together.

We move to another evening with the mother knitting while the children play in front of the fire. After another question from the boy about whether they bought his younger sister from somewhere, there is a touching explanation of how small she was and she was kept inside her mother for safekeeping until she was big enough to "come into the world". This leads on to the boy asking whether it was the same with him, which he is told it was, and he is happy with that (I was glad to note that, although not overly explicit in describing wombs and such, this conversation in the intertitles keeps away from using confusing and inaccurate terms like "in Mother's tummy", instead saying "inside Mother's body" - a small but significant difference)

There is another jump in time to where the children are older (around 7 or 8, I guess), and features the boy passing on what he had been told by his mother to his sister as they look at their pet bunny rabbits. Then follows a sequence at school where the teacher tells the class about pollination and ovulation in plants. I really like the idea expressed in these two sequences that being honest with children's questions early on at home lets children pass the information between themselves and 'teach' each other, as well as giving them help at school with concepts that would otherwise be much more difficult to initially grasp from a position of having been fobbed off with (or believing in) euphemisms, such as plant and animal biology.

So the children have been given a foundation from which to build their knowledge in school. But it doesn't mean the parent's job ends there. The lesson about plants in school inspires the girl to ask her father how exactly he is their father. So he tells them, using their doe and buck rabbits as examples, how the father has to provide sperm to go with the mother's egg, to show that both partners are important in the process.

Then as the family sits down to tea we jump forward further to where the boy is in his early teens and approaches his father with questions about VD, having heard the other boys at school talking about it. This is also inspired by seeing a man walking with a limp and wondering he has a sexually transmitted disease, something which his father tells him is not the case. This actually addresses one of my concerns that arose from the two earlier films where the audience could easily be left with the impression that all blindnesses or problems with motor functions were caused by VD and so stigmatise everyone with such ailments. This sequence does a lot to disabuse people of such notions.

The two talk about venereal disease, and what it means. I like the way that although the "boys have been talking about it" the boy does not entirely trust their talk and has enough confidence to come to his father for more information. There is the suggestion that it is acting without self control (i.e. sex before marriage) that is most likely to lead to contracting such diseases, and the idea that this can be passed on to a wife and through her to children is also tackled.

We are then left with the image of the family sitting together at home in their living room with the quotation "True knowledge and understanding makes for a happy home" superimposed on it.

It is a lovely little film. Without getting gynaecologically and embarrassingly explicit it provides some help with dealing with questions children may have at different ages, and is quite admirable in its final message. It also helps to redeem slight euphemisms, such as using the rabbits or plants to illustrate a point, in service of a wider point, not as the whole point, which makes it an interesting counterpoint to The Mystery of Marriage!


Last edited by colinr0380 on Sun Apr 12, 2009 12:21 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 05, 2009 11:24 am 
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The Mystery of Marriage (1932)

This film would be an example of only speaking in metaphorical terms. Perhaps it is the literalism of film that causes this, but the subject of courtship rituals and mating in humans compared to animals seems equated in such a final manner that it can cause unintended mirth!

The first sequence starts with birdsong then cuts to a young man walking not a countryside road whistling. A girl hears his song and playfully hides from the man. Helpfully her floral patterned dress helps her to blend in with the foliage! The man searches, finds her and sweeps her into his arms, with the girl’s happy protestations intercut with brief shot of birds in the branch overhead seeming to act in the same manner. The young man presses his case, stating that she is the one girl for him, asking her to marry him and stating his financial stability and ability to provide for her. Cut to the birds twittering away in the branches.

Then the wonderfully plummy narrator begins his speech! We move from the birds in the trees to focus on mould. This allows the issue of interbreeding to be tackled, as we are shown mould being able to differentiate between related and unrelated members of its species. There is some interesting photography of fast growing mould tendrils and some illustrations of what happens when tendrils meet and interlink.

Mould also represents an organism which can move around and hunt for different partners. From this the film moves to rooted plants and the way they have to use bees as “matchmakers” and apparently wilt because they are depressed at having to rely on someone else, while creatures who can move doll themselves up to go on the hunt (there is a pointed edit here from a praying mantis washing its head to a dandy gentleman slicking back his hair!) A hunting spider ‘changes its clothes’ by shedding its skin and catches a fly, which it wraps up as a gift for a potential mate (cut to a bunch of flowers being wrapped in paper!)

The receiver of presents apparently has to be shyly dismissive in both in both the human and spider worlds, shown in the cut from the spider presenting the fly to a couple in a bar. The man asks what she’s drinking and the woman responds with a “Well...I don’t know”. The narrator then interjects with a hilarious but rather unflattering (to the male) description of the female’s thought process: “At length, she decides that this is as good an offer as she is going to get in these difficult times, and the gift is accepted”! The spider takes the fly and a couple of drinks are served to the human couple!

We move to the ‘man on the hunt’ section of the film, from sticklebacks wearing their partners down with a physical chase to the display tactics of birds (I love the matched edit from the bird running along the ground with its wings spread wide as a display to another bird in the foreground who is looking completely the other way to a man similarly approaching a woman from behind and removing his hat in a broad gesture!), brightly feathered birds are contrasted with gaudily dressed young man seemingly out of his natural habitat standing next to a fence in the countryside (he would seem more suited to having a punt down a river!) A woman approaches and they both take up a hands behind their back stance (a form of sexual display?), which acts as a prelude to an extended chase sequence around the gate, into the field and behind a haystack where the young man sweeps the lady off her feet and presses his suit (against her dress!)

We then get the comparison of peacocks with finely tailored suit wearing and monocoled gentlemen, along with a weary sigh at the perverse nature of women who don’t succumb to such ostentatious displays and instead fall for the more stunted examples of masculinity, or the dangerous ‘outsider’ types (so there’s hope for us all! “Ain’t nature grand!”)

We move to deers growing their antlers and shedding their coats (as a way of showing how scruffy men can scrub up handsomely?) for display and rivalry purposes. Now it is the woman’s turn to feel belittled as rivalry is suggested as being important to keeping the bonds in relationships strong – you might get too comfortable with each other and, according to the narrator “it is fatal to allow anything feminine to become bored”. A fight between labyrinth spiders over a female is equated with a man so obsessed with betting on the horses that he neglects his girl. She exchanges some flirtatious looks with another gentleman, which her boyfriend tears himself away from the races long enough to notice and pull her away (I’m sure that relationship is going to last!) This 'civilised' end to a confrontation is contrasted with the spiders fighting each other.

Females fight over males too, as the cut from two females praying mantises fighting viciously (intercut with a brief shot of the preening male mantis from earlier!), to two women in their respective boudoirs putting on their makeup illustrates! Both women take great pains to look as beautiful as possible, then one opens the interconnecting door to the room of the other and the two women exchange jealous glances that suggest there is about to be a massive catfight! (I imagine the scene continuing in the manner of that recent Roman Polanski advert for perfume!)

There was a hint of eugenics about the comment that this sex rivalry takes place to ensure that the finest and most able examples of the species get the chance to mate. Apparently females of other species are disinterested in displays of male rivalry, which is suggested not to be the case with humans. This point is illustrated by a tightly edited, fast paced sequence of a lady getting extremely excited watching a motorcycle race, followed by a longer shot of her ‘come down’ from the high of witnessing such a spectacle (the filmmakers stop short of showing the lady lighting up a post-orgasm cigarette, but only just!)

After the rivalry section we return to flowers using colourful displays to attract matchmaking bees taking pollen from one plant and transferring it to another (via an extremely cute and fluffy bee puppet!) We see the way pollen fertilises the plant, the growing seedcase and then the mature case splitting to throw the seeds as far as possible. The focus on seed cases takes the film to its ‘homebuilding’ section, from building nests and cocoons to knitting baby clothes. The progression from fish to birds and squirrels to black people building huts and arabs mud walled buildings could seem rather racist in any other context, but in this film where humans and animals are constantly being equated with each other it seems as acceptable as anything else. Though there is a sense that we are being shown a progression of complexity from plants and animals and then through the increasing sophistication of human tribes until we get to the housing tracts (or ‘Bijou Baronial Halls/Minature Manorial Mansions’ as the sign next to the half built houses says!) that are the pinnacle of the technology of the age, which could be seen as being objectionable in the implication that everything has been building to this pinnacle of human development, rather than an idea of adaptation to environmental conditions. It does seem a little depressing that all this ‘progression’ leads to the rather mundane scene of a couple haggling with an estate agent about whether the lino will be laid for free in their new kitchen!

The film then moves on to the more “frivolous” and “callous” lower order parents who spawn copiously and don’t take care of any of their offspring – poppy seeds, butterflies, snails, tadpoles and cheese mites – set against more model parents in cucumbers or earwigs and sticklebacks. Birds hunting for food are contrasted with a mother going to the shops and preparing a meal for her children (it is rather difficult to complain about one particular aspect of this film being over-egged but the scene where the mother is spoon feeding an eight year old boy seems only staged that way to be a good match to the bird feeding its young! Not to mention the brief shot of all the children sitting at the table with their mouths wide open!)

The difference between animals in dens and animals moving in herds, where their offspring need to be mobile as soon as they are born, comes next. There is another strange, and perhaps questionable to modern audiences, edit from a kangaroo keeping its young in its pouch while they move from place to place with a lady holding her child on her back and an African woman picking cotton while her baby suckles at her breast.

Leaving home is illustrated again through the progression from plant (we literally get to see wild oats spreading their seed!) to animals then humans becoming too strong willed for their parents to handle. A young boy, after being told to sit and spend the afternoon reading his book takes the opportunity of an open door to run off and play, but is caught doing so by his mother! A bird learning to fly leads to the idea that “growing up is only copying what we see adults do”, and is followed by a schoolgirl hiding behind a tree to put on some makeup.

Some children have trouble leaving and some cannot wait to go, as shown by a couple running gaily from their home to their racing car (?!?) while their mother runs after them desperately asking where they are going off to but being left in a cloud of dust.

Back to the countryside and birdsong and we meet the young couple, older now, walking past the same spot from earlier with a baby carriage. They see another courting young couple and the husband talks about the how marriage is such a mysterious business.

The Mystery of Marriage is charming and quite hilarious film, though I often could not really tell if it was meant to be deadly serious or tongue in cheek in intent – some sequences seem to be a mixture of both! Following the matter of fact approach of How To Tell I felt that however beautifully made the film was, it was needlessly confusing and too wedded to its animal metaphors to really tackle its issues successfully. In these type of films created for primarily informative purposes it seems necessary to be as blunt and straightforward as possible – that would most definitely not be the way I’d describe this one and can only imagine audiences being left more confused about how applicable its teachings were after having seen it (especially after the final shrug over what the ‘mystery of marriage’ actually means!)

The other question that I was left with after watching the film was why the closest animal to man, the monkey, was never mentioned at all? Would that comparison have been too close for comfort? It seems strange though that a film unafraid to equate human behaviour with that of sticklebacks or mountain goats would miss out on the opportunities afforded by our simian cousins.


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PostPosted: Fri Mar 06, 2009 4:19 pm 
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The last three films were all produced by the BIF (British Instructional Films) who made many of the films for the British Social Hygiene Council. Interestingly according to the essay by Tim Boon in the booklet How To Tell and The Mystery of Marriage were the only films to tackle wider themes beyond VD due to the Council's focus on its core subject of veneral disease awareness to make sure it continued receiving public funding. That would probably explain the way the final segment of How To Tell goes into VD territory and the woolly-headed, working outside the comfort zone feel to Mystery of Marriage! (It probably helped that, in the same essay, The Mystery of Marriage was said to have been made by the lady who was also the BSHC’s official film adviser and propaganda committee member since 1929. So I doubt either organisation, even if they wanted to, would have been in any position to object to the production of the film, the choice of different material from the norm or the way it was handled given the entrenched status of the director!)

The next two films in the set make for another interesting matched pair. Trial For Marriage was made for the Central Council for Health Education Film Unit and A Test For Love was made by Gaumont British Instructional (which the booklet states succeeded the BIF), so they illustrate two different organisations views on similar subjects (again venereal disease, but this time its effects on potential marriages). They also add some interesting twists to their subject matter.

Trial For Marriage (1936)

After a monolithic white on black title we are shown a courting young man quickly making his way through a succession of girls (amusingly shown in a wipe to each lady providing a one line statement about the gentleman’s casual and promiscuous attitude before they get kissed! They all seem willing to be kissed though!) before we slow down to watch him courting his latest girl. He promises to stay true to her while he is in London at his new job. Once there however he falls in with the ‘wrong type’ of woman.

There seems to be a suggestion that John has too much free time on his hands that he can do the wrong thing with – when he is focused on his journey to London he can easily ignore a lady at the station trying to flirt with him. In London though he is often shown waiting around for his hard working cousin Henry (a medical student) to meet him at a local restaurant. Unfortunately the restaurant is frequented by Hermione Strange, the “bad girl of Chelsea” according to Henry, who seems to have a pre-existing relationship, and wariness of, the girl who leaves to go to a party. However he goes no further than the ominous statement that “she seems to think studying art is an excuse for anything”!

Sadly Henry never gets more explicit in his concerns about Hermione (perhaps this film acts as a warning about pussyfooting around a subject when a blunt approach would be more beneficial?) We are then shown John meeting Hermione again in the same restaurant, where he is alone because of Henry working night shifts. There is a nicely edited sequence of the couple getting to know each other, with the date on the menu showing time passing by, all leading up to Hermione taking John to “one of her parties”.

Her party appears rather staid and stuffy to modern eyes, but quickly a bottle of absinthe is produced and wild behaviour begins (people laughing excessively and hugging each other, others sitting on the floor together). The party moves on to another location but John and Hermione slip away into her boudoir. Hermione plies him with more liquor and the next thing we know there is a cut to John at the breakfast table the next morning nursing a hangover.

Henry seems concerned and approaches his supervisor to ask whether he can take a friend on a guided tour of the VD wards to shock some sense into him. Henry shows John around the men’s wards (syphilis), women’s wards (stillbirths and miscarriages) and the children’s ward (with the congenital form of the disease). Then in the corridor outside a man passes on crutches and Henry says he has locomotor ataxia. After John says “he doesn’t want to see any more”, there is a pointed cut to the likely blind child with an open book lying next to her cot.

The supervisor approaches the pair and suddenly Henry becomes belligerent (a show for his boss?) and berates people who do not come early for VD treatment as little more than criminals. The supervisor agrees that education is important for it will remove the excuse of ignorance and allow people who know they have the disease and still spread it around to be treated as the real criminals.

However following this is a strange statement. John (finally!) catches on that this is meant to be another veiled warning to him about his partying with Hermione. He gets upset to which Henry replies “Cut that out. You’re worth warning. For your sake and for Betty’s”. This seems an extremely odd thing to say – so some people are ‘worth’ warning and others, like Hermione, are not? There is an interesting double standard (class based?) being put forward here which seems at odds with the idea of removing the excuse of ignorance about venereal disease. It seems that as long as Hermione spreads VD among her ‘art student’ friends that is acceptable (allowing the disease to be studied in a controlled group of individuals!), but if she spreads her disease to important and worthwhile people like John it is not.

Indeed Hermione is swept out of the picture from this point. Nobody seems to be bothered about getting in touch with her about having VD and removing her excuse of ignorance or preventing her from passing it on to others. This reminded me a lot of a much later film, Larry Clark’s Kids (which of course tackled AIDS), which involved similar themes and was in a way much more socially responsible in its attitudes! John suddenly remembers that he is about to get married to Betty in six weeks and the film becomes less about removing the excuse of ignorance than a guide on how to go about getting tested and John’s fears that the test coming back positive will mean that the wedding will have to be postponed while he undergoes treatment.

We then get to the major scene of the film, a dream sequence set in the ‘Court of Public Opinion’ where John dreams of the consequences of having VD, defaulting on treatment in order to keep the date of the marriage and then passing it on to Betty. Henry is called to the stand and states that following the tour of the VD wards John had no excuse to default on his treatment, and should therefore be treated as a criminal. Betty herself is then called to give evidence (and is described as a "very dangerous witness" - because loving a person means forgiving them the harm they do, rather than condemning them for it?), she supports John fully and states that she did not object to his going out with girls, but when asked whether she would have supported him if he had told her the truth about having VD and postponed the wedding rather than hiding it from her, she says she would have been supportive (therefore damning John hiding the truth from her even more).

It is a quite neat way of showing John wrestling with his conscience, trying to make excuses for his (potential) behaviour and punishing himself for his actions. This film also features an ending that does not let our hero off the hook, even though he in some senses has learnt his lesson, as the dream sequence suggests. The arrival of the doctor’s letter the next morning telling him that he does have the disease and has to begin his treatment leads to John’s final line that “the wedding is…postponed”.

I’m ambivalent about this film. There are aspects of it that I like: the removal of the excuse of ignorance; the wrestling with a guilty conscience and the ending. However I did not particularly like the dismissal of the problem of Hermione and her ilk so easily and felt that Henry could also be seen as bearing some responsibility for the problems of the film as John does by not warning him away from Hermione sooner and for taking a holier than thou approach to his cousin. The film is also, like all the films so far, focused on the male experience and gaze – women here are again either sexy minxes or charming young ladies, and could never be a mixture of both.


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PostPosted: Sat Mar 07, 2009 10:21 am 
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Location: Chapel-en-le-Frith, Derbyshire, UK
A Test For Love (1937)

This film is most interesting for the way it features a female lead character who, after getting the wrong impression when she catches sight of her current beau meeting a strange woman at the bus stop after he has told her that he will not be able to see her for a long time, falls into the arms of a caddish chap with terrible consequences. The meeting she witnesses turns out later to be one of those “that’s actually my aunt and we had to renovate some properties for our business in a hurry” type of perfectly innocent situations that would not have caused so many problems if the characters had just talked to one another! There does not seem to have been any reason for her beau to have kept what he was up to secret from her except that he wanted to surprise the girl with his newly acquired financial security and then ask her to marry him and apparently “promised someone I couldn’t tell”. Unfortunately she now has a similar dilemma to that which John faced in Trial For Marriage! (and ironically shares the name Betty with the earlier character!)

We immediately see the difference between Betty’s two gentleman callers in the way they drive up to the place where she works and her workmate Sally’s reactions to them. The first (Jim), who she approves of leaves a message and receives a warm welcome from Sally and apologies for Betty not being there. The next (George) arrives and parks in the same spot in a car but hoots his horn obnoxiously. His first question is also not about Betty but asking for a pack of cigarettes. Sally is far more reticent about answering his questions and lies about her not coming back. When Betty returns (and proves her competence in her shop girl position by being able to answer questions about the stock asked of her by her boss immediately on her return – so she is a decent sort), she is told about who has been asking for her and Sally talks about it being a shame that all the decent chaps never have any money and the “nasty bits of work” are rolling in it.

We then get the ‘comic relief’ scene where a plump lady enters, talks about her work with “girls who are alone and have no friends” and on the local medical board (foreshadowing!), and says she has not been in to the shop for a while because she is trying to cut down on chocolates in order to slim. Then she says she came in for some chocolates and asks for a small box. Not that small however - she rejects the first box offered instead picks up an enormous packet and leaves, though not before running into Jim and letting us know that he works in the building trade. While this scene is broadly played, and her character is obviously there to pass on important details to the audience, the humour (though just of the ‘fat people are funny’ variety!) of the scene lets it pass by without seeming so clunky.

Jim picks Betty up after work. Betty and Sally have exchanged glances (the camera panning between them) and words about how this means he is going to propose to her. Instead he tells her he is going away on important business. Later Sally and Betty then see Jim picking up the ‘mystery woman’ from the bus and in the scene after that George returns at the right time to persuade Betty to go out with him that evening, even if Sally still has reservations expressed through ringing up the ‘No Sale’ sign on the cash register!

Betty and George zoom through the countryside in his car that evening and end up at a strange sort of country mansion/nightclub/restaurant/indoor swimming pool set up (I couldn’t figure out exactly what this place was meant to be, except that it was obviously meant to be as ostentatious as possible!) Betty drowns her sorrows with coffee, cigarettes and brandy then under a dramatic piece of music the pair get in their car, George drives to a deserted country road and takes advantage of the obviously out of it girl. The dramatic music abruptly cuts off as the lights on the car are extinguished.

We move to a few days later as Betty tells Sally she is feeling ill (she makes a mistake in serving the customer, so her competence is slipping due to the illness and having more pressing concerns) and then we dissolve to the doctor who confirms that she is ill. In a similar way to the previous film although the doctor gives lip service towards the idea that the young man who spreads the disease is either “a knave or a fool” and needs to be checked out himself as soon as possible, we see no more of George from this moment on. Like Hermione his only importance is as a plot point and not much more than that – a way of giving our main characters their disease, and the film does not seem concerned about dealing with the problem at its source, only those affected by such people.

Now we get the realisation of Jim’s mystery woman being his aunt, that he has money and wants Betty to marry him. Sadly Betty feels it is too late for them and she runs away. We next see her at the station catching a train to stay with some relatives in Manchester (we find out later that she has quit her job). Her own aunt (portrayed as a grim harridan compared to Jim’s young and kindly aunt), after berating Betty for her wickedness, lets her stay with her family but after a number of incidents occur (forcing her to drink out of one particular cup, eat different food and not letting her touch their young child for fear of being ‘contagious’) Betty leaves at an even lower ebb.

Back to Brighton. Remember the plump lady who helps out young ladies in trouble? She is introduced to us again at her home, about to take a bite out of an enormous slice of cake when Betty comes to her for help. She explains her delicate situation and is given the address of a hostel where she can stay and be given treatment. After this encouragement she is given more by a nurse at her hospital, who provides her with a note of introduction to a home where she can stay without embarrassment, known only by a number. The film has been reticent at saying exactly what is wrong with Betty until the point that she arrives at this house and gives the note to the lady who opens the door. In a large close up we see the contents of the note asking to “give normal treatment for Gonorrhoea”. It is quite an effective moment and surprisingly shocking to see what cannot be talked about bluntly written down in black and white.

After a short scene of Betty’s former boss in the midst of renovating her shop asking Sally what happened to her, we see Betty fully cured. Sally has been a true friend and comes to meet her without having told anyone where Betty has been, not even Jim! (We do get a brief mention of George, who “got very ill and had to go away”). We get the moral lesson from the kindly nurse that every girl who has casual acquaintances with young men runs the same risk she did and that (in those pre-National Health Service times) it is fortunate that the local authorities provide funding to allow them to continue to help girls who cannot afford to pay for their own care.

The idea that Betty can now begin a normal life again is offered to her by the nurse, with there being no reason why she cannot get married and have children. Betty is still so shaken that she can only see work as her future. It takes Sally breaking her promise to not tell anyone where Betty has been to allow them to reconcile at the place where she now works. Jim understands and tells her he does not care about her and George, they pull down the shop blind and kiss passionately.

I particularly liked the way that the film continually states that emotional support, or lack of it, from friends, employers, nurses and family plays a large part in helping people recover from their affliction and the stigma it brings or driving people further into despair. Being cured medically is just a part of it.

EDIT: By the way this film was directed by Vernon Sewell who along with making the WW2 film The Silver Fleet (with Ralph Richardson, Googie Withers and Esmond Knight) ended his career with a couple of well known horror films - Curse Of The Crimson Altar with Christopher Lee and Boris Karloff from near the end of his career and the infamously goofy (though I have a soft spot for it!) Blood Beast Terror, which is the film where Peter Cushing has to fight off a giant blood drinking moth woman!


Last edited by colinr0380 on Sat Mar 14, 2009 10:39 am, edited 3 times in total.

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PostPosted: Sun Mar 08, 2009 11:06 am 
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Location: Chapel-en-le-Frith, Derbyshire, UK
The Road To Health (1938)

This film takes begins with an unidentified gentleman giving a lecture and then there follows an illustrative animation. The opening lecture is quite well done, straightforward and to the point, tackling issues familiar from the previous films in this collection but without the dramatisations of 'real world' examples. We move quickly through descriptions of gonorrhoea and syphilis, how they are passed on, what effects they have and how they can be treated. This film's focus seems not to really be on these issues but more concerned with how society can help get fallen people back onto the 'road to health'.

The lecturer draws a crude pathway and we move to the animation as it builds up in detail and colour. We see the population moving down the road of health through the countryside towards an idyllic rural town (or village) with the sun setting behind it. However there are three roads leading off from it and we are shown some unfortunate characters getting diverted down Prositution Lane, Broken Home Boulevard, Immorality Close and Drink Drive. All these diversions lead to one place: the Swamp of Venereal Disease!

The jaunty music darkens and we pan over the tormented silhouettes of people trapped in the dank and foggy swamp. Suddenly a torch shines out of the darkness - its the man from the British Social Hygiene Council, flatteringly portrayed as a kind of Greek hero toga-wearing type! He throws his 'torch of knowledge' into the swamp and illuminates the base of some columns labelled with the names of the government and local authorities. The darkness lifts further and the columns get linked by arches, labelled as laboratories, treatment centres, institutions and homes. Finally the darkness lifts completely and a completed bridge comes into view, labelled with nurses, doctors and almoners in quite a nice illustration of the structure of the organisation. The people struggle their way through the swamp (in response to a trumpet fanfare), their path slowly being illuminated, until they reach the bridge and cross back onto the road to health.

Next there are some graphs about increases attendances at health centres and decreasing cases of syphilis, though apparently gonorrhoea was more of a problem at the time. The narration of this section states that more needs to be done to bring women in for testing of this disease. We then return to the animation and see safeguards being placed on the road of health (at first looking uncomfortably to modern eyes like those anti-terrorism barriers placed around important buildings!), which are shown as walls and then have illustrative statues placed on top of them: positive health, stable family, early marriage, emotional control, knowledge and life science (I particularly liked the man trying desperately to rein in two wild horses as an example of emotional control!)

It seemed that the purpose of the film was to state how important the BSHC's role was and that it should receive support and funding to continue its work. It has that feeling of an appeal for funds and I sort of expected a number to call to pledge your support to appear on the screen throughout! In that light, the rather open comments about the need to increase the numbers of women coming to treatment centres and getting tested for gonorrhoea is a way of putting forward future plans the BSHC has if it gets more support and funding. I'm also starting to get the impression that birth control is not going to receive much promotion in these films - there is a far greater emphasis on abstinence and early marriage here than any measures that may protect but also allow (or be seen to promote) more promiscuous behaviours.


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PostPosted: Mon Mar 09, 2009 3:29 pm 
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Love On Leave (1940)

Or "An Inspiration Film" as one title card reads!

Over footage of rainy market stalls, we hear in voiceover George courting Katherine by offering to walk her home under his umbrella. After a shimmering nature montage under a romantic muscial score (classy!), we finally see the couple having a picnic next to a riverbank on a beautiful summer's day. George is now financially secure and in a good job, so they (after a pointedly intercut shot of a bee in some flowers) decide to set a date for their wedding, set up home and have children. They decide to marry in a month and check the paper for the date - it is August so that means they'll be married for sure in September...September 1939! (Uh-oh!)

The image twists upside down as the date burns away (symbolism!!) as the swastika and eagle emblem looms into view and we get a low budget version of the war, as the camera pans across photographs of destroyed buildings. I don't know if this is due to being filmed so close to the start of the war that little was known about what was occurring but it seems that the filmmakers have used the First World War and trench warfare for its inspiration! We next see George in a bunker getting a letter from his sweetheart and talking whistfully about marriage and that death is easier to accept if you've known true love (the comments of the happily married superior George talks with is contrasted with the overplayed cowardice of the guy with the girly pictures on his wall to the shelling that is going on). George speaks about getting married the first time he is home on leave.

After some more stock footage of soldiers running across no man's land set against newspaper headlines, gas attacks and toy tanks being set on fire (Wooden Crosses has nothing to worry about with this film!), we see Katherine waiting at the station for her lover to return. They go to the station cafe to talk.

However when George talks of marriage Katherine is reticent - her brother Edward was just killed in a car accident and she feels unable to move on so quickly (she's still dressed in black and has come straight from the funeral). We flash back to an upset Edward running from Katherine and having his fatal accident. The initially sympathetic George proves himself to be a complete bastard when the idea of postponing the wedding comes up ("I think it is very selfish of you. Utterly selfish...I suppose you're just like the rest - you've just been fooling"). Thankfully Katherine doesn't let herself be bullied and walks out on him.

We then move to a local nightclub where George has gone to drown his sorrows (there is a nice transition from the two undrunk cups of tea on the cafe table to a couple of glasses of alcohol in the club), though not before we are introduced to two ladies, one of whom is easily identified as a 'bad girl' because, hooray!, the fur coats and flashy hats make a return appearance. The bad girl is reminiscing about past relationships, and having a couple of chaps on the go at once then this more 'experienced' lady despairs at the younger, stating that "you've got the face and the figure, but you don't know how to use them. See life like me. Think of the fun you're missing!", and calls the younger lady old fashioned for preferring to wait for the right fellow (oh, and she's also drinking absinthe!)

She runs into George at the bar and makes a play for him, lending a sympathetic ear to his story of Katherine being completely unresponsive to his desperate wish to be married (and to have a wedding night!), and telling him that Katherine wouldn't have appreciated the lingerie he brought back from Paris as a gift anyway! This takes place as the pair walk home in the blackout streets, and George uses a torch to illuminate dummies in a shop window as they talk of the lingerie, eventually shining the light on the 'bad girl', whose name we learn is Loraine. After her "Come on soldier" we move on to her flat.

As George waits for Loraine to get changed he has a drink and notices a particular book prominently displayed on the mantlepiece: Dangerous Acquaintances by Choderlos de Laclos (Obviously someone has been doing their homework!) Loraine appears in the doorway to the bedroom in the neglige and offers another "Come on soldier" to George, who responds in the obvious manner!

There then follows a great sequence of a pan around the ornaments around the flat - masks of women on the wall and a nude reclining female figurine as a clock begins to chime the hour. In a "ask not for whom the bell tolls" moment as the chimes proper begin we see a hand turning out the bedside lamp and cut to some flowers on the windowsill in full bloom. The orchestra takes over the clock chimes in a rising circular theme as the flowers lapse dissolve until they are completely withered. Petals drop off and eventually there is only the empty vase remaining. I felt that this was quite a poetic way of illustrating the potential transmission of the disease to our hero.

It is now a few weeks later(? - I thought George had to get back to the trenches?) and the flat is a mess with women's magazines, empty glasses and clothes strewn everywhere. The possibility of venereal disease causing couples to become argumentative is raised again. When the man from the electricity company comes around (with a pair of pliers at the ready) to cut off the supply it soon becomes apparent that Loraine is a rather poor housekeeper all round. Though worse is to come as in looking through Loraine's purse to find some cash George comes across a picture of the late Edward! It turns out that he was another of Loraine's 'gentleman callers' and was so distracted by having caught VD that he had his fatal crash, but not before leaving Loraine a letter stating that "I've seen Doctor MacMillian about it - and what I feared is true"!

When confronted Loraine runs the gamut of emotions expressed through broad acting - "You're hurting me. Dr MacMillan will fix him. It wasn't my fault - it's all the fault of you men! Beasts!" Despite her clinging to him and claiming that "I've been treated since. There's no danger" George pushes her to one side and goes straight to the doctor for an examination. After a few days pass the kindly doctor tells him that he has likely escaped infection, though he needs to wait a few months before syphillis can be ruled out, and gives him a lecture that he should have been able to wait for marriage rather than fooling around and of "the anxieties and worries that promiscuous sex intercourse always brings". The institution of marriage is promoted to "bring the greatest personal happiness and the only lasting satisfaction".

A few months pass on the calendar and we return to Katherine, about to put her black veil back on when the telephone rings. She acts aloof to George, but is obviously glad of his call. George brusquely tells her she is not allowed to leave until he comes around. We then return to the rainy day and voiceover again as the pair talk about not having an umbrella this time and address each other as "Mr" and "Mrs" Hurst. The rain clears up and the couples legs come into shot. Standing together in a puddle they kiss.

Finie!

A deeply flawed film, though it has its moments. I can't help feeling that George deserved more of a comeuppance than he actually received and that Katherine was a fool for taking him back, though it is unclear how much of the liaison with Loraine George has told her about, or if he has related to her the reasons behind her brother's death! It might be cruel but I was left hoping that George got posted back to the Somme sooner rather than later!


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PostPosted: Tue Mar 10, 2009 6:04 pm 
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Six Little Jungle Boys (1945)

A fully animated short that seems to be a training film teaching soldiers how to take care of themselves in the Far East and uses a Ten Little Indians approach of whittling down the soldiers one by one through various diseases. According to the booklet it was made by Halas and Batchelor Cartoon Films, which later produced the 1954 version of Animal Farm and that they also made a number of post-war animations for the COI educating the public about health and the new National Health Service (material for a future volume I hope!)

Six soldiers kiss their interchangable wives goodbye in front of their interchangable lodgings and march off to war. As they march we see their uniforms change to fit their environment (shorts for a desert area, waterproofs for a torrential downpour). Then we get a rather unflattering portrayal (to say the least!) of a Japanese slavering black bear (or horned devil? I can't really tell!) with samurai sword and oriental-styled cymbal crash climbing out of the map of the country and setting its foot on territory it is laying claim to (symbolism!) to show what our boys are fighting for.

Then we move into the cycle of picking off each soldier in turn. The first gets foot rot from not drying his feet properly (His dogs are literally barking!), with when he finally takes his boots off a shot of much more detailed rotting feet in a way that reminded me of those more grisly close up shots from the Ren and Stimpy cartoons! In a shot that is repeated for the rest of the soldiers we then see him in a hospital bed with a helpful sign telling us (and everyone else who passes by the bed, presumably!) his problem.

The next soldier (with a repeat of one of the only two lines of dialog in the film - "Oh boy! Oh boy! Oh boy!") finds a nice grassy area to sleep on while the other four set up hammocks. He is so sleepy he does not even bother to take the mite repellent he is thrown, is attacked by creepy crawlies and is then seen in hospital emaciated and with skeletal arms and a sign saying 'Scrub Typhus' at the bottom of his bed.

The soldiers then find a hut. While three distill their water and repell the bugs from their food before eating it, one unfortunately drinks straight from a puddle and just brushes the bugs from his meal. His dancing stomach is the sign he has dysentry!

While two of the remaining three soldiers take care to roll their sleeves up, take pills and ointments and wear mosquito netting, the third prefers to relax with a cigarette and gets dive bombed by the bugs, resulting in malaria.

The two peacefully sleeping soldiers are then woken with a call of "Yoo-hoo!" by a lady in a skimpy dress who beckons them to follow her in a sultry manner. After the pair utter their "Oh boy! Oh boy! Oh boy!"s they collect themselves and try to sleep, although each checks to see whether the other is sleeping a couple of times until one does drop off! The 'lucky' one, with a "shhh!" to the audience, then tiptoes off and is next seen cowering under the sheets of his hospital bed, with a sign saying V.D. at the foot of it.

So it is up to the remaining soldier to fight off the baddie single handed, with him finally managing to throw the invader back to Japan after a bayonet jab to the bottom ("they don't like it up 'em!"). The six return to their wives, though only the successful soldier has a medal for valour. He runs to kiss his wife and then finds that all the other soldier's wives run to him as well (It seems very fickle of them to only want the hero, especially as it was only the luck of falling asleep first that prevented him from cheating, though I suppose it explains why the hankerchiefs they are waving goodbye with earlier on look so much like threatening white feathers!) While the other five stand and fume, the sixth soldier is dragged away from the huddle by his girl and utters a final "Oh boy! Oh boy! Oh boy!" and a wink to the audience.

A fun piece of wartime informational propaganda, though I'm not sure whether the message that you should take care of yourself because you don't just let yourself down, you put your whole squad in danger takes second place to the idea that if you let your mates come down with various diseases you'll have a better chance of getting with their girls when you come back home!


Last edited by colinr0380 on Thu Mar 12, 2009 12:05 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Wed Mar 11, 2009 2:05 pm 
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The People At No. 19 (1949)

This film has more shocking plot twists and revelations than a murder mystery! A young man comes home to where he is living with his wife's parents. After a couple of jokes about marriage play on the radio, he jokes with his mother-in-law about their evening meal while she counters with the comment that when the couple get a place of their own she will be able to listen to the radio in peace. It is clear that they have an open and affectionate relationship though. Ken talks about having looked at a house that day but the initially cheap price for it turned out to be down to having to buy the furniture too.

As the clock chimes and the comedy programme on the radio finishes to be replaced with light and happy music the mother wonders where Joan has been, saying that she had been acting funny recently. She says she knows the signs after having three children of her own, and Ken lets her in on the secret that she has been to the doctor for some blood tests to confirm whether she is pregnant or not. Mum is excited and proud to have her suspicions confirmed and goes to check whether she still has some baby clothes.

Ken then turns the radio from light music to a darker toned piece and immediately sees Joan standing distraught in the doorway. Ken guesses that there may have been a mistake in diagnosing the pregnancy after she says ominously "It couldn't happen to me", but Joan says sombrely that there has been no mistake. As Ken tries to take her hand she shrinks damatically from him with a cry of "No!", the music from the radio swells melodramatically, causing Ken to go back and turn it off.

Standing away from her he asks whether not having a baby is what is upsetting her. Joan responds that she is going to have a baby and in answer to his next question that the doctor says he thinks that it will be normal. After Ken asks whether it is a health problem she has, she states that the doctor thinks she will be fine.

Ken seems relieved and tries to reassure her about the fears she is obviously having about her pregnancy. But she is not scared, still refuses to be touched and wants to leave the house. Not to go and celebrate with "all those dirty people" but to live on her own away from Ken. After more pressing from Ken, during which she is threateningly brandishing a bread knife, she finally blurts out why she is so upset even though "You must know anyway. But the doctor made me promise to tell you". The doctor wants to see Ken because "you gave it to me!" When Ken still thinks she is talking about the baby she spits out contemptuously "Not the baby....Syphilis!", just as her mother enters the room.

Joan falls into her mother's arms and sobs while her mum consoles her saying to Ken that "It's just like I was". We focus in on the mother's hands laying out the woolens to causally taking the bread knife from her daughter to make sure she doesn't hurt anyone.

Ken then begins to talk about how much of a change this is and mentions that he ran into one of Joan's old friends, a Doris who according to Joan's mother "came to no good". Ken says she was just walking up and down and that he remembered Joan saying how good a friend Doris was to her while he was away in the army, over a shot of Joan's tears drying. Mum says that Joan threw her over when Doris got "into bad ways" to which Ken responds that they stuck together quite a while in any case. After her mother says that "you know my Joan for what she is" he pointedly says "You're right there mum".

One of the interesting things is that we are left wondering exactly how much the parents are aware of the situation the couple are in. Mother could either be completely aware of the situation or just be thinking that they are going over old wounds because of the baby. She leaves the room after asking them not to fight, which of course they immediately do. In response to Joan's "It must be you. It must be. You were in the army all that time", Ken says she has jumped to conclusions and reveals that he had been thoroughly checked out before they were married.

Suddenly the tables are turned and Joan talks of one night on holiday with Doris when they met up with a couple of her friends and fooled around. It is Ken's turn to start brandishing a butter knife as he wonders how he could ever believe her after these lies. Thinking of the child they now have Joan says that "it will be all right if I get it tended to. And you too" leading Ken to wonder whether they can patch up a marriage as well just as their father enters.

After joking with mother about his rampant alcoholism, father talks of meeting a guy with a furnished flat for sale. After being told he is to be a grandad he responds excitedly as the couple despair in silence. When he tells them to go round and talk to the man about the flat Ken says he will go around alone, raising the possibility that their marriage is over and he will be the one moving out. However as he puts his coat on in the darkened hallway and prepares to leave Joan calls after him and asks him to wait for her. As a slight musical theme begins she closes the door on the light coming from her parent's living room, raising the possibility of some kind of future together even if it can never be as idyllic as that of her parents.

I really liked this film for the way it constantly shifts blame between the couple, raises stereotypes only to show that they do not universally apply and eventually asserts that the damage that venereal disease causes is just as importantly emotional and to trust in relationships rather than purely medical in nature. I found the final moments of the film quite touching in sketching in a slight hope for the future, though without forgetting the possibility of the worst occuring. It is that frightening uncertainty that the film so beautifully captures with the hope that, as in finding a flat, the couple may get help from others and have a better chance at successfully overcoming their problems if they face them together rather than alone.


Last edited by colinr0380 on Sat Mar 14, 2009 10:54 am, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 12, 2009 1:08 pm 
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Growing Girls (1949)

Or everything you always wanted to know about menstruation but were afraid to ask! We get introduced to Mary who at 13 is about to become a young woman. After a segue into the farmyard to illustrate young animals growing into adults there is a brief description of adolescence showing Mary's mother and her friends of different ages going swimming. Hens laying eggs is contrasted with other animals developing babies inside their bodies.

We are then shown through illustrated diagrams the changes in a girls body through puberty to prepare her for motherhood. The film then further describes the womb and ovaries, and then the monthly cycle of ovulation, the uterus lining filling with blood in preparation for potential fertilisation and then the period occuring if there is no fertilisation.

We then get to the case study portion of the film as Mary leaves school while the narrator continues to talk about menstruation being a natural cycle and gives the range of ages between which it normally occurs. Mary fills in her diary with the time of her period to note which time it would be likely to occur the next month, although while she does this the narrator talks about them being irregular at first before they settle down into a regular cycle. We are then shown the supply of sanitary pads Mary has. They disappear one by one while the importance of changing them regularly and proper methods of disposal are discussed.

The film then moves to a shop where Mary is buying her next months' supply of pads with her mother. Different sizes for individual comfort and protection and ways of attaching them are discussed by the narrator as the shop assistant lays out various sized packets. The narration emphasises that while there is an average duration of a period that it can vary from person to person. It also mentions consulting a doctor if the period is particularly heavy, lasts more than five days or causes severe pain. As they leave the shop Mary hands her items to her mother and goes to play with one of her friends.

There is then a sequence emphasising hygiene through frequent bathing and how to avoid chafing. As Mary yawns while reading her book in front of the fire, kisses her mother goodnight and goes to bed early, the narration describes tiredness as a natural occurrence during menstruation.

Rules of acceptable diet to keep continent (water, fruit, brown bread and vegetables, all appearing on the dinner table in jump cuts in front of a shocked Mary!) and keeping feet dry are given, so that a girl avoids disrupting the rythyms of the body during her period. The narrator states that while swimming is best avoided (for the risk of the water giving a chill) any other sports can be played if she feels like it. A hot drink is suggested as the best thing to have if some discomfort is felt early in a period that cannot simply be ignored.

Following all this Mary is shown having passed through her period for that month and energetically swimming with her friends.

The film is quite briskly efficient in its combination of dry narration and putting this information into real world practice involving Mary with both of the sections tied together by the constant narration. One of the invaluable pieces of information provided by the essay in the booklet, which somewhat changed the view I had of the film, was that the sponsor of the film was a 'sanitary wear manufacturing company', which causes the scene which goes into great detail about how and where to buy the pads, as well as how to dispose of them (in a special bin that happens to be made by the same company) to feel more like an early infomercial than providing a purely altruistic piece of advice! Though I suppose this has a wider relevance even today when concerns arise over private companies with their own commercial agendas being brought in to the classroom environment, and how that might affect what is taught. Not to mention that the same debate between public and private partnerships goes on in the medical sphere as well.

Most of the rest of the advice seems rather vague (eat well, sleep regularly, keep clean and dry and have hot drinks) and could be applied to any situation, not just menstruation!


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PostPosted: Fri Mar 13, 2009 3:55 pm 
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Learning To Live (1964)

"Let's start at the beginning, which is the right place to start"

As some jaunty music plays, Learning To Live opens with what could be described as an over optimistic foreword, suggesting that sexual ignorance is a major source of human misery and hoping that a franker attitude to sex will lead to a more enlightened society. Unfortunately anyone with a smutty mind may then immediately be laughing in a very unenlightened way when it turns out that this film was made by the Educational Film Unit of the London Rubber Company! This does however raise an expectation that finally contraception might be discussed, expectations that are sadly not fulfilled.

As the rest of the credits run we are shown pen and ink pictures of babies crawling around (with one looking as if they are going to goose the other!); young kids playing at the beach, older children drawing; young teens in strictly divided male and female groups (the girls playing with a skipping rope and the boys football - after the previous tableaus showing children co-operating irregardless of their sex, I found this quite a depressing turn for the worse!); as the music turns from noodling xylophone notes to 50s styled guitar strumming we get to a group of girls and boys eyeing each other up and finally to them finally dancing together in a nightclub setting.

We then move to the film proper, which opens on what seems to be a groovy dance occuring in a village hall. There are a whole lot of quiffs going on in this scene (well, ok just the one!) A girl finishes dancing and wanders over to the table, making a bee-line for the bequiffed chap, while his three other companions also start chatting her up. The narration then begins, either lecherously or patronisingly describing her as a "Lucky girl. She's one of the popular ones. Pretty too, and quite a figure. Lucky girl". She's apparently also training for her dream job - of course as a hair stylist.

She is then shown being taught how to drive by her fiancée (I wonder if she's told him about cruising the village halls of an evening!) described in the narration as a "Lucky boy" and training to be an engineer.

"...and they're both learning to live. Lucky pair"

As Tina and Eric relax at home and listen to records, the narrator states that people do not expect to learn how to drive or their chosen profession without being taught, so why should sex be any different? However rather than taking the naughtier approach this implies of throwing in a older and more experienced couple in with our squeaky clean young couple to teach them the facts of life, this film instead takes the textbook approach in providing a few basic tenets to follow in order to correctly put together your new shelving unit -ah! - I mean to correctly enjoy sex (though "ignorance or incomplete knowledge" in putting together piece of DIY furniture could similarly be said to have "wrecked many a marriage and ruined many a life"!)

We move back to childhood where the differences between the sexes are shown in a scene which could be seen to be perpetuating stereotypes of the differences between the sexes - the boy is lazing around lying on his back (ok, so he's a baby but still!) and the girl immediately removes all her clothes and runs around the room naked! The importance of answering children's questions about their differences wisely and frankly is mentioned.

Then the film moves to a playground where the boys and girls are already starting to move apart and only play with other members of their sex. The narrator describes these divisions as being more related to social custom and upbringing than anything more ingrained.

We then move to illustrated diagrams of a boy and a girl. The main function of a boy's penis before puberty is apparently to allow them to urinate on trees. The narrator then goes on to label the parts of the boy's and girl's bodies by saying that "they almost certainly don't know that it is called...", which would seem a little patronising for those children who do know the technical names for their private parts (surely if their parents had been open and honest with any questions earlier on, as the film previously suggested they should be, then the children would know the basic terms?)

The changes in puberty are illustrated by the boy turning into a GI Joe doll and the girl into a Barbie doll facsimile. We are also told that a girl will find that "a well-developed bosom becomes part of her charms", though it then also goes on to describe breast feeding.

The film then moves to discussing how people grow up mentally. The opposite sex suddenly becomes more interesting, causing teenagers to spend long periods of time in front of the mirror either applying make up or making sure the quiff is looking perfect. It also makes people show off to impress the opposite sex, illustrated by a young man lifting a chair above his head by its leg (who knew that girls could be so easily impressed? It probably helps that this scene takes place in a bar I suppose!)

A couple are then shown exchanging flirtatious glances before the boy approaches the girl's table and they start to talk. The narrator talks about these changes at puberty occurring in order to allow humans to reproduce.

The film then tackles the subject of families: "It didn't take civilised man long to discover that the only workable way to use this remarkable power was for a man and a woman to pair off and to raise their children as a family. And whatever else we say here, we must recognise that our society accepts the married state as right and regards sexual intercourse outside marriage as irresponsible and possibly disastrous". So unfortunately unmarried couples or single mothers are out of luck (of course there will be no mention of contraception that allows a couple to make love for other reasons than wanting a baby, and most definitely no mention of homosexual relationships).

The film softens these comments a little when the narrator says that it is an matter for individuals to decide for themselves how to act and they are not trying to influence anyone (!) ("Facts are our business just now"), but then immediately leaves no doubt yet again where it stands in saying that you "can use your knowledge with responsibility and real love or you can use it wantonly and with mere animal appetite" (I wonder if some audience members immediately chose the wanton and animal appetite route since the film apparently allowed them to choose it!)

Back to the diagrams. The insides of the woman are labelled, ovulation and menstruation are described. Then the same with the man as sperm production, semen and erections are also described. From the diagram showing the penis inside the vagina we go to a wonderfully coy live action scene of a man in pyjamas sitting on the edge of the bed while a woman lies with the sheets tucked around her neck (though with her hand and wedding ring prominently displayed above the sheets!) He places his cup of tea next to hers on the nightstand and kisses her forehead tenderly - thus are babies conceived!

Actually the descriptions over the diagram are dryly informative, but I just cannot understand why that live action scene was inserted there! Though the apparently critically important role that cups of tea play in the sex act puts a whole new spin on the comment in Growing Girls that you should "see if a hot drink is on offer" during your period!

We return to the diagrams and the sperms flooding through the cervix into the womb, meeting the egg and just one sperm fertilising it. The egg moves to the womb, beds into the tissue, grows into a baby, is pushed through the vagina and "the sex act has reached its intended end".

We are shown a newly born baby placed in the arms of its mother. In a shocking move the narrator actually does mention contraception, albeit obliquely and without naming names: "It is now permissible for man and wife to enjoy the mutual pleasure of sexual intercourse while taking steps to try to avoid a baby inevitably following. But most of us do realise that irresponsible sex acts between unmarried people, even when precautions are taken, may lead to a fatherless baby - one of life's real tragedies".

Young couples are advised to consult doctors before a marriage so that they can be provided with interesting literature to read (presumably while tucked up in bed with a cup of tea!) It seems like a development of the idea of giving yourself a thorough checkup before marriage in case of venereal disease, though VD is never mentioned in this film. Similarly there is said to be no excuse at this time for jeopardising marriage by being ignorant of 'the facts'.

As a young couple leave their doctor's appointment the narrator talks about the film not having touched on all aspects of sex, and that the film has treated the body as if it were a machine (there is a nice parallel here to the couple getting into their car) while leaving emotions to one side, "which you really can't do". I would argue that the narration of Learning to Live has been rather too emotional in the way it approached its subject with an extremely conservative approach to its subject and clearly defined ideas of right and wrong attitudes to sex.

As the couple drive off the importance of stable and secure marriage is emphasised again set against the fleeting, unsatisfactory pleasures of casual sex. The car disappears down the road as the happy jazzy music plays.

While the film was interesting and presented all the facts, it did feel very moralistic and preachy - more so than Whatsoever A Man Soweth in a way. Learning To Live is taking the good cop/bad cop approach to telling the viewer one second that you have a choice yet then immediately slapping you down with its opinion of the only correct way to act. You can act to the contrary, the film seems to say, but you will be damned for it.

It was also interesting to note Claire Rayner's name in the end credits of the film. She would later go on to become a relatively well known agony aunt figure. Of course this now gives me the opportunity to link again to her appearance on Brass Eye, where she seemed to have been fooled by a faked Japanese TV commercial!


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PostPosted: Sat Mar 14, 2009 9:49 am 
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Her Name Was Ellie, His Name Was Lyle (1967)

This film opens with a young man walking into a drugstore in New York and asking for penicillin. After not being able to produce a prescription the desperate youth tries to steal the medicine but is caught by the attendant. The youth says that he must have caught something from his girl. The attendant listens sympathetically but insists that the man go to see a doctor or to the local health centre for help.

After the main titles we move to a basketball court. We see the young man, Bruce, playing while his girl Laura looks on. Unfortunately he seems distracted from both by more pressing issues, and gets some sarcastic remarks about his performance from the rest of the team in the locker room afterwards! We see a cluster of girls waiting outside, who pair off with their boyfriends as they leave and commiserate with them about the game, leaving Laura behind to wait for Bruce.

Eventually he leaves too and meets up with Laura, who seems upset that he is being aloof with her. Bruce makes a comment that he has to study for an exam and leaves her in the lurch. At home he does not appear to be doing much studying, just washing continually and going to bed early. When his father worriedly asks him if he is acting so strange because he has gotten Laura pregnant, this prompts Bruce to ask whether he knew a lot of girls before his mother. About to ask another question of his father, Bruce thinks twice and ends their conversation. The bewildered parents can only continue wondering whether he is having problems with drugs or girls and that he does not feel able to talk to them. The mother casually states "whatever it is, he'll get over it".

We next see Bruce checking in the phone book for the address of the local health centre. He gives his details first to a nurse and then the doctor, stating that he worries he has syphilis since finding a sore. The doctor examines him and sends some samples to the lab (with an nerve wracking shot of the doctor putting on a pair of rubber gloves!) A lab technician matter of factly stating "Number 35. Spirochaetes" and we see them through the microscope.

The nurse returns with the results and the doctor tells Bruce that he does have syphilis and it will not take long to treat. He gives Bruce an injection and then tells him to go down the hall and talk to the "health representative", who will ask him a number of questions in complete confidentiality.

When Bruce meets this representative he initally acts hostile to the questions of where he might have contracted the disease, stating sarcastically "from a toilet seat". The representative counters by saying that gonorrhoea and syphilis cannot be contracted from toilet seats or door knobs, but through sex. He also states that "you don't get rid of them by passing them on to someone else", suggesting that being cured is fine but that they also need to get the person who infected Bruce in for testing, whether that is a woman or a man.

Bruce responds that he knows exactly who he got it from. The health representative also tells him that he wants him to give the names of the sexual partners he has been with since getting infected so that they can also be tested. Bruce angrily states that he has only been with "one girl, one time, five weeks ago", gives the name of the girl as Ellie Barnes but asks if he can talk to her first before they get in contact with her to which the representative agrees.

Bruce then goes to the diner where Ellie works. She is happy but a little surprised to see him and they both go to a booth. Ellie here seems characterised as not a particularly good worker if her colleague's cutting remarks about her "drawing a pay check" (the implication being that this is all she does!) and "Honey, somebody's got to take care of them" when Ellie asks her to look after the customers while she talks to Bruce, are to be taken at face value.

Bruce breaks the news to Ellie, who sympathises with him ("Of all the lousy luck...I had a friend who thought he had it, but it went away") but doesn't realise that he got it from her until her explicitly tells her. She of course reacts badly to this until she is told there is no other way he could have gotten it. Bruce tells her that the health centre will be in touch with her to examine and treat her syphilis. When she begs for Bruce to tell them that it wasn't her, he refuses to do so.

Ellie is then shown being tested and asking why she didn't see any sores. The doctor tells her that it could have been internal and the symptoms would have disappeared after a month. This is said to be something that often leads people to think that they are cured but the disease can always come back if left untreated. The doctor thinks that Ellie is in this secondary stage of syphilis, checks for rashes, swellings, sores, headaches or fever. Ellie feels fine but the doctor insists on a blood test,

After Ellie's weak protestation that "I hate needles!" and as she dresses from the physical exam, the doctor tells her that if left untreated she could find the disease occuring with devastating consequences of blindness, and of course if she ever got pregnant she would pass it on to her child.

We return to the lab to show the results being processed and then after she receives the positive result ("This is one test I wish I could have flunked!") Ellie talks with the health representative about her sexual history. Despite her comment that she has an "awfully bad memory" the representative continues to press her for information. She describes meeting a guy, Charlie Harrison, at a party the previous Spring who later got married. After a lapse dissolve (to imply a lot more names, certainly Ellie's is a more complicated case than Bruce's!), she mentions a man named Lyle. She doesn't know his last name but "he's one guy who knows how to take care of himself". The health representative is unmoved by this and states that thinking that way is one reason why venereal disease is so widespread. He asks whether these are all of Ellie's contacts, because anyone she leaves off is in danger, and capable of infecting others.

We cut back to Laura walking disconsolately through the park, intercut with shots of Bruce doing the same thing. She calls his home and speaks to his father, who hasn't seen Bruce either. They eventually meet up at school. Bruce is still offhand with her, trying to brush off her need to know what is wrong by saying he is running late for basketball practice. This leads Laura to give back her ring to him. She demands he talks to her about the situation then and there if they want to stay a couple. Bruce then goes into the girl he went out with only once the previous month after he and Laura had an argument. When Laura wonders whether his hesitancy with her was due to wanting to be with this other girl, Bruce has to come clean about catching syphilis from Ellie.

He begs her not to leave him after she is upset that he never told her that he may have passed the disease on to her, stating that "I hoped you hadn't gotten it". Upset that he decided this for her ("I love you";"If you hated me you couldn't have done better"), she walks off.

We see Laura at her doctors having taken a blood test to make sure that she does not have VD. Her doctor gives her a lecture on responsibility and tells her "there is only one protection against venereal disease. I'm sure you know what it is".

Ellie receives a call from the health representative to tell her that they've traced all her contacts except for Lyle, and asking for her to try to remember his last name. We then cut to Lyle in the shower as his father (I assume) knocks on the door to tell him that a Veronica is on the phone. He says to tell her he will see her at eight. The image then dissolves to Lyle and Veronica walking down the street as a narrator intones "Somewhere in this city, or wherever he is, the missing Lyle P. or Lyle T. remains potentially dangerous to himself and the community". The couple walk up the steps to a house.

Then we see Lyle smartening himself up in the mirror, removing pictures he has put in the frame of himself and other girls, including Ellie, and sticking the picture of his next unwitting target onto his mirror with sore covered hands! Quite a dark ending!

In addition to Amy Taubin as Laura the guy who plays Bruce, John Pleshette, seems to have had an interesting career playing small roles in films like Rocky II, S.O.B. and The Truman Show! (though the booklet seems to imply that he directed Rocky II rather than just playing the role of a director within the film!)

This film addresses some of the issues that I had with Trial For Marriage and Test For Love where the loose natured people who pass on venereal diseases are pushed out of the story so that the films can focus on an 'innocent' protagonist being tested and cured of their affliction. It seemed strange to me that those earlier films put forward a message of removing ignorance while not doing anything about trying to contact previous partners. There seemed to be the implication in the earlier films that the "bad girl" or boy are fully aware of having V.D. and enjoy passing it around, so they are somehow not worth warning or treating. At least, while Ellie is still portrayed as a rather unsympathetic character (though not as unsympathetic as the potential serial killer on the prowl Lyle!), she is still considered to have an important part to play in tackling venereal disease and should be treated herself.

However we are still left with the impression that the next person above her in the chain of venereal disease is the 'truly evil one'!


Last edited by colinr0380 on Sat Jan 16, 2010 7:20 pm, edited 3 times in total.

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PostPosted: Sat Mar 14, 2009 11:55 am 
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Colin's synopsis above and doctor's reactions to STD reminded me of a visit which I made to a urologist called Mr Dick (I kid you not). I had had a nasty bout of prostatitis and after the rubber gloves went on Mr Dick looked at me searchingly and asked if I had partaken of anal sex. Noting my face freeze he added reassuringly,
'Well the vagina can be a pretty hostile place".
Now there's a title for volume 2


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PostPosted: Sun Mar 15, 2009 12:05 pm 
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Growing Up (1971)

So now we come to the controversial film of the set, the one responsible for both the 18 rating of the DVD and mountains of hate mail, some of which are reproduced in the booklet.

Growing Up takes a similar approach to Learning To Live, beginning by talking about the differences between men and women and outlining the gender roles. The idea expressed here that "Men are better at giving birth to thoughts and ideas. They are, in fact, usually more inventive and creative" as a man directs his secretary to do his bidding might be the source of some controversy itself now! However the film then does mention that the gender boundaries are being blurred somewhat in modern society as women are going out to work more ("They are, in fact, more ambitious") and men can stay at home and take care of the children without embarrassment.

In an admirable speech the narrator states the themes of the film and that: "By knowing more about yourselves, it is hoped that you will be able to enjoy making love when you are ready, and also be able to avoid making babies until you want them". This will not be the film's only mention of contraception (perhaps in response to the availablility of the pill for women in the 60s forcing the issue more) and is finally a step forward in acknowledging this subject.

We see the differences between baby boys and girls and the ways the genders are put into different clothes to emphasise the differences between them. The film then introduces the concept of adolescence as the "bridge between being a child and being grown up" and then talks about the changes that occur in puberty that give them the ability to reproduce. Another admirable comment in this section that could bear no end of repeating is that "mental growth, or learning, never ceases. This goes on throughout life".

The one problem with using live models (in this case pairs of males and females as young children, teenagers and fully grown adults) to demonstrate anatomy is that when the diagrams are used to illustrate the inner workings of the body they are rather less detailed and specific than those from Learning To Live, where they had to perform all the tasks themselves. For example while the earlier film had a detailed diagram of the female's external sex organs, this film can only focus on the girl's pudenda as they describe the vulva, clitoris and so on (No wonder young men have such trouble finding it if this was the only map they were given of the area!) At least this film actually mentions the clitoris though! Unfortunately the opposite is the case in terms of the male where the genitalia are of course on full view all the time and difficult to miss!

There is also the situation where the main models are shown naked in full body poses and then the camera moves in to focus on various areas which seem to have been performed by a number of different faceless volunteers, usually for obvious reasons of showing variations in sex characteristics. However this did remind me a lot of that Catherine Breillat film Anatomy of Hell where Amira Casar is often shown nude but the anatomical close ups are performed by faceless 'body doubles', leading to the feel of a strange disconnect between wider and closer shots of ostensibly the 'same' body.

The film then talks about endochrine glands releasing hormones that begin changes in puberty, the pituitary gland being in control of these changes and mentions oestrogen and testosterone as the hormones for each sex. According to the booklet Dr Martin Cole, who directed, scripted and narrated the film, was a lecturer in genetics and human reproduction at Aston University at the time, which might explain this more in depth sequence on hormones.

An erect penis is briefly shown, which then fades to a diagram showing the production of sperm. The diagram for the girl is returned to to describe menstruation.

Adolescent behaviour is described next, as boys and girls find they "simply want to be together more". A boy and a girl masturbate in their respective bedrooms which the narrator describes as "a natural and healthy sexual outlet for adolescents for a number of years". The girl in this sequence hides her face, which seems strange compared to the way the boy is shown, but after reading the reactions in the booklet to that scene it seems like a sad indictment of the taboos against female masturbation held at the time.

Close up views of the fully developed adult sex organs are shown as the narrator talks about the various ages at which puberty can occur and that "no particular body build can be said to be normal. All that can be stressed is that there is a range of 'normals'."

The narrator then talks about these characteristics having an appeal to the opposite sex and the film moves to its description of sexual intercourse. As a couple make love on the screen the narrator, amusingly sounding like a particularly verbose onlooker (I kept expecting the couple to break apart as in 'Ave You Got A Male Assistant Please, Miss and ask if he could quiet down as he was distracting them!), describes the mechanism of the sexual act. The image fades into a diagram illustrating orgasm and the sperm entering the vagina with the possibility of fertilising an egg and causing pregnancy (this goal being reached signified by a flashing red light!)

As a young lady, bra strap hanging from one shoulder, plays with a child in a kitchen the narrator says: "Boys and girls often have sexual intercourse long before they are ready to have babies. There is nothing wrong with this, and many people believe that sexual experience in adolescence is essential for normal development." A pot of milk boils over on the stove and as the girl brushes her hair out of her face sadly and the child is shown crying the narrator says that without using the contraceptive pill or a condom, the girl is very likely to become pregnant. "Unmarried teenagers don't make the best parents. It is neither fair on yourself, or your child, that you should become parents so young...Never make love without taking precautions"

It seems that the main reason the film was the cause of so much controversy was that instead of using drawings illustrating the changes through puberty, it had the temerity to actually use live models to illustrate its points. It also broke the boundaries (at least if the other films on this set are anything to go by) in talking about sex for pleasure - in this case masturbation and contraception. Masturbation is again illustrated through live models rather than dry talk and line drawings, as a man and a woman disinterestedly play with themselves in their separate bedrooms filmed in an extreme long shot.

While I still have some problems (not as many as I had with Learning To Live though!) with what the film omits to talk about rather than the way it deals with what it does talk of, I think this is still one of the more influential sex education films up to the present day and certainly did not deserve the hate mail it received. I seem to remember the sex education films that I saw in the mid 90s (shown not at school but on the BBCs late night 'Learning Zone' programmes for schools) seemed to use the basic structure of this film, and used live models to illustrate anatomy both in the films aimed at older children/young teenagers and older teens. The programme aimed at older teens also frankly discussed masturbation along with homosexuality, contraception, AIDS and venereal disease as well as attitudes people have towards their own bodies in discussion sequences. While in some ways it shied away from showing erections and full frontal masturbation unlike Growing Up (the male and female models, after showing all in a shower to illustrate anatomy similarly retire to their respective bedrooms but play with themselves under their sheets), the masturbation scenes focused on describing the reactions of the body and emphasising that it was not something to be ashamed of, while the models themselves at least looked like they were enjoying what they were doing more! So while in a sense you see less anatomy than in Growing Up, the mid 90s film I watched focused more on the emotional side of the act.

I suppose that is the difficult balancing act all sex education films have to face - emphasising bodily functions or the emotional effects of sex. Going too far in one direction or the other can overbalance the film into being either too clinical or too specifically emotional (I find the return in more recent sex education films to showing dramatised case studies of individuals to have tipped the balance back a little too far towards the more emotional and individualistic response, without imparting the necessary basic information)

And this is of course all before we get to lobby groups or cultural decisions of what is 'acceptable' to talk to the children about and what is not. Obviously a lot of people thought that Growing Up went too far as illustrated by the letters in the booklet! I don't know whether it is more disturbing or just hilarious to see letters that have been typed in neat paragraphs, with their spewed invectives well punctuated, after having been used to the idea that hate mail was often badly spelt. I got the impression of a couple of rather proper elderly ladies sitting in their beautifully turned out living room, as one asks the other "Enid, I'm just writing this letter to that doctor who made the sex education film. Can you tell me if 'cock-sucking' is one or two words, or is it hypenated?"

Unfortunately it looks as if even Enid could not spell 'buggered' correctly in the line "I suggest in your next film you show yourself buggerred by a long-haired hippy"!


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PostPosted: Mon Mar 16, 2009 9:06 am 
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Don't Be Like Brenda (1973)

The happy and bouncy music that runs over the titles of this film contrasts sharply with the sobering narration that begins "Brenda was just 17. Everyone liked her and she had a promising life before her". Uh-oh!

We see Brenda happily doing her hair in front of the mirror before leaving home to meet her boyfriend in front of a train station. The narrator states that "it was one of those thrilling affairs that make everything seem like a glorious dream", as we see the couple kiss and move into an extremely soppy nature montage (sun shimmering through trees, soft focus) as the couple continue to kiss and run through the woods in slow motion as romantic music plays, then happily fall on the ground together in a open area and cuddle. This poor girl has a terrible shock in store!

We next see Brenda waiting at the station for her boyfriend, in contrast to the earlier scene when he was waiting for her. As she bites her lip in worry the narrator wonders for her "How will he greet her news? She was going to have a baby...How much did he really care for her?" The couple sit and talk on a park bench as the narrator again speaks for the silent couple, saying that Gary is understanding and that while his parents would be upset they would run away together. He leaves by telling Brenda he will call her the next night.

We see Brenda waiting expectantly for the call, with clock and telephone prominently placed in the scene. As the tense music rises (in a similar manner to Love On Leave it takes up the sound of the clock, though in this case the fast paced ticking rather than the chimes of the hour) and she begins to smoke (perhaps the major signifier of this being a very different era!), the edits between the looming telephone and her worried face become faster and faster until brief flashbacks to meeting Gary at the station also feature. At the height of this tension (and as Gary snaps a twig he's holding in the flashback) the telephone rings. It is Gary's mother and suddenly the characters speak for the first time as the mother tells Brenda to "Get out of Gary's life, you little slut!", says he is getting married to a "nice girl" and threatens her with the police if she tries to contact him again. Brenda throws herself onto the couch dramatically, sobbing.

Now Brenda takes over the narration as we move forward to after she has had the baby. As sad music builds and she walks to a large building she tells us that she called her boy Alan and decided the best thing was to have him adopted. It turns out this place is the National Children's Home as Brenda talks about there being seven couples waiting to adopt for every baby and that this will be the best thing for him. She says her farewells to the baby and leaves him at the home.

The depressing male narrator returns stating "but it didn't go as Brenda planned", and begins talking about those children who are rejected by prospective parents due to a "physical or mental defect". We see Alan as just one of many babies as the narrator talks of a heart condition being discovered that made adoption difficult to arrange. He is moved to a bigger home where "babies who are unlikely to be adopted can remain...He would be cared for but he would have to grow up in the world with no real family of his own. No one he could truly call mother. In one unthinking moment Brenda had spoiled two lives - her own and her child's"

As Alan is bathed by the staff at the home we hear his gurgles and splashes of water underneath the image of Brenda holding the telephone to her ear. Over this the narrator continues to admonish her for taking risks by not planning for children.

We move to another couple leaving a church after just being married. The couple and their family pose happily for the photographer. "Don't you think that it is wiser to wait for that real love affair that's there in the future for you? So...don't be like Brenda." The scene cuts back to Brenda walking up to the home and cuddling her child for the last time. As she pushes the doorbell, the film ends.

Despite being made in co-operation with the National Childrens Home, as stated in the final title, you couldn't really paint a bleaker future for children left in care than this film does. I was also left feeling that it wasn't entirely right for Brenda to be so totally blamed for the situation in the end. OK, so she got taken in by the slow motion running through the woods, but really her boyfriend and his mother (who we see from behind on the telephone wearing a fur coat and dangly gold earrings) were even more responsible for leaving her in the lurch. Of course the possibility of abortion in such dire circumstances is never raised - this film again is much more concerned about shocking the viewer into being abstinent until marriage.


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PostPosted: Tue Mar 17, 2009 6:36 pm 
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'ave You Got A Male Assistant Please, Miss? (1973)

Since MichaelB has previously linked to the video of this short film, I'll go light on synopsis. I'm still unsure about the abrupt turn at the end from lighthearted comedy as the narrator interrupts a couple making love, forcing the young man to undertake a Benny Hill-style fast paced run to the local chemists and back to get a condom (from a male assistant though, naturally!), with the clumsy "There's no need to make an abortion of it" tagline! It seems a bit too flippant, and worryingly the only mention of abortion in the entire set of films is this throwaway joke!

So that completes The Joy of Sex Education. It has certainly been an enlightening journey, to say the least, in confirming some preconceptions and challenging others (the 70s seem like a particularly confused and muddled period). This set also highlights the need for such DVD collections to be well curated, in that a number of the films seemed to have been selected to build on ideas expressed earlier (such as How To Tell and The Mystery of Marriage different takes on the subject of talking about the birds and the bees, or Trial For Marriage and A Test For Love on the effects of VD on potential marriage), or to balance out the perspectives of other films (for example Learning To Live and Growing Up). The selection of films even allows us to see different 'motives' for producing the films and the way that can affect the approach to their material.

To add to that the booklet provides a lot of invaluable background information on the circumstances of production. I found the best way to tackle the films was to watch them without reading the booklet first and just letting them affect me as an audience member and then afterwards when re-watching each film to write them up here I finally read the notes on each film. It was interesting to see how reading up on the background affected my attitudes to the film. For example I initially had a positive reaction to Growing Girls and then felt rather negatively towards it after finding out its relationship to sanitary towel manufacturers - it highlighted those elements and caused the whole film to seem more like an advert!

Hopefully there may be further volumes ahead that maybe will cover more recent decades in sex education, or add in more films from the period already covered, or even cover other non-sex education related films about health.


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PostPosted: Mon Mar 29, 2010 11:44 am 
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Location: Worthing
Beaver (yes, I know...)


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PostPosted: Mon Mar 29, 2010 2:30 pm 
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Location: Chapel-en-le-Frith, Derbyshire, UK
I'd like to thank Mr Montgomery for the kind link back to this forum in that review. At least it is nice to feel that I've helped out in some way, even if I couldn't really tell my parents that I'm proud for my work in writing reviews of sex education films on the internet without blushing!

And so this is not an entirely empty post, here is a link to a BBC news report from when the films were first re-released!


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PostPosted: Wed Jan 26, 2011 8:03 pm 
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Re-release March 28th under the new title of The Birds and the Bees.


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PostPosted: Wed Jan 26, 2011 8:30 pm 
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Why the retitling?


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PostPosted: Thu Jan 27, 2011 8:16 am 
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Wild guess: The Alex Comfort estate weren't happy.


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