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The Strange Things Boutique




DVD. Network.

Look at Life vol. 3 - ScienceLook at Life existed in the 1960s gap between newsreels – rendered pointless by TV – and the ‘full supporting feature’ documentaries, travelogues and other shorts that would drive cinemagoers to distraction in the 1970s, before British production quotas were abolished and cinemas decided that they could make more money by dropping double bills and B-movies entirely. As such, these short (around ten minute) films are a curio by themselves – a relic from a cinema experience that no one under 35 will have any real memory of.
But the 45 films collected here, in the third of Network’s exhaustive collections, are also fascinating artefacts of a bygone age. With the theme of ‘science’ loosely connecting them, they are remnants of a type of filmmaking now long gone, of vintage social attitudes and – by their very nature – of educational information that has been made irrelevant by progress.

In fact, the most interesting thing about these shorts is now many of them could (just about) hold up as educational, even now. While time has marched on, a lot of the subjects here are still fairly relevant, something helped by the fact that the films don’t exactly delve into the subject at hand, but rather offer a cursory once-over, aiming more at entertainment than education. Add to this the thoroughly British take on things, and less of this has been made completely irrelevant than you’d think. Not that I would suggest buying these as a way of supplementing your children’s’ knowledge, however!

Stylistically, these films will seem familiar thanks to old films clips used on TV documentaries, movies etc – vivid colours, a fast-paced series of scenes and a loud, almost strident narration – occasionally by a well known name, but more often by a more anonymous voice-over artist – that excitedly enthuses about the subject at hand.

And what subjects! Here you can see the planning for the Channel Tunnel (planning that dragged on for decades), advances in surgery (squeamish viewers can relax – there’s no gore here), rocket science, people who salvage metals for sale (plenty of them still around, as anyone who has left broken electronics on the street outside their home could attest), the battles against pests (the animal kind), synthetic fur, the pharmaceutical industry and the ever-present problem of ‘the brain drain’, which just proves than many of the issues that our politicians and media fret over today have long been with us.

More fun for those of you looking for kitsch appeal are invariably dated studies of things like computers, miniaturisation, the British space programme – as embarrassingly rubbish then as now – and other things that have been rendered laughable by progress. Some of the rather dated attitudes and situations will raise a chuckle too – not only the stilted interviews that sometimes pop up, but moments such as the narrator excitedly describing a ‘gay scene’ in London during a film about combining plastic and steel. The fact that this allegedly cosmopolitan street scene, with two desperately fashionable women sitting at a grotty table in the middle of an equally grotty looking street, is so decidedly not gay in any sense of the word can’t help but amuse.

These films are best consumed in short bursts – two or three at a time, I’d suggest. Wading through any more, and they start to wear you down, but in short bursts, they are hugely entertaining. You could recreate yesteryear by watching one before settling down to a feature film, perhaps. In any case, this gargantuan 3 DVD collection is well worth picking up for nostalgics, historians and those of you with a taste for the unusual – as, I imagine, are the first two volumes...





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