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Arthur V. Johnson,
Spare Time is a great little film that shows a lot of little details about life in Britain in the late 1930s.
The film is narrated by the distinguished writer Laurie Lee (best known for Cider With Rosie) but he is only there to reflect on the meaning of spare time in general terms, and the film doesn't tell us what all the different activities taking place are, it simply shows them in elegant film clips.
The activities range from those still common today, to some traditional working-class pursuits that are now dying out, to the highly esoteric. People go cycling and watch sports, but there's also a lot of music making - from the colliery band to the millworkers' kazoo jazz band. There are also scenes of very serious-looking men drinking in a bar, and a pigeon fancier and a greyhound owner. Some sections flash by very quickly while others get a little more detail, particularly the kazooists parading with a woman dressed as Britannia.
Jennings focuses on three industries: a coal mine, steelworks, and a textile mill. Because only the third employs women, there's inevitably a focus on male leisure pursuits, but some of the activities of the women of the mill are shown, and there are details of children playing. But for those interested in women's social history, the film doesn't show a great deal of women's lives.
The documentary movement of the 1930s and the Mass Observation program both seemed to involve a new interest in documenting the lives of ordinary people, considering even the smallest detail of people's lives to be important. Sometimes you might get the impression that highly-educated middle-class people analysing working class lives might be patronising or even a tool of social control (and the Mass Observation movement did influence early market research and opinion polling in Britain) but Jennings is genuinely concerned with rendering the small, everyday facts of peoples lives and turning them into something truly poetic.
In contrast to Jennings' wartime surveys of the nation, such as Listen to Britain, there is no propagandist or overly patriotic aspect to the film. It is simply a collection of images of a nation at play, and fascinating and valuable because of that, as much as for its artistry.
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