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What a Life! (1948)


Main image of What a Life! (1948)
35mm, black and white, 12 mins
DirectorMichael Law
Production CompanyPublic Relationship Films
SponsorCentral Office Of Information
ScreenplayMichael Law
 John Krish
 Richard Massingham

Cast: Richard Massingham (Mr A); Russell Waters (Mr B)

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Two men, worn down by their dismal daily existence, decide to take action.

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What a Life could hardly be further from Richard Massingham's earliest trailer of the war, The Five-Inch Bather (d. Massingham, 1942). Where the war had provided a reason for the energetic embrace of self-denial, the postwar years seemed only an unending grind. Rationing continued for several years after the film was made, sweets being the last produce to become freely available.

The Central Office of Information commissioned the film to help dispel the general feeling that the country was done for. Philip Mackie, a producer, remembers Massingham sighing at meetings and asking, "but really, what is there to be cheerful about these days?" Watching the film now, it is certainly difficult to argue that he fulfilled his brief. The uncontrolled laughter of the two men after their failed suicide attempt is prompted more by an absurd acceptance of misery than by proving that things are better than they seem. The film was attacked in the House of Commons precisely for its doom-mongering. A Conservative MP wanted to know if it had been an appropriate way to spend £9000 of taxpayers' money.

Today, we might be more interested to note the impressive list of staff at Massingham's company. Several, including John Krish and Walter Lassally, both among the crew of What a Life!, would go on to make a significant impact on the British documentary.

Kieron Webb

*This film is included in the BFI DVD compilation 'Land of Promise: The British Documentary Movement 1930-1950'.

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Video Clips
1. Everybody's gloomy (2:44)
2. 'Drink?' (4:31)
Complete film (11:08)
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Massingham, Richard (1898-1953)