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Films that Work

Films that Work: Industrial Film and the Productivity of Media

Vinzenz Hediger
Patrick Vonderau
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 496
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  • Book Info
    Films that Work
    Book Description:

    Only available in hardback: "">ISBN 978 90 8964 012 3 The history of industrial films - an orphan genre of twentieth-century cinema composed of government-produced and industrially sponsored movies that sought to achieve the goals of their sponsors, rather than the creative artists involved - seems to have left no trace in filmic cultural discourse. At its height the industrial film industry employed thousands, produced several trade journals and festival circuits, engaged with giants of twentieth-century industry like Shell and AT & T, and featured the talents of iconic actors and directors such as Buster Keaton, John Grierson and Alain Resnais. This is the first full-length book, anthology, and annotated bibliography to analyse the industrial film and its remarkable history. Exploring the potential of the industrial film to uncover renewed and unexplored areas of media studies, this remarkable volume brings together renowned scholars such as Rick Prelinger and Thomas Elsaesser in a discussion of the radical potential and new possibilities in considering the history of this unexplored corporate medium. This title is available in the OAPEN Library -

    eISBN: 978-90-485-0226-4
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-4)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 5-8)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 9-16)
    Vinzenz Hediger and Patrick Vonderau

    Reminiscing about his days as a union organizer, David McDonald, the former president of the United Steel Workers of America, relates the following anecdote. According to McDonald, in order to get steel workers to join the union, the union organizers used a technique

    which we called … visual education, which was a high-sounding label for a practice much more accurately described as dues picketing. It worked very simply. A group of dues-paying members selected by the district director (usually more for their size than their tact) would stand at the plant gate with pick handles or baseball bats and confront...

  4. I Navigating the Archive

    • Archives and Archaeologies The Place of Non-Fiction Film in Contemporary Media
      (pp. 19-34)
      Thomas Elsaesser

      I am not a specialist on industrial film. However, I decided to accept the invitation to make this contribution because I realized that there are at least three, possibly even four distinct areas of work that I am currently engaged in that touch upon – and indeed intersect with – theGebrauchsfilmor utility film, of which the industrial film forms such an important corpus. My motto in this respect is that ʺthere are many histories of the moving image, only some of which belong to the movies.ʺ¹

      First of all, there is a broad historiographic project I have been...

    • Record, Rhetoric, Rationalization Industrial Organization and Film
      (pp. 35-50)
      Vinzenz Hediger and Patrick Vonderau

      Corporate archives store the traces of corporate decision-making processes and their consequences. They contain minutes, memos, balance sheets, and other written and printed materials that document what has gone well and what has gone wrong during a companyʹs history. Among other things, they allow the prospective historian to write a history in the event that a company should come to the conclusion that it needs one, which usually happens for one of two reasons: out of a sense of pride in a tradition of excellence and success, or because a company bows to external pressure to shed light on the...

    • Vernacular Archiving An Interview with Rick Prelinger
      (pp. 51-62)
      Patrick Vonderau and Rick Prelinger

      Rick Prelinger (, an archivist, writer and filmmaker, founded the Prelinger Archives in 1982. This collection of 51,000 advertising, educational, industrial, and amateur films was acquired by the Library of Congress in 2002. Rick has partnered with the Internet Archive to make 2,500 films from Prelinger Archives available online for free viewing, downloading, and reuse. With the Voyager Company, a pioneer new-media publisher, he produced 14 laserdiscs and CD-ROMs with material from his archives, includingEphemeral Films, theOur Secret Centuryseries andCall It Home: The House That Private Enterprise Built, a laserdisc on the history of suburbia and...

  5. II Visuality and Efficiency

    • Early Industrial Moving Pictures in Germany
      (pp. 65-74)
      Martin Loiperdinger

      Numerous subjects in the areas of business and commerce provide the film camera with attractive views. As long as the cinematograph was presented as ʺthe latest technological wonder,ʺ cameramen focused less on the activities of workers than on the effect of ʺtrue-to-lifeʺ photographic reproductions of the powerful yet fleeting rise of steam and smoke (for example in Défournage du coke, 1896). Even the shots of locomotives rushing toward the camera, so popular in the early years, were less interesting because of their depiction of a technical wonder than the spatial effect they produced when projected onto the two-dimensional screen.²


    • Layers of Cheese Generic Overlap in Early Non-Fiction Films on Production Processes
      (pp. 75-84)
      Frank Kessler and Eef Masson

      While defining genres and sub-genres may be one of the most difficult tasks of film scholarship in general, it seems an almost hopeless endeavor for those studying non-fiction cinema.² Approaching the largely uncharted territory of industrial and business films, authors such as Thomas Elsaesser, Yvonne Zimmermann, Vinzenz Hediger and Patrick Vonderau have suggested taking into account paratextual discourses as well as the institutional contexts of films in order to establish, or reconstruct, the generic divisions structuring the industrial uses of cinematography.³ While we agree with the general line of their argument (which one could characterize as a ʺhistorical pragmaticsʺ approach⁴),...

    • Images of Efficiency The Films of Frank B. Gilbreth
      (pp. 85-100)
      Scott Curtis

      From 1912 to his death in 1924, Frank B. Gilbreth – a disciple of Frederick W. Taylor and, with his wife, Lillian, one of the most prolific popularizers of scientific management – made hundreds of films designed to document, analyze, and correct worker movements in a ʺquest for the one best wayʺ to do any given job.¹ Scientific management, of course, swept through the American workplace at the turn of the 20th century as Progressive ideals of reform and uplift joined forces with industrial trends toward increased specialization and rationalization of labor.² Reformers and industrialists alike could agree that ʺefficiencyʺ...

    • “What Hollywood Is to America, the Corporate Film Is to Switzerland” Remarks on Industrial Film as Utility Film
      (pp. 101-118)
      Yvonne Zimmermann

      Until recently, industrial or corporate film has been a neglected category in film studies, despite the often quoted fact that the very first work in film history, the Lumièresʹ Sortie dʹusine (Workers Leaving the Factory, 1895) was an industrial film.¹ This has various causes. Due to the traditional focus of film studies on feature film, interest in non-fiction film, which includes industrial film, developed late and remains comparatively limited even today. In addition, from the perspective of production, industrial film belongs to the category of commissioned or sponsored film, and from a pragmatic perspective, it can be considered a subgenre...

    • Poussières Writing the Real vs. the Documentary Real
      (pp. 119-126)
      Gérard Leblanc

      Poussières (1954) is the only one of Georges Franjuʹs documentaries for which the screenplay was essentially written before shooting. The title of the present text, with its slogan form, becomes even stronger than it already is if taken literally. Writing before shooting, not in order to create a script but to prefigure cinematic images, sometimes by resting on the power of poetic evocation, while at other times relying on the power of scientific description using verbal language. Cinematic images, once composed, will refer back to verbal language, which, by means of this description, will designate what Franju wanted to see...

    • Thermodynamic Kitsch Computing in German Industrial Films, 1928/1963
      (pp. 127-150)
      Vinzenz Hediger

      Markets, according to Joseph Schumpeter, are never stable. Competitive companies are brought to their knees by the sudden appearance of new competitors or products that improve upon existing offerings and can make entire product lines obsolete. Even the most competitive makers of horse carts were doomed once the automobile appeared on the scene and became a fact of life in the early 20th century. Schumpeterʹs term for this process of constantly punctuated market equilibria is ʺcreative destruction.ʺ According to Schumpeter, creative destruction is ʺthe essential fact about capitalism,ʺ a ʺprocess of industrial mutation … that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure...

  6. III Films and Factories

    • Touring as a Cultural Technique Visitor Films and Autostadt Wolfsburg
      (pp. 153-166)
      Patrick Vonderau

      As an umbrella term for films made or commissioned by companies or business associations, ʺindustrial filmʺ stands for a wide array of audiovisual products that are used in the most varied of contexts. This essay concerns a variety of theprocess filmthat features the assembly of vehicles, namely films made for factory tours that were produced for Volkswagen AG in Wolfsburg and also used there. The commissioned films produced for the Volkswagen Group encompass a broad spectrum of safety films, internal research films, advertising and product films, informational films for schools, and films on traffic education, motor sports, the...

    • Corporate Films of Industrial Work Renault (1916-1939)
      (pp. 167-186)
      Alain P. Michel

      During the interwar period, Louis Renaultʹs Motor Company became an emblem for the large French factory. The original small workshop from 1898 turned into a huge industrial complex covering 100 acres, with 33,000 workers producing 58,000 vehicles in a wide range of models.¹

      Meanwhile, Renault produced many images of its activities that included films, photographs, posters, paintings, and industrial drawings.² On three main occasions – in 1920, 1930, and 1934 – the firm presented its successful development in full-length films, providing irreplaceable views of what was going on in the factories. These moving pictures show unedited aspects of the companyʹs...

    • Filming Work on Behalf of the Automobile Firm The Case of Renault (1950-2002)
      (pp. 187-210)
      Nicolas Hatzfeld, Gwenaële Rot and Alain P. Michel

      Because of their promotional function corporate films could be considered a mediocre source of knowledge about economic and social realities. At the same time, their apparent distance from the noble world of cinema disqualifies them in terms of cultural history. Doubly marginalized, this type of film would appear seriously biased. Nonetheless, the quantity and diversity of business films illustrate the importance that companies placed on cinema. Films were used as a tool of industrial streamlining or training, as a means of internal or external communication and mobilization, as a medium of information or debate. The plurality of their usage and...

    • Eccentricity, Education and the Evolution of Corporate Speech Jam Handy and His Organization
      (pp. 211-220)
      Rick Prelinger

      Although the work of Jamison ʺJamʺ Handy (1886-1983) and his multimedia production company, the Jam Handy Organization, have received almost no scholarly attention, both exerted a major influence on the development of the American sponsored film and the evolution of American corporate speech. During a production career that lasted almost 70 years, Handyʹs company produced some 7,000 motion pictures, many tens of thousands of slidefilms, thousands of mixed-media training products and innumerable live ʺindustrial theaterʺ shows. As interest in sponsored films grows and we begin to assess their influence upon 20th-century cultural and social spheres, it is high time to...

    • Centron, an Industrial/Educational Film Studio, 1947-1981 A Microhistory
      (pp. 221-242)
      Faye E. Riley

      At one time industrial/educational film studios were as prevalent in the United States as Hollywood studios. They employed hundreds of film technicians, actors, and directors. Thousands of industrial and educational films were created and widely distributed, and catalogues and archives probably contain more titles in this category than any other, including Hollywoodʹs fictive features. These films impacted the lives of countless viewers, and yet, film scholars have so far largely neglected this important body of work. While the history of Hollywood cinema has largely been written in the last twenty or so years, the history of industrial and educational films...

    • Films from Beyond the Well A Historical Overview of Shell Films
      (pp. 243-256)
      Rudmer Canjels

      Founded in 1907 and currently active in over 140 countries, Royal Dutch/Shell is one of the largest private-sector energy corporations in the world. Like other major companies, Royal Dutch/Shell, an Anglo-Dutch multinational, developed a keen interest in the moving image as early as the 1920s. Shell management recognized film as an ideal medium for reaching out and building public support for its activities. Over the years, Shell has produced hundreds of documentaries, many of them dealing with scientific and technological subjects. Beyond questions of scientific significance and educational value, the Shell films are of particular interest in that they reflect...

  7. IV See, Learn, Control

    • The Personnel Is Political Voice and Citizenship in Affirmative-Action Videos in the Bell System, 1970-1984
      (pp. 259-282)
      Heide Solbrig

      In the period of the 1960s through the 1980s, the Bell System produced films and videos for use in implementing affirmative action programs. Affirmative-action plans at Bell recruited, trained, and sought to promote traditionally underemployed and segregated members of the community and the company, i.e., women and minorities. The Bell programs began in the early 1960s, in conjunction with President Lyndon Johnsonʹs Plan for Progress, a voluntary plan for workplace racial integration signed by AT&T, Western Electric, and Bell Laboratories. This initial voluntary plan lead to aggressive recruitment, but was not successful in changing occupational segregation; despite the massive hiring...

    • Behaviorism, Animation, and Effective Cinema The McGraw-Hill Industrial Management Film Series and the Visual Culture of Management
      (pp. 283-302)
      Ramón Reichert

      After the end of World War II, new media representations of industrial work were created in the US. A new genre of industrial educational film was developed in the areas of military strategy, operations research, organization theory, and cybernetics:¹ the management film.² Based on the assumption that industrially disciplined work in the production process had long been established, indeed, had already become asui generissocial model, the management film focused instead on another aspect of productivity in industrial work: its functional and abstract regulation. Unlike other forms of the industrial film like the work-study film, the management film did...

    • Technologies of Organizational Learning Uses of Industrial Films in Sweden during the 1950s
      (pp. 303-314)
      Mats Björkin

      By 1945, industrial films had been produced in Sweden for more than 20 years. Following rapid growth during the mid-1920s, the practice of commissioning industrial films had become common among many larger companies in what were later regarded as the core industries of Sweden: mining, steel, wood, and paper. Industrial films, taking their lead from the dominant industrial-film production company of the 1920s, were primarily seen as suitable for public relations and documentation.¹ Those interwar period films were made along the lines of the typical documentary films of the time, with a straight narrative structure, authoritative narrator (or intertitles), and,...

    • The Central Film Library of Vocational Education An Archeology of Industrial Film in France between the Wars
      (pp. 315-328)
      Valérie Vignaux

      The Central Film Library of Vocational Education constitutes one of the first attempts to rationally organize industrial film in France. Affiliated with the Office of Technical Education of the Ministry of Public Instruction, it was created in 1925 within the framework of wider reforms encouraging the use of visual images in teaching. The institutionʹs principal objective was to direct individuals toward occupations or activities consistent with the modernization of the country. To this end, it commissioned films from Jean Benoit-Lévy, a director renowned as a specialist in educational cinema. The catalogue, published in 1934, almost ten years after the institutionʹs...

    • “Reality Is There, but It’s Manipulated” West German Trade Unions and Film after 1945
      (pp. 329-346)
      Stefan Moitra

      Industrial films shape ideas and knowledge about industrial trades, production operations, and economic processes using a wide variety of stylistic forms. They can be seen as part of both internal and external communication strategies within companies. If the image of industry, however, is based solely on the self-representations of companies, a central feature in the structure of industrial production is disregarded: that of labor and the perspective of the workers. Within the system of industrial relations their image has been represented traditionally by the counterpart to the employer and entrepreneur perspective – by the trade unions as institutions of the...

  8. V Urbanity, Industry, Film

    • Modernism, Industry, Film A Network of Media in the Bat’a Corporation and the Town of Zlín in the 1930s
      (pp. 349-376)
      Petr Szczepanik

      Zlín is a typical example of a town closely related to one multi-industrial company and not just one industry. Until World War I, it was a small Moravian town in a rural area, but after the local shoe company Bat’a rapidly expanded and became a multinational corporation with many branches in the 1920s and 1930s, the town developed dramatically, its population increased by a factor of almost ten (from approximately 4,000 to 40,000),¹ and it was totally rebuilt into a highly modern urban complex, which was to serve as a functional extension of the factory. The founder of the company,...

    • A Modern Medium for a Modern Message Norsk Jernverk, 1946-1974, Through the Camera Lens
      (pp. 377-390)
      Bjørn Sørenssen

      The industrial film genre has so far been a neglected field in Norwegian film studies. One of the main reasons for this may be that there has been very little discussion of the genre as such in Norway. The most comprehensive Norwegian film bibliography¹ contains no entries related to ʺfilm and industryʺ or ʺindustrial film.ʺ In spite of this, there has, over the years, been a steady output of what could be defined as ʺindustrial filmʺ in the form of information and educational films sponsored by industrial companies and corporations, in addition to films produced for public-relations purposes and outright...

    • Harbor, Architecture, Film Rotterdam, 1925-1935
      (pp. 391-404)
      Floris Paalman

      Between 1925 and 1935, there was a great deal of interaction between avant-garde cinema and architecture. This is exemplified by the Dutch cinema clubFilmliga(1927-1933), founded in Amsterdam by the literary critics Henrik Scholte and Menno ter Braak.

      Branches were quickly formed in other cities. The ones in Rotterdam, Utrecht, and The Hague were all initiated by architects.¹ Moreover, a close connection existed between theFilmligaand the architecture associationsDe 8andOpbouw. Why were these architects so committed to film? Set design might have been a reason,² but theFilmligamainly showed films without spectacular sets. Architects...

    • Industrial Films An Analytical Bibliography
      (pp. 405-462)
      Anna Heymer and Patrick Vonderau

      The following bibliography covers scholarly as well as archival and practical writings on industrial and commissioned film. This overview of the international literature is intended to open up the field of ʺindustrial filmʺ within the field of film and media studies by making the focal points and desiderata of research more accessible. It proceeds ʺanalyticallyʺ in two ways. In the first section, it proposes a systematic that compiles criteria inductively with the goal of isolating, as far as possible, the larger specific areas. In the second section, it provides a means of retracing the state of the research in individual...

    • The Desiderata of Business-Film Research
      (pp. 463-470)
      Ralf Stremmel

      ʺThere is an answer to every question about German film…ʺ In 2004, visitors to the central Internet access page of German film,, were welcomed with this phrase. To every question? Well, inonearea of film research at least – that of business-film research – there were and are more questions than answers. In the following paper, I will limit myself to the situation in Germany, using films from the Krupp Historical Archives as concrete examples.

      The questions begin at the most basic level, that is, with the very term business or industrial film. If we look at the...

  9. Contributors
    (pp. 471-476)
  10. Index of Names
    (pp. 477-479)
  11. Index of Film Titles
    (pp. 480-484)
  12. Index of Subjects
    (pp. 485-492)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 493-495)