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directed by Various
UK 1910


From the impenetrably euphemistic to the breathtakingly explicit, this intriguing anthology takes us through 60 years of sex education in Britain from the 1910s to the 1970s. All 'unmentionable matters' pertaining to sex are dealt with, from the WW1 warning to soldiers about the dangers of cavorting with loose women in London's West End, 'Whatsoever a Man Soweth' (1917), to puberty pep-talks for girls on how to avoid pregnancy in 'Don't be Like Brenda' (1973).

Excerpt from BFI located HERE

DVD Reviews


DVD Review: BFI (2-disc set) - Region 2 - PAL

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Region 2 - PAL

Runtime 5:38:00 over 2-discs

1.33:1 Original Aspect Ratio
Average Bitrate: mb/s
PAL 720x576 25.00 f/s

Audio Silent, English (Dolby Digital 1.0)
Subtitles English
Features Release Information:
Studio: BFI

Aspect Ratio:
Fullscreen - 1.33:1

Edition Details:
• New scores by Magazine on two shorts
• 37 page fully illustrated booklet

DVD Release Date: February 9th, 2009
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"The Joy of Sex Education" is a real joy to watch. As the title implies, the set traces the British sex education film from the early part of the 20th century through to the early 1970s. The films themselves constitute a fascinating portrait that tell us a good deal about not only the topic at hand, but also larger societal implications. We see for instance, the concern that was placed on venereal disease in the days of WWI and the subsequent period of peace. The lack of an effective treatment (or even penicillin until 1928!) made syphilis and gonorrhea of particular concern. Not only could the soldiers not fight if infected, but an outbreak had the potential to create a fatal epidemic in the cities. Although we get some traces of it early on, the tone of the films generally shifts over time, leaving behind the moralizing and pragmatic arguments against sex and instead adopting a more enlightened approach toward the end of the release where the films operate under the theory that everyone has a right to know about sex and their own bodies. This latter approach reached its apotheosis in Dr. Martin Cole's "Growing Up" (the reason for the 18 rating on the set) which takes a frank and explicit look at sex and human development. As an interesting piece of textual information, the release's booklet contains several pieces of hate mail sent to Cole, accusing him of every imagined crime that they could muster. The films here are generally quite good, with a few real gems unearthed by the disc's producer. For a detailed analysis of each short, I recommend reading colinr0380's insightful and informative analyzes found HERE.

Although all of the films in the set have undergone new transfers, their is still a good deal of damage and instability in the individual films. This problem is particularly apparent in some of the earliest films in the set. Even though the later films are far cleaner, there are still some instances of noticeable dirt and defects in most of them as well. That being said, none of the films have any image qualities that I would consider objectionable. Indeed, most look quite good, especially compared to the other films of their era.

For this release, the BFI has chosen to use Dolby Digital 1.0. While the mono track may not be ideal, it was almost certainly necessary for some of the older films in the collection. A few of them--particularly the oldest titles--exhibit quite a bit of crackling in the background, but most of the shorts sound just fine. Like with their recent "Design for Today", the BFI has commissioned a band, this time post-punk band Magazine, to record new soundtracks for a pair of the silent shorts in the set. They sound wonderful and are a real treat. The subtitles are clear and do not obstruct the image.

Aside from the Magazine tracks, the only other extra is another one of the BFI's superb booklets. This time the 27 page fully illustrated booklet comes with essays on the set and rather lengthy essays on each film.

This is yet another wonderful anthology from the BFI and certainly one that I would recommend to anyone interested in British social history or anyone who just gets a kick out of the old fashioned "hygiene" films. This 2-disc set is highly recommended.

 - Brian Montgomery


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