sat 20/04/2019

DVD: How to be Eccentric - The Essential Richard Massingham | reviews, news & interviews

DVD: How to be Eccentric - The Essential Richard Massingham

DVD: How to be Eccentric - The Essential Richard Massingham

Long overdue tribute to a forgotten British film-maker

Richard Massingham contemplates a trip to France in 'Warning to Travellers'

Improbably described by the French archivist and critic Henri Langlois as “the greatest technician and the greatest poet of British cinema”, it seems incredible that Richard Massingham isn't better known. A doctor by training, his first shorts were made in the early 1930s as a weekend hobby, and he began shooting promotional and training films to make a living. Twenty two of them are collected here: they’re all highly watchable, the best combining rare technical skill with sardonic humour. Massingham‘s bumbling, childlike everyman stars in many of them, with a series of one-minute 1940s Public Information Films demonstrating such skills as crossing roads, using a handkerchief correctly, and taking a bath in only five inches of water.

The jokes have a cruel streak which hasn’t dated. An officious narrator in Coughs and Sneezes barks orders at a hapless, mute Massingham, tipping pepper over his head to induce sneezing. Pedestrian Crossing shows him seated for breakfast in the middle of a road, a car then driving straight into the table. These films are frequently very funny, particularly when Massingham turns his hangdog face straight at the camera. Several last barely a minute, and seeing how many ideas can be packed into just a few seconds shows just how smart he was – the tiny montage evoking a continental holiday in Warning to Travellers is an excellent example.

Longer works include Tell Me If It Hurts, a visually striking, largely wordless account of a painful trip to the dentist, and What a Life, a dryly witty attempt to convince audiences that life in post-war Britain wasn’t actually that bad. Massingham’s travails in The Cure will resonate with anyone who’s ever had a bad back; Introducing the New Worker shows factory managers how to treat young employees. The BFI's detailed booklet is a joy to read. Image and sound quality are excellent. Massingham apparently made 90 films. Can we have a second volume, please?

Overleaf: watch Richard Massingham's Coughs and Sneezes

 

The jokes have a cruel streak which hasn't dated

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Average: 5 (1 vote)

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