British Documentary

Film StillBetween 1930 and 1939 in Britain some sixty filmmakers working together in collaborative film units produced over 300 documentaries, a body of work central to the historic development of the documentary and documentary film practice. Several of the films made by the filmmakers associated with the Empire Marketing Board (the EMB), from 1930 to 1933, and with the Government Post Office film unit (the GPO), from 1933 to 1939, became crucial references for almost every subsequent documentary movement. Continue reading

A Nous la liberte

René Clair’s À Nous la liberté (known in English as Freedom for Us, though it was released in the United States in 1932 with its French title) is a musical comedy about the alienation of modern work. It’s the kind of film that might have resulted had the Marx Brothers been engaged to make Metropolis rather than Fritz Lang. René Clair shared with the Marx Brothers a mocking disregard for most forms of authority and a joyous pleasure in the subversion of all forms of social pretension and bourgeois decorum. In fact, the Marx Brothers borrowed material from tonight’s film when they made A Night at the Opera in 1935. Continue reading

Whores’ Glory

“Everyone believes they know something about prostitution,” writes director Michael Glawogger, “particularly when he or she has never been to a brothel… Prostitution is not to be condemned or defended,” he argues, “prostitution simply is… It’s a dead end to say simply that it is bad. It’s way more interesting to ask why it exists, how it works, and what it does to all of us.” Continue reading

Trash Dance

film still Tonight you are going to see an extraordinary film — extraordinary because it is not only about work and workers but because it shows workers doing work and because it celebrates both the workers and their labor. Unlike the work depicted in many of the labor films we’ve screened over the years — work in mines, fields, factories and other worksites — trash collection takes place on your own street. You have seen these workers and their vehicles moving in ways that might be imagined as dance. Continue reading

The Grapes Of Wrath

film stillThe night Woody Guthrie saw Grapes of Wrath he went home and composed “Tom Joad,” one of his most famous dust bowl ballads. He was moved not only by the film but by Steinbeck’s evident sympathy with migrant farm workers:

There was a feller that knew us Oakies … because early in the deal he throwed
a pack on his back and traipsed around amongst us, and lived with us, and talked
to us, and et with us, and slept with us,and he felt in his heart and knew in his
head that us Oakies was a lookin’ for a “Living with Labor.” Continue reading

The Gleaners and I

film stillHistorically, gleaning was a strategy to create small food surpluses for the poor. Mosaic law decreed (Leviticus:19:22) that “When you reap the harvest of the land do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the alien.” Continue reading

Roger and Me

film stillIf you don’t know Michael Moore, who’s the director of Roger and Me, the film will tell you, I don’t have to do that. He’ll introduce himself, he’ll show you baby pictures and everything. He does all that in the film and that’s great, so I don’t have to actually introduce him. Continue reading


When Compliance debuted at the Sundance Film Festival, and during its press screenings, some people walked out not far into the story.  One viewer is reported to have yelled while exiting, “Oh, give me a [bleeping] break!”  I, too, was ready to abandon the film because it seemed exploitative and contrived.  But, I happened to recall the screen-filling opening message that said,  “Based on true events.”  As films with that message have become common over the past decade, such messages may have lost their punch, which might explain the walkouts.  But do take heed of that notice, for knowing beforehand that the events really happened might help temper the incredulity the film evokes.  Or, it might work to heighten our disbelief, for if you avoid walking out, you are still likely to squirm.  “How could they have done this?” we will undoubtedly ask. Continue reading

A Grin Without a Cat (Le Fond de l’air est rouge)

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Tonight’s film is long and there won’t be time later to stay around and discuss the film. However, our September 20 Labor Lyceum program will provide an opportunity to consider Chris Marker’s take on the struggles of the decade 1967-1977 and the significance of those struggles to our own. (Lyceum details are on the flyer you should have received). Continue reading

La Danse

film stillMy comments tonight are those not of an expert on dance but those rather of a labor  historian interested in films dealing with labor themes. I will remark briefly first on Wiseman’s documentary technique, then on the structure of tonight’s film and finally on dance as work. Continue reading