Thursday, February 19, 2009

Open Question: Work and Film

I am currently putting together a course on the politics and philosophy of work. The course is a survey of sorts, taking the place of a more general survey of social and political philosophy; it begins with the contradiction between the place of work and the model of work in Plato and Aristotle (with a nod to Rancière) and then continues through Locke, Smith, Hegel, Marx, and Arendt, ending with feminism and then the "immaterial labor" debate (some Virno, Negri, and Sennett). Because the course is a summer course, and thus is packed into these horrendous three hour sessions that meet several times a week, I was thinking of adding some films. These would break up the heavy reading load, and give me time to prepare lectures.

So this has led me to think, albeit in a loose and provisional manner, about the relationship between work and film as I look for suitable films. Last night I watched Blue Collar, which I learned about from Kino Fist. While watching the film two things occured to me. First, there is an almost uncanny relationship between film and modern factory work. The montage is the natural medium for the assembly line: it is impossible to show it any other way. Film and the Fordist assembly line both fragment the body and its gestures, ultimately reassembling them into a different totality than the one organized by the individual. Despite this vague resemblance at the level of technique (or this vague thought of ressemblance) work is unpresentable, at least in terms of the commercial film. A film that captured the reality of work would beyond the point of boring. Film exists as an escape from work.

So anyway, I am trying to think about interesting films about work. Ideally these films would reflect the historical nature of the survey. Despite what I said above it is relatively easy to find films about modern industrial work, but harder to find films about praxis and poesis, or films which critically interrogate possessive individualism. So far I have considered Strike (or something by Eisenstein), Fast Food Nation, Mardi Gras: Made in China, and perhaps even The Wrestler (given what I have written below).



Steven Shaviro said...

Check out, perhaps, Laurent Cantet's Human Resources (Ressources humaines) or Time Out (L'emploi du temps). Possibly the first part of Godard's British Sounds (you can find it on youtube). For Eisenstein, take a look at The General Line (though it is hard to find, I think).

Also, a book I can recommend if you haven't already seen it: Jonathan Beller's The Cinematic Mode of Production.

unemployed negativity said...

Thanks Steven. I loved L'emploi du temps, and was fascinated by it ever since I heard the story, but had not thought of it in this context. I have read many of Beller's articles and have always found them interesting, they helped me develop a more materialist understanding of Deleuze's cinema books, but I have not read the book.

heavy industry said...

I think Agnes Varda's work is perhaps the best portrayal on the creation of spaces of non -capitalisitc work under capitalism. Perhaps her film Vagabond as well as her Documentary 'The gleaners and I' and her follow up 'The Gleaner: 2 years later'.

'Naked Island' by Kaneto Shinoda is worth checking out as is Hiroshi Teshigahara's film Pitfall set against the background of labour relations in Japan's mining industry.

Wang Bing's ground breaking 9 hour documentary on the fate of China's socialist working class in its NE rust belts is in my opinion the most intimate and devastating portrayal of the death of the fordist dream, be it capitalist or state socialist.

Eric said...

I keep thinking, as I'm wont to do anyway, about Cassavetes's movies and how work plays an important but not exclusive or central role in the movie. And with the exception of Woman Under the Influence, they don't relate to Fordist production: the stage performers and their impresario in Shadows and Killing of a Chinese Bookie, the actors in Opening Night, a gallery owner in Minnie and Moskowitz, the studio execs in Faces. In other words, they might be more on the "immaterial labor" end of things, both in the sense that they create an immaterial product and that the division between worktime and non-work-time is blurred or even invisible (especially in Opening Night).

I also remember a couple of good and funny scenes about work in Not One Less

readingmao said...

Comments makes me think of Jia Zhang Ke's Still Life which is quite accessible. Not so much on labor per se but rather the lack of it: migration, homelessness etc. good remarks on women vs. men's work in a time of destruction also. Smoking, drinking and eating are also a major theme. Also insanely hilarious. nuff said: This guy is one of the best film makers out there.

Nate said...

Modern Times. Excerpts from Metropolis. There's a great list of films here - - several of which would be good for the feminism part too (on that, if you've not read it I highly recommend Jeanne Boydston's book Home and Work, or the article she did in Radical History Review prior to the book).
I'd love to see the syllabus when it's done.
take care,

darknessatnoon said...

What about Mr. Mom?

It's about the "Japanese Invasion" of the American industrial sector. There were a spate of these films in the 80s.

Of course you should read the Siegfried Kracauer book "The Salaried Masses," especially if you do look at Cantet's movie.
- Sharif

darknessatnoon said...

Oh, and there is Lizzie Borden's "Working Girls" about the menial labor of prostitution.

- Sharif

darknessatnoon said...

oooh, from the Mr. Mom era, there is also Gung Ho!

Nate said...

It's been a long while since I've seen it but you might consider Finally Got The News, by the League of Revolutionary Black Workers.

Michael said...

Check out the Spanish film The Method