1. The canonical status of this key work of the British documentary movement is reaffirmed by the fact that it is one of the few films referenced by all five books reviewed here. Thomas Waugh inaccurately attributes it to John Grierson. Curiously Grierson himself, in spite of speaking highly of Housing Problems in his writing (and the fact that his sister Ruby Grierson worked on it), was vague about the film’s authorship – in a piece published in 1939 he attributed it (“I think I am right in saying”) to John Taylor, who was the cameraman. Grierson on Documentary, ed. Forsyth Hardy (New York: Praeger, 1966), p 215.  [return to page 1 of essay]

2. For example, Cowie writes that in A Day in the Life of a Coalminer, “Scenes are filmed in long shot with a single, fixed camera position,” but she herself illustrates a medium shot, and there are two very noticeable pans; in Housing Problems, the single-toilet facility is not something that Mrs. Hill points out.

3. Even in its details, Cowie’s critique is misleading. The claim that the film represents working mothers as “failing their children” can hardly be sustained, since it shows those women placing their children in the care of highly satisfactory (for the most part) child minders and nurseries; while the alleged “solution” – “its answer is for the children to become weekly or monthly boarders at nursery homes in the country” – is one which is suggested only for workers rostered on night shift or whose homes have been bombed, since others are well catered for by registered baby minders, nursery schools and day nurseries.

4. See Claire Johnston and Paul Willemen, “Brecht in Britain: The Nightcleaners and the Independent Political Film,” in Thomas Waugh, ed., “Show Us Life”:  Toward a History and Aesthetics of the Committed Documentary (Metuchen, N.J., and London: Scarecrow, 1984), esp. p 206.

5. See Mark Penny, “One on One with Annabel Chong,” Offscreen, 15 October 1999, (accessed 25 April 2011).
and Robin Askew, “Annabel Chong: Sex: The Annabel Chong Story,” Spike Magazine, 17 September 2010, (accessed 25 April 2011).

[return to page 2]

6. Lenin eliminated his political opponents through a reign of terror implemented by the Cheka. Dissidents were sent to concentration camps or killed. It is estimated that Cheka executions numbered 250,000 in the civil war years alone. See Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin, The Mitrokhin Archive: The KGB in Europe and the West (London: Allen Lane, 1999), p 37. See also Dmitri Volkogonov, Lenin: A New Biography (New York: The Free Press, 1994) and Richard Pipes, Russia under the Bolshevik Regime, 1919-1924 (London: Fontana, 1995). [return to page 3]

7. Edvins Snore demonstrates close correspondences between Soviet and Nazi iconography in his documentary The Soviet Story (Latvia, 2008).

8. See e.g. Robert Conquest, The Great Terror (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1971), pp 45-6.

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