London Film Festival 2014: Seven genres of labor film
The labor movement has a remarkable but often ignored position in film history. Labor films like The Grapes of Wrath and On the Waterfront are considered cinematic classics for good reason, as the former chronicles the great migration of farm workers during America’s Great Depression, while the latter exposes the deep tensions in the American labor movement of the 1950s by highlighting Mafia infiltration of the dockworkers’ union.
Or even some films much lighter, like the farcical I’m All Right, Jack, or the wonderful The Man in the White Suit, both comedies of the clash of classes that British comics like Peter Sellers and Alec Guinness excelled at.
So there is no better place to start a refresher course or even a broad introduction to labor films now quietly gaining a reputation as the next best thing than the London Labor Film Festival.
Here are my tips for film fans looking to get into labor film. No matter your genre, you can get your curiosity about all of them satisfied between April 28th and May 2nd at the Festival.
Women’s work is never done in any country, and there are two films to bring that truth home with a bang, as the Belgian Dardenne brothers’ Rosetta follows a young woman desperate for a decent job and to escape her terrible living conditions and the Polish Women’s Day attacks wage fraud against women workers in a cut-rate supermarket chain.
Kinky Boots is an ideal fit for a labor comedy – a shoe company that must transform itself from old-fashioned products to the latest styles in male stripper and fetishist’s boots.
An essential component of a “top down” labor film is a vision of the power of investors’ money and in this instance, Le Capital, a kind of updated Wall Street with an international twist as a French bank CEO struggles with an American hedge fund for control.
Ever since The Pajama Game ripped the bottoms off the textile industry and Newsies exposed the greed of the original newspaper tycoons, we have been waiting for another challenging labor musical and Big Society The Musical is a unique variation in the tradition, as it finds its attack on government cuts to essential services in the songs and music of the youth from a Liverpool Youth Centre.
Labor in sci-fi has often been ignored but a handful of films like Silent Running have dramatized the risks as well as the excitement of working in outer space.
Charlie Chaplain is the history of cinema and the festival’s Monsieur Verdoux, like Modern Times, shows the social and political consciousness of this master comedian as he portrays a laid-off bank teller who turns to what he feels is justifiable crime against the system.
Innovative labor documentaries such as Trash Dance, a unique look at the power and functional beauty of refuse trucks brilliantly choreographed, Burn, a sobering trip into the Detroit world of fires, arson, and false alarms, staffed by weary but brave firefighters, Burgos, the story of the abduction of a farmer and union member, and what will surely be one of the most controversial documentaries in years, Still The Enemy Within, revisiting the history and aftermath of the Miners’ Strike of the 1980s, remain one of the strongest arguments for the importance of labor films.
You can find all these films and more, and buy tickets online at the London Labour Film Festival website: londonlabourfilmfest.com