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Enough to Eat? (1936)

Courtesy of Transco

Main image of Enough to Eat? (1936)
AKA The Nutrition Film; 35mm, black and white, 22 mins
DirectorEdgar Anstey
SponsorGas, Light and Coke Company
PhotographyWalter Blakely
 A.L. Fisher

Commentator: Julian Huxley

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An examination of malnutrition among lower income groups in Britain.

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To the casual viewer, Enough to Eat? may look a little ordinary, but on its release in 1936, both its cinematic style and its subject marked it out as quietly revolutionary. Most often bracketed with Housing Problems (d. Arthur Elton/Edgar Anstey, 1935) as one of the documentary movement's first 'social problem' films, it went beyond simple reportage to present a problem (malnutrition) that was both diagnosed and, it proposed, soluble by the application of science. This attitude was carried over into the aesthetic and cinematic choices made by director Edgar Anstey. He later described it as "a scientific argument deployed by scientists," but this effaces his role in producing a new kind of documentary taking a scientific lecture form with a novel combination of a scientist-presenter, animated diagrams and social reportage. This film was the first occasion on which a documentary showed its commentator in vision. That this individual was a scientist, the biologist Julian Huxley, makes it as relevant to the history of science as it is to the evolution of factual cinema.

The film was a part of the sophisticated public relations campaign of the gas industry, which was in active competition with electricity for domestic customers (as set out in Paul Rotha's New Worlds for Old, 1938). Where electricity promoted an image of modernity, gas stressed its social conscience.

In 1936, malnutrition in Britain was a public scandal and political embarrassment, not least because of the publication of John Orr's 'Food, Health, and Income', which had argued that half Britain's population was under-nourished. Ministry of Health officials responsible for nutrition policy resisted such conclusions because of the financial implications of increased provision of money or intervention foods to those on low incomes. The big dispute between nutrition scientists at the time was over whether ignorance or poverty was at the root of malnutrition; most on the political left believed the latter. The film, in a fudge which is slightly obscured by the wordiness of the script, fails to come down on either side of the argument.

In the end, its stylistic plainness may militate against its effectiveness; Huxley certainly thought so. He wrote in his journal that it was "v. interesting - 1st attempt at film lecture. But... too long... confused and confusing in parts... not enough use of diagrams or sharp dramatic contrast... not enough pauses in dialogue."

Tim Boon

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Video Clips
1. Changing diet (3:05)
2. Children's nutrition (2:52)
3. Towards a solution (3:10)
Complete film (20:46)
Production stills
Housing Problems (1935)
New Worlds for Old (1938)
Anstey, Edgar (1907-1987)
Science in Non-Fiction Film