The British Documentary Movement on Film, 1930-1950

Housing Problems (1935).  Almost four decades before Basil Fawlty attempted a spot of DIY pest control, these residents of an Inner London slum did so under the watchful eye and very cumbersome ear (location sound recording equipment in the 1930s filled a large truck) of John Grierson’s Documentary Movement.  Though the filmmakers spun what they were doing as an exercise in social reform and public education, the movie was sponsored by The Gas, Light and Coke Company, as the sales pitch with which the film closes (that the way to solve housing problems is to build apartment blocks heated by gas) makes painfully obvious.  In his book Claiming the Real, Brian Winston characterizes much of the Documentary Movement’s 1930s output as consisting of “left-wing kudos, right-wing money and films of dubious social worth in the middle.”

Work Reviewed

Land of Promise: The British Documentary Movement on Film, 1930-1950, a DVD compilation published by the British Film Institute in 2008.


In Quarterly Review of Film and Video, vol. 27, no. 4 (June 2010), pp. 330-333; DOI 10.1080/10509200802371196


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