FILM AND FACTORIES – PART I

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The focus on the world of factories and all the potentials they offered started in Austria – as one can well imagine – during World War I. In fact, it was precisely within the factories that weapons were made to defend the nation and its citizens. It was, in fact, within the factories that weapons were made to defend their nation and their citizens. It was within the factories that, in one way or another, the foundations were laid for a possible victory at the front.

From the Lumière Brothers to World War I

Film and factories. A combination, this one, that does not appear at all infrequently over the years. Just think of the fact that the first film in film history – shown by the Lumière brothers on December 28, 1895 at the Salon des Capucines in Paris – shows us a group of workers leaving the Lumière factory after a day’s work.

But how has the meaning of the binomial film and factories changed over the years? How has this binomial been treated by every single nation that has decided to tell this specific reality through images? And, above all, how has Austria behaved in this regard?

The focus on the world of factories and all the potentials they had started in Austria – as one can well imagine – during World War I. In fact, it was precisely within the factories that weapons were made to defend the nation and its citizens. It was within the factories that, in one way or another, the foundations were laid for a possible victory at the front.

Thus, numerous propaganda films were released, intended for distribution not only in national cinemas, but also, where possible, abroad. Particularly noteworthy in this regard is the documentary Das Stahlwerk der Poldihütte während des Weltkriegs (‘The steel work of the Poldihütte factory during the World War’), made in 1916 and focusing on the work within the Poldihütte factory, founded in 1889 by Karl Wittgenstein.

Interestingly, in this documentary, particular attention is paid to the machinery used to manufacture weapons, the materials used, and the frenetic rhythm with which the machines themselves produced materials in large quantities. There is almost no place for human beings in Das Stahlwerk der Poldihütte während des Weltkriegs. Everything takes place during one day, while humans and their actions fade into the background. Human beings are only secondary compared to the magnificence of steel and everything that contributes to the greatness of a nation.

Similarly, a frenetic editing further emphasises the incessant work of the machines and their great productivity. And here a decidedly unusual directorial approach for the time immediately brings to mind the cinema of Walter Ruttmann and his Berlin. Die Sinfonie der Gro βstadt (1927). Here too, a frenetic montage is associated with the grandeur of a city – Berlin, precisely – and its imperious industrialisation. Also in this film – which has become emblematic in terms of mise-en-scene today – it is the machines and buildings that narrate an entire day, an important historical period.

Thus, strongly differing from the aforementioned La Sortie de l’Usine Lumière à Lyon, here in both Ruttmann’s film and in Das Stahlwerk der Poldihütte während des Weltkriegs we notice a decidedly antithetical directorial approach. The combination of film and factories is always the same, the music, however, has changed. Machines, here, are the protagonists. But, at the end of the day, reality is no longer the same. Now a war is going on and weapons must be produced to defend one’s nation. What better tool, then, than cinema to make accurate propaganda? Times change and so do intentions. And the cinema itself, once again, proves to be the perfect portrayal of an era, the ideal instrument for documenting the history of every country in the world. Historical memory of everyone.

Bibliography: Das tägliche Brennen: eine Geschichte des österreichischen Films von den Anfängen bis 1945, Elisabeth Büttner, Christian Dewald, Residenz Verlag
Info: the page of Das Stahlwerk der Poldihütte während des Weltkriegs on the website of the Viennale