December 24, 2009

philips radio (1931)

Most of my viewings this month have been Joris Ivens films. This Ivens kick has been long overdue. I have decided to write about some of these films.

Philips Radio began my Ivens kick. As an abstract "industrial symphony" and early silent-sound hybrid, the film is certainly a safe entry point for me. It is beautiful and pleasant...

I write this mild description of the film because other bloggers have not found it mild, beautiful, and pleasant. This confused me.

For example, this guy writes:
The first Dutch sound film, it was commissioned by the Philips Eindhoven company, branches of which refused to show it. This film is openly ambivalent about the factory whose activity it shows.

Glass bulb blowing exerts its usual fascination; the strenuously puffed cheeks are no worse than afflicts a musician playing certain instruments. The tone is moderate; most of the film seems neutral -- although at length this in itself projects something of the dehumanizing factory monotony of Jean-Luc Godard’s
British Sounds (1968) and Pravda (1970)....

Ivens’s film expresses the ambivalence towards the factory that most of us, consciously or unconsciously, feel. Such progress -- at such a human cost.
If this is what Philips Radio expresses, I completely missed it. I saw people at work, all of them quite human. But if this guy's fact about Philips branches refusing to show the picture is true, I really missed something. Perhaps this "pleasant" film is actually critical.

This other guy seems to think so:
At this early stage Ivens already observes social problems. He showed the deadly repetitious action of a boy at a stamping machine where the machine seems to do the thinking and the boy the moving. Hundreds of girls working at the endless conveyer belt - where a girl would be fired if she broke one of the thousands inexpensive bulbs which she handled daily. The glass-blowers rarely live beyond the age of 45 and earn only 10% more than their fellow workers.
Where did these new facts suddenly come from? None of this was in the film I saw. Glass blowers blew and stamping machines stamped and girls did routine routines, yes, but all in a very pleasant way. I saw no injustice or death to speak of. Here are some screenshots of workers; tell me if you see injustice/death:

After reading these strange bloggers, I sought clarity. In Hans Schoots's biography of Ivens, I found it:
The Dutch reviews of Philips Radio were favorable but far from jubilant. A striking number of critics complained that Ivens showed an excessive interest in the machinery and too little interest in the people who worked at it. 'Ivens didn't see any people in the factories,' wrote Het Volk, and even spoke of a 'document inhumain'. The filmmaker himself developed an ambiguous attitude to this piece of work. He sometimes liked considering it a documentary version of Chaplin's Modern Times, but although Ivens also showed man as an appendage of the machine, he lacked Chaplin's critical approach. At other times Ivens simply said that the film gave an impression 'of what a cineaste who is sympathetic to the product sees'. More than anything, his film shows his enormous respect for modern technology, an admiration that was consistent with the aim of the film. During shooting Ivens explained to an NRC journalist: 'The audience has to be fascinated by what it sees, it has to be impressed by the company, so that it goes away thinking: a company with a set-up like this must make a good product.' He had made a company film in pure Neue Sachlichkeit style, something no one could reasonably object to. Although there were apparently some dissenting voices, the management of Philips was generally satisfied and the screening even brought tears to the eyes of old Mr. Philips. A company press release spoke of a 'good modern film', and Philips proudly referred to 'our Ivens film' in letters to the Commission for Film Censorship.
Good. I am right. But what of the places that refused to show the film?
This did not stop the film from being cut for screenings in Rotterdam and Nijmegen. The film was too long to be part of a double feature within a normal program, and as a concession to the theater operators, Philips arranged for it to be shortened. The abstract, experimental ending took the brunt.
I do not know what is wrong with bloggers these days; one is safest not reading them.

As for Philips Radio ... I leave you with images of mechanical abstraction, the beauty that is the film's heart:

1 comment:

jesusolofchrist said...

Hello Mango.

I hope you find some form of joy in my new project, as long as I don't make you worse I am fine with this creation.