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Blood is Life (1957)


Main image of Blood is Life (1957)
35mm, black and white, 17 mins
DirectorAnthony Simmons
Production CompanyBasic Films
ProducerLeon Clore
ScriptAnthony Simmons
PhotographyLarry Pizer

A survey of the National Blood Transfusion Service and appeal for blood donors.

Show full synopsis

The increase in demand for blood supplies during WWII precipitated the foundation of blood transfusion centres in Britain. By the end of the war, blood transfusion had saved many lives and in 1946 the Emergency Medical Service and the Army Transfusion Services were amalgamated to form the National Blood Transfusion Service.

The first half of this film gives a detailed account of the process of blood donation and transfusion, taking the South Western Regional Transfusion Centre in Bristol as an example. The importance of scrupulous maintenance of equipment and records is stressed, as is the care with which blood must be separated into blood groups, tested and stored ready for usage in the operating theatre. These somewhat dry opening sequences are rescued by the use of a pulsating soundtrack resembling a heartbeat, blended with unusual camera angels, elaborate panning and microscopic close-ups of blood cells, which introduces a sense of urgency that progressively heightens throughout the course of the film.

The second half of the film is devoted to fulfilling the other aspect of the sponsor's remit - to encourage the British public to donate blood. Unrestrained by procedural description in this section, the filmmaker deploys the tools of personal drama and suspense in making a direct appeal to the viewers' emotions. The reconstruction of an accident in which a small boy is scalded while his mother is chatting to neighbours on the doorstep invokes suspense worthy of Hitchcock, and the personal story of the old man, rather nostalgically, turning up at the transfusion centre to donate blood for the last time is executed with great tenderness.

This is a good example of a how a highly creative filmmaker can supersede the confines imposed by the sponsor's brief. Anthony Simmons had previously made his mark with his lyrical personal documentaries Sunday by the Sea (1953) and Bow Bells (1954), both collaborations with this film's producer Leon Clore.

The poetically-enriched commentary is further testament to Simmons' resourcefulness and artistry, as evidenced in the closing words: "And so one more link is forged in the chain that binds many lives. Thus the never-ending cycle goes on. For every drop of blood used to save life, more must be found. A blood transfusion service can never rest. For this is the story of blood transfusion. The story of a link that binds many lives."

Katy McGahan

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Video Clips
Complete film (16:25)
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Simmons, Anthony (1922- )