This week on Fandor: Workers unite, on both sides of the camera…
“Cinema is not magic; it is a technique and a science, a technique born from science and put in service of a will: the will of workers to liberate themselves.”
So reads a banner in omnibus labor film Class of Struggle, which was made in the 1960s — years for radicalization, certainly, and for filming it — by a collective of textile workers at the Rhodiaceta factory. After striking, and becoming subjects of a documentary, they organized again as cultural producers (not just producers of goods). They were trained by Chris Marker (yes, that Chris Marker) and other filmmakers in his labor-focused SLON collective. We thought it would be an appropriate epigraph for this week’s roundup. As much as we love to talk about the art of cinema, we can’t forget that it’s also an industry.
For this Labor Day weekend, we’re taking a look at films about laborers and their organizing, through many different lenses. And of course, we have to begin with the original industrial film, widely considered one of the very first motion pictures ever made (ever!) a document that makes labor visible and continues to inspire (and inspire derivatives) to this day: Workers Leaving the Factory (pictured in the header image this week), made by early luminaries the Lumière brothers in 1895. There are several versions that exist, and Fandor has two of them.
A century-plus later, experimental and avant-garde ethnographer Ben Russell re-created this iconic sequence at a construction site in Dubai. The result is named, straightforwardly enough, Workers Leaving the Factory (Dubai). Context is everything: Both films pull the curtain back to show how people power is behind everything from photography to the skyline.
And finally, the rule of threes compels us to share an even more recent update, this time for the Internet age: video artist Andrew Norman Wilson’s Workers Leaving the Googleplex.
But factories (and corporate campuses, as the case may be) aren’t the only sites of labor in the world. When it comes to exotic dancers, they work hard for the money, so you’d better give them rights! That’s the premise of the incredible documentary Live Nude Girls Unite!, which chronicles employee response to unfair and unethical labor practices at the San Francisco branch of the Lusty Lady peep show club. It’s co-directed by Julia Query, who was a Lusty Lady employee at the time. With that, we bring Marker’s vision — of industrial films in the hands of workers — full circle.
We’ll leave you to your Labor Day weekend watching with a classic piece of slapstick that shows a darkly comic side to labor disputes. In Dough and Dynamite, Charlie Chaplin plays a waiter called to cross the picket line at his bakery, unaware that the striking bakers have planted a little surprise in their daily bread! Hijinks ensue. Does it say something about the film industry’s roots that this was at one point widely held to be Hollywood’s best comedy? Probably.
With that, we’d wrap up the roundup, but not without one last bit of movie goodness to stoke your film loving fires — We would be remiss if we didn’t mention what’s on the Fandor Xumo channel for September before we left you to your Labor Day weekend watching! If you have a Roku or a Xumo-compatible Smart TV, the Fandor channel brings you ten movies a month. For free! From dystopian science fiction to documentaries about cinema geniuses to a hipster-hell cautionary tale and a short about a family grappling with cancer, this is what’s on this month:
..,And we’ll be back next week with more great film-related stuff to share!