Love Is All DVD review: a gift for armchair romantics

Love makes gluttons of us all. So if you enjoyed Love Is All, Kim Longinotto’s romantic sweep through the film archives at the cinema, you may be toying with picking up the DVD also. Then again, there are so many great clips from brilliant films, both popular and obscure, in Love is All that it might have prompted you to buy several other DVDs instead. 

Love is All sprawls across the history of cinema, picking up clips from classic films and home movie so the and editing them together into a gorgeous mess of love and romance. It contains flirtations, seductions, marriages and babies; young love, forbidden love, gay love and straight. It leans quite heavily on silent cinema, possibly because those films work particularly well in this treatment, possibly because they are just the most romantic. Who knows? And the whole thing is set to a gruffly melancholic soundtrack of songs by Richard Hawley. So it’s really rather eye-catching, but could be a head-scratcher too. What does it all mean?

Love is All (2014)
Love is All (2014)

This DVD release from the BFI does attempt to reveal the mysteries of this swooping documentary, with a package of extras including explanatory essays and statements from the film-makers, plus a bundle of complete short silent films from the archive. There is also a recorded Q&A with Longinotto in which she happily admits that she had never heard of Hindle Wakes or Anna May Wong before including them in Love is All. Yes, really. 

In the Q&A, Longinotto also says that she intended Love Is All to be a social commentary as much a romance. In fact, she says that the whole project was inspired by a Simon Amstell standup routine. She intended to chart the changing status and freedoms of women in the UK over a century of change, purposefully including same-sex relationships as well as heterosexual ones and celebrating racial diversity too. But she also says that when she looked into the archives, the early films she saw surprised her and she was impressed that film-makers in the early 20th century were exploring ideas that seemed modern to her – telling stories about women who were independent, self-determining, and fun. Which as she says “wrecked her plan” and caused her to have a rethink.

Love is All (2014)
Love is All (2014)

The success of Love Is All rides on the fact that it is more than the sum of its parts, so there is no need to go back to each source films individually. It’s far too poppy and playful a film to label them all as they appear on screen, either. As such, I am not entirely sure what the archive films on this disc add to to the movie, except to further happily wreck all Longinotto’s assumptions about women in silent cinema. But, partly because of that very fact, they are a joy to watch, including scenes of “lady footballers” training, a well-timed lesson in jiu jujitsu for self-defence, an East End wedding and two versions of The Kiss in the Tunnel. And if Love Is All hasn’t made you completely nostalgic for the Britain you have seen in your grandparents’s picture albums, these charming snippets will seal the deal. I thought this DVD might be a swift lesson in film history, in fact it’s more of a gift set – a stocking-filler for the armchair romantic in your life.

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