Review for Look at Life: Volume 3 - Science
Picture it now. A smoky cinema, creaking seats and over-flowing ash-trays, people coming in late led by a girl with a pin-torch, the faint glow of the lady selling Kia-Ora and Cornish vanilla tubs in the far corner , the 'pa pa pa pa pa pa' of the Pearl and Dean adverts, the snoggers silhouetted in the back row, the crinkling sound of Smiths crisps packets being opened along with numerous sweets like Toffos, Spangles and Opal Fruits. Then it goes dark, there's a pause where nothing but white light set amongst the thick plumes of smoke accompanies the faint whir of sprockets running through the projector. And then the first support film starts. Well, I'll be jiggered. It's a short film about industrial plastics. Fan-bloody-tastic!!
For a certain generation, these perfect time capsules will evoke deep and satisfying memories of a time go and by - and completely baffle anyone who wasn't there at the time.
Of course, they were never intended to be administered in bulk, so I would heartily recommend (as your faithful DVD Doctor) that you take one time capsule a day only (or maybe two but no more) and wash it down with a healthy gulp of Kia-Ora.
'Look at Life' were regular cinema documentary films produced between 1959 and 1969 by the Special Features Division of the Rank Organisation to use in their many Odeon and Gaumont cinemas.
I think the idea was to pick a topic so dry that by the time the main feature was on you would be incredibly grateful and think it the most marvellous film you had ever seen.
They replaced the traditional newsreel (TV was beginning to take care of that) and were created in a way that meant they could be dusted off and re-played in a way that 'news' simply couldn't.
They were produced on 35mm film in Eastmancolor, and, having had the pleasure and privilege of working with one of the regular cameramen from the unit first-hand, were apparently a great training ground where really high production values were always maintained. Some of the hand-held camera work (in a pre-steadicam age) is really quite superb.
Ten minutes in length, each film took a 'gay magazine approach' to serious documentary subject. This set focuses on the 'science' releases which really accentuate the positivity behind British innovation and manufacturing of the time. Oh - how ironic it felt as I watched hundreds of plastic tables being made ready to ship to China!
There's a 'space-age' excitement to even the most mundane of industrial processes that naturally look outmoded and yesteryear when viewed with our modern 'iFishTwaddlerKindly' weary eyes.
The narration sounds very dated now, being very up-beat and gung-ho, and the scripts occasionally trite, explaining complex technology in a patronizing 'don't worry your simple heads with the details' kind of a way that would merely offend contemporary audiences.
But the whole thing positively oozes period charm, with often the most pleasing aspects of each film being, not the earnest discussion about polypropylene, but the funny jumper they're wearing, or the sight of an old magazine on a newsstand, or a teacher puffing way on a ciggie in a classroom or the clunky metallic knobs and dials that look like they belong in 'Lost in Space'.
Somebody once said that, rather than taking hundreds of photos over the years of beaches, the Eiffel tower and other popular landmarks, that they'd taken the time to document the details of everyday life. In a way, for those alive and kicking in the day, this really does the job.
Volume 3 - Science follows Volume 1 - Transport and Volume 2 - Military, and for my money is the most intriguing set so far, The value here is unquestionable. 45 unique films that you never dreamed you would see again all circa £25. That's money left over for some fish and chips and a tuppeny bus ticket in my book.
The transfer quality is really excellent, with occasional signs of wear and tear (which made it feel more real to me, having only caught the latter end of these as a lad, with prints that often unapolgetically jumped or had a hair caught in the gate).
It's incredible that over 500 episodes were produced altogether. This set is a perfect start point to collecting the lot, and for anyone who has purchased previous sets, well - you really won't be disappointed.
Who said time travel was impossible? You don't need a Hadron Collider for that!
Here's a run-down of the films you'll get.
FOLLOW THE STARS
There are many who follow the stars. Some believe they can indicate the future, while astronomers spend their nights observing the heavens through the great telescopes at Jodrell Bank.
A MARRIAGE IS ARRANGED...
How a marriage between steel and plastic is successfully forged at British steelworks.
A visit to the trial tunnel and a look at all the scientific research necessary.
The onward march of surgery - and the dedicated research behind the scenes of medicine.
A film about all the different things that need to be tested in Britain today.
MAKING A MEAL OUT OF IT
A film looking at various aspects of food, visiting research laboratories as well as taking a look at food from the turn of the century.
Every day is another step into the press-button age; this film shows how our lives are increasingly regulated by automation.
How the ceaseless battle with the sea is being fought with the aid of the Flood Warning System.
MEN WITH IDEAS
A film providing a fascinating insight into the machinery of patenting.
MYSTERY OF A FISH
From the River Axe in Devon, scientists catch every young salmon that swims downstream in an effort to map this species' incredible voyage.
A film exploring the research being done on rockets, for both peaceful purposes and defence.
THE LITTLE MENACE
A study of what is being done in medical research.
TROUBLE ON OILY WATERS
The dumping of oil waste in the sea has created a new menace along Britain's shoreline.
ANY OLD IRON?
This film turns the spotlight on the people who prepare salvaged steel for re-use, and on the steel foundries which melt it down again.
CAUGHT IN THE COLD
Every year, Britain gets caught in the cold; cities crawl to a standstill, and road and rail traffic is disrupted. Why does this happen in an age of scientific miracles?
FIGURE IT OUT
The story of computers: from electronic tape and punched cards, to austere-looking robots.
An interesting look at the new mechanised way of cleaning.
Pests come in all shapes and sizes, from the woodworm and grain weevil to the homely city pigeon. This film shows the research which goes on to control them.
BACK-ROOM OF THE SKY
At Boscombe Down, on the edge of Salisbury Plain, every part of a new plane is tested, and it is then flown to its operational limit. Not only are the aircraft tested, but also the men who fly them.
PEOPLE OF POWER
A close look at the operation of the Berkeley Nuclear Power Station.
This moving film shows an achievement in which science and humanity have combined to offer the 100,000 people in Britain who have lost a limb a chance to live happy and useful lives.
KEY OF THE DOOR
A look at the educational centres where training in technical subjects is aiming to keep pace with the demands of this scientific age.
YOU CAN'T CATCH MUCH FROM A FISH!
'Look at Life' went to see what the six months' compulsory quarantine means to the 3,000 dogs and 500 cats brought into Britain each year.
MEN UNDER PRESSURE
This exciting film shows the work of the men who build tunnels below water level, and the scientific and medical care that ensures they suffer no ill-effects from their unusual occupation.
FINGS ARE GETTING SMALLER
Taking a look at how everything is being reduced in size in the new compact age.
SALUTE THE ENGINEER
More and more engineers are needed to keep pace with developing industry; this film offers a glimpse of the wide range of jobs they undertake.
SO MUCH FLATTERY!
Few realise how far the art of imitation has developed. Synthetic furs and jewellery, artificial flowers and copies of great paintings, 'marble' made of laminated plastic, and that most quotidian of imitations - artificial teeth.
HAVING A BABY
A look at the medical and social services available for both hospital and home births.
POWER NEEDS NO PASSPORT
Stretching across Western Europe is a network of electric power stations, linked by the transmission lines that span a continent. This is the story of an ever-present problem: Europe's increasing need for electricity.
WEALTH UNDER THE SEA
A trip to the North Sea to follow the search for oil.
BY BREAD ALONE
A look at what is happening in the baking industry as scientists try to fi nd out why bread doesn't keep fresh longer and to solve the problem of staleness.
FRONTIERS OF MEDICINE
Machines are playing an increasing part not only in the treatment of disease, but also in helping to find out the causes of illness.
SUGARING THE PILL
Large numbers of pills are consumed every year; this film takes a look at the growth of the pharmaceutical industry.
BEATING THE RACKET
A look at what is being done to reduce noise levels.
WILL TAPS RUN DRY?
Much of Britain faces a water shortage every year. This film reveals the fascinating, complex business of ensuring that the taps don't run dry.
TREADING ON THE GAS
Following the ships that come from the Sahara Desert bringing methane gas.
BOXES OF TRICKS
The teaching machine - the educational box of tricks - is being used increasingly today in schools, universities and industry.
Britain's National Blood Transfusion Service came of age in 1967. It was the first of its kind in the world; Britain was and is today the best organised and equipped.
WHAT PRICE IDEAS?
Taking a look at the new inventions that are being made in Britain today.
A look at the dry-cleaning business and the work of the chemists behind it.
A revolution is taking place down on the farm - the machines are taking over, so that the modern farmer can operate his farm almost single-handed.
KEEPING TABS ON SPACE
A look at Britain's first spacecraft, UK3, and how it was created, tested and launched.
The brain drain, mainly in young scientists and engineers, has risen to a rate of 6,000 men a year. Why do they go?
NORTH SEA COMMUTERS
A film providing the background to the tapping of the vast supply of natural energy that Britain has discovered on her doorstep.
THEIR LIFELINE - THE NILE
A film about the colossal Aswan High Dam - Egypt's greatest hope for the future.