WORKERS’ TOPICAL NEWS NO.1
WE ARE UNITED
THE VANISHING STREET
EVERY DAY EXCEPT CHRISTMAS
BOUND FOR GLORY
LAND OF THE DEAD
MADE IN DAGENHAM
MONDAYS IN THE SUN
THE SNOWS OF KILIMANJARO
Dir: Alejandro González Iñárritu – 2010
In the latest film from Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (21 Grams, Babel), Javier Bardem portrays a single father of two desperately trying to escape Barcelona’s criminal underworld. Attempting to support a complex and abusive family life, he is forced to reevaluate the moral choices that he has made – which includes the exploitation of illegal Chinese and African workers as part of his shady career – upon being diagnosed with terminal cancer. A moving tale of fatherly love, honest work and the changes one needs to make before crossing over to the other side.
Norman Maclaren and Helen Biggar made their witty yet devastating protest against the arms trade, Hell Unltd (1936), in the shadow of the Spanish Civil War, in which many British workers volunteered.
EVERY DAY EXCEPT CHRISTMAS
Lindsay Anderson’s classic, Every Day Except Christmas (1957) celebrates Covent Garden Market at work. (Ian Christie)
BOUND FOR GLORY
Dir: Hal Ashby – 1976
Covering only four years of his life, Bound For Glory celebrates Woody Guthrie as a guerrilla folksinger. Some of the great songs that have become American working-class anthems (“This Land Is Your Land”) are included, and Ashby’s film captures Woody’s commitment to poor and working people, which will help viewers understand Guthrie as a radical and inspiring figure for the generation of folk singers who came to prominence in the 1960s (Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Judy Collins). A man whose guitar had a big sticker that read: “This machine kills fascists,” David Caradine plays Woody as a populist, loveable man who can’t stand to see working people being pushed around. His relationship with his performing partner Ozark Bule (Ronny Cox) is at the heart of this film, and Ashby’s convincing portrait captures the troubles and high-energy life Guthrie lived among the riffraff riding the rails during the Depression: “Men fighting against men. Colour against colour. Kin against kin. Race pushing against race.” The film’s title comes from one of his songs, and as usual it’s about a train, a train “bound for glory.”
Dir: Ross Ashcroft – 2012
With the gap between rich and poor growing ever wider, and injustice still rife across the globe, Ross Ashcroft’s Four Horsemen is a timely examination of how the world works. Also, unlike other recent polemics, Ashcroft’s film refuses to attack politicians, bankers or the media, instead preferring to put the entire system up for debate in order to explore how humanity might benefit from a change to the current structure. Also separating the film from many of the other comparable works that have emerged in recent years is the sheer caliber of those Ashcroft has brought in to comment upon the state of the world. Featuring twenty-three prominent international thinkers, including the likes of Noam Chomsky and Joseph Stigliz, it is these voices that lend Four Horsemen its unique authority, as well as Ashcroft’s command of both the fine details and the bigger picture. Following a special screening of the film, the festival will host a special panel featuring expert commentators and thinkers, who will be discussing the importance of the film; the current disparities of justice the world over, especially in how it relates to working life; and potential solutions to the crisis in which a globalised world finds itself. Ashcroft himself – who will join the panel after the screening and will also be on hand to answer audience questions – is excited by the prospect of presenting his film within the context of London Labour Film Festival. “We’re delighted that Four Horsemen has been selected,” he says. “Playing to a politically engaged audience is exciting because many of the issues raised in the film need to be readdressed if we are to have any chance of re-floating the British economy. When an electorate is self-educated it puts pressure on elected leaders to make the changes that the majority really needs. That is the job today – we need to wise up to the ways of predatory capitalism and then renegotiate the terms on which we want to live.” Ross Ashcroft’s incendiary documentary will ignite debate about a new economic paradigm, and how we might all have a hand in bringing it into being. The festival is delighted to be hosting a screening and discussion with such relevance for justice and fairness for ordinary working people.
Dir: Francois Ozon – 2010
A lovingly detailed recreation of a garish 1970s France, Ozon’s wry period pastiche features the phenomenal Catherine Deneuve as Suzanne, the trophy wife of a mean-spirited factory boss. When he suffers a heart attack after being taken hostage by his striking workforce, she makes a surprising success of filling her husband’s shoes, helped along by her connections with the town’s leftist mayor (a cantankerous Gérard Depardieu), who also happens to be her ex-lover. The chemistry between the leads drives this delightful film, both firing Suzanne’s political career and sending her her personal life into turmoil in what is a funny, brilliantly realised drama with a cunning subtext about the varying attitudes to work in contemporary France.
MADE IN DAGENHAM
Dir: Nigel Cole – 2010
Fords were made in Dagenham, but so was union solidarity for women workers. Led by Rita O’Grady (winsomely played by Sally Hawkins), she is the UK’s competition to Norma Rae for the most politically turned-around female worker, one of 187 women who run the machines in the car seat upholstery shop in the Dagenham’s Ford car factory in 1968. Paid less than men doing comparable work, Rita creates a posse of female activists who rock the worlds of both bosses and husbands, winning the support of both the bosses’ wife (Geraldine James) and the irrepressible shop steward (Bob Hoskins) tasked with going between the women and their male union leadership. Dazzling with charm, humour, and serious goals. Barbara Castle (played by Miranda Richardson) also makes a glorious appearance, shoving some male MPs and lackeys around Westminster. The Equal Pay Act of 1970 is where the film is headed, but the road to it begins in Dagenham
MONDAYS IN THE SUN
Dir: Fernando León de Aronoa – 2002
Featuring a stellar cast that includes a never-better Javier Bardem, Mondays in the Sun portrays six friends who meet daily in their local bar in Vigo, Spain. All mourning the variety of ways in which their lives have been turned upside down by the closing of the shipyards, Mondays in the Sun is a touching, personal tale of a rapidly dwindling working class culture, as well as male friendship, family and the myriad of ways in which people can spend idle time, where everyday feels like a Sunday.
Dir: Duncan Jones – 2009
There have been relatively few films about work in outer space – Wolfgang Peterson’s 1985 film Enemy Mine being a fine example – yet Duncan Jones’s debut is a thrilling addition. With a screenplay drawing on a diverse cinematic heritage that includes Capricorn One’s (1977) faked Mars landing and any number of Philip Dick’s adaptations focused on altered consciousness (especially Blade Runner), Moon sees busy astronaut Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) carry out the lonely task of harvesting the moon for a special fuel for use back on earth. At the end of his three-year contract, he fantasises about returning to his wife and child. But soon he begins to lose his grip on reality and the cleverly constructed world before his—and our—eyes all of a sudden seems mightily fragile.
Dir: Ken Loach – 2001
Ken Loach’s dramatisation of a horrible accident on the privatised British Rail system of the 1990s is a cinematic attack on Thatcherism. In October, 2000, a high speed Virgin train derailed at Hatfield killing four people. It was the fourth fatal train wreck since the privatisation of British Rail in the early 1990s, with an even greater scandal caused by Railtrack’s lack of action despite prior knowledge of track damage, and the number of workers assigned to maintain rail infrastructure having fallen by a third since privatisation. Loach dramatizes the deteriorating relationships among five Yorkshire railway workers who, in 1995, are told that British Rail has been replaced by a private company. Told that safety is a priority and deaths kept to a minimum of ‘only’ to a year, the film has a tragic and disturbing twist forged by screenwriter Rob Dawber, a former a railway worker, union activist, and columnist who lost his job because of privatisation, and who turned to the courts when he discovered that he had been exposed to asbestos while working for British Rail. Although he won a settlement, he died of a tumour that resulted from the exposure. Loach’s film is his epitaph.
THE SNOWS OF KILIMANJARO
Dir: Robert Guédiguian – 2011
Keeping his focus on what appears to be a narrow slice of L’Estaque, the mostly working-class district of Marseille, Guédiguian once again takes on subjects whose importance and appeal transcend such narrow boundaries. Exploring union and working-class solidarity, he uses virtually the same small repertory company of actors to penetrate the daily lives of his characters. Jean-Pierre Darroussin plays a union leader who voluntarily joins the downsizing list at his shipyard rather than go into the random draw, a decision accepted by his wife, played by the wonderful Ariane Ascaride. But their solidarity is tested by a robbery of their home by a workmate, the single father of two children often left on their own. Full of twists and turns, viewers will have to discover on their own, viewers will need to wait until the final reel for the film’s many rewards, including an explanation of the film’s title.
WORKERS’ TOPICAL NEWS NO.1
Workers Topical News No 1 (1930) is an anti-newsreel, showing workers demonstrating against unemployment in the Depression.
WE ARE UNITED
We Are United (1951) records unions and peace campaigners celebrating May day, with song accompaniment by Ewan McColl.
Bow Bells (Anthony Simmons, 1953) and The Vanishing Street (Robert Vas, 1962) both record London’s disappearing communities, where work and life mingled.
Dir: Mark Herman – 1996
A class-conscious film with a big dollop of politics, Brassed Off sees Tara Fitzgerald’s Gloria, coal-town bred but college-educated, still holding a candle for an old childhood flame (Ewan McGregor). Set in the Thatcherite 1980s, The Iron Lady has closed many of the mines with barely a semblance of due process, and the miners can choose to vote for a review or receive redundancy pay. Having lost their spirit, and the toot having gone out of the local brass band, Gloria’s position as management sees her labelled a scab. Pete Postlethwaite, meanwhile, plays Danny, the leader of the Grimley Colliery Brass Band. Dying in a hospital bed, and serenaded by the band with a moving version of “Danny Boy” by the band, Brassed Off is an ode to the importance of music to working class culture, both in the anthropological sense of community and the artistic sense of the music. Marx or Engels may never have gotten to hear a brass band, and it is debatable whether they would have understood how important they were in Britain, but Brassed Off neither idealises nor condescends to this form of popular culture. Play on, the film says, but reopen the mines.
Dir: Mike Leigh – 1988
It is always a treat to see a Mike Leigh film—wonderful characters, anxious social encounters, class obsessions— offering up the world as we know it, but out of which only Leigh can find a way out. High Hopes is the film that comes closest to an antiThatcher economic comedy, with three sets of couples and an aged parent, all divided across class lines. Cyril, wonderfully played by Philip Davis, makes his living as a motorcycle messenger, and while he and his wife Shirley (Ruth Sheen) are professed Marxists, they are mostly consumed by worries about getting pregnant and taking care of Cyril’s mother, who lives in a council house on an increasingly gentrified street. Cyril’s sister, married to the owner of a used car business, is screechingly nouveau riche, whilst their extraordinarily pompous neighbours are brilliant caricatures easily capable of prompting applause whenever they appear on screen. Visits to Marx’s grave, an encounter with a barmy lefty acquaintance, and the unlikeliness of change in society are the backdrop to Cyril questioning how we can justify bringing children into an awful world, questions that Leigh answers while fulfilling the feat of maintaining the film’s status as a winning comedy
LAND OF THE DEAD
Dir: George A. Romero – 2005
George A Romero returns to the genre that made his name, and promptly reasserts his reputation as the master of the horror film as societal critique. Following on from previous classics Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, Romero takes us inside an elite gated community run by the ruthless businessman Kaufman (Dennis Hopper), who has created a high rise bunker for the rich maintained by a hemmed-in working class. The zombies, meanwhile, are kept out by a large perimeter fence, but are slowly gaining consciousness about their plight, and are beginning to organise. A sly, entertaining and scary critique of the corrupting effects of money, power, and paranoia.
Dir: Jennifer Baichwal – 2006
Baichwal’s documentary is part celebration of Edward Burtynsky’s amazing photographs, part globalisation travelogue of manufactured landscapes, landscapes that often double as industrial and working class hell. Burtynsky joins a small cadre of photographers (such as Sebastiao Salgado) who have created remarkably beautiful compositions out of industrial waste, e-dumps, and factory sites. Burtynsky’s specialty is mammoth photographs of what is everyday work life for thousands of Chinese uniformed workers lined up outside their factories or dormitories, taming China’s gigantism of human scale with colour and composition. A beautiful film of intoxicating images, especially memorable moments include a visit to Bangladeshi workers breaking up enormous ships, and a pan across endless rows of young women working in a Chinese factory. It is in these stunning scenes that Baichwal establishes herself, as well as Burtynsky, as the most adept of visual chroniclers of globalisation.
Dir: Fritz Lang – 1927
A magnificent science fiction vision of a future world divided into underground proletariat and an above ground capitalist elite. The workers, oppressed by the very machines they must tend – are thrown into turmoil when Freder, the leading industrialist’s son, falls in love with the workers’ angel of mercy, Maria. Above ground, his father unleashes the evil scientist Rotwang, who fabricates a robotic (and lascivious) Maria to tempt the workers to their doom, her sexy dance before the capitalist class being worthy of the price of admission alone. With even those who dismissed the film, such as influential American critic Pauline Kael, admitting that the way “human beings” in the underground were “used architecturally” was extraordinary, this is a film of future labour that has been taken as representing both ends of the political spectrum. For some a pseudo-Marxist version of H.G. Wells’s Time Machine; for Hitler and Goebbels a film appealing to the ideals of Nazism, so much so that they invited Lang to work for the Nazis, prompting him to flee to Hollywood.
Dir: Charlie Chaplin – 1936
A slapstick exploration of factories under the command of the New Efficiency (doubletalk for the classic speedup), Modern Times’ most famous sequence sees Chaplin become the world’s unlikeliest assembly line worker, eventually fed into—and crushed by—the massive gears of a machine. A remarkably modern look, with the factory boss communicating with his foremen by video screens, provides the backdrop for a series of famous set pieces before his gentle revolutionary takes to the open road to once more become one of cinema’s best beloved riffraff.
Dir: Martin Ritt – 2009
The gold standard for American feature films about union organising, based on the life of Crystal Lee. Set in the North Carolina cotton mill town of Roanoke Rapids, Sally Fields plays Norma Rae, whose relationship with a union organiser provides the backdrop for a tale of union members meeting secretly in black churches. The importance of an integrated local, and the complications of Norma’s personal life provide the context for a dramatic and potentially tragic story. Norma, constantly involved with men who are up to no good, finds her calling when Reuben (Ron Leibman) recruits her to help organise for an election. With its emblematic scene of Norma standing firm with her UNION sign until she is hauled off to jail, Norma Rae is one of the most popular pro-union films of all time, confronting the mixture of personal and altruistic motives that lie at the heart of campaigning, and its role in both job retention and self-respect.
Dir. Michael Glawogger – 2005
Like Michael Glawogger’s first film, Megacities (2001), a perverse travelogue on urban poverty, Workingman’s Death uses no narration, preferring to let his camera wander the globe in pursuit of some of the most difficult and dangerous jobs on earth. Ukranian miners struggle in shafts less than a foot and a half high, Indonesian workers clamber in the mouth of a volcanic basin, Nigerian workers make a slaughterhouse look like Picasso’s Guernica, Pashtuns in Pakistan dismantle tankers that have outlived their global usefulness, and Chinese steelworkers risk injuries in blast furnaces. In a heavily ironic epilogue, Glawogger portrays a former German blast furnace now part of a theme park. A portrait of the brutal and unsafe jobs that are the true face of the globalised future in the Third World countries.
Dir: John Carpenter – 1988
John Carpenter, having created one of the greatest bogeymen of all time in Halloween (1978) and one of the scariest dystopian prison islands of all time in Escape from New York ( 1981), creates a terrifying image of Los Angeles in They Live. Featuring a wealthy ruling elite of control freaks and monsters, Carpenter forges a city that enforces power using subliminal ads and brainwashing slogans such as (“This Is Your God”) printed on paper money. This elite is, however, is literally out of this world, an alien race that have colonised earth as if it were a third world country, using selected privileged humans as their neocolonial lackeys. Only John Nada (Roddy Piper), a drifter working in construction, can decode their subliminal messages by wearing a special pair of sunglasses he finds by accident. A classic B-Movie sci-fi with an anti-Reaganomics agenda, They Live is a campy, brilliant twist on Ballardian dystopia, with one of Carpenter’s slyest jokes saved for the very last moment.