Steel: A Century of Steelmaking on Film DVD
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Directed by Various (Documentary)
Produced in 1928-84
Main Language - English
Countries & Regions - British Film
The latest in the BFI's This Working Life series contains twenty films about the UK's steel industry - a fabulously cinematic process filmed by world-class cameramen, writes Michael Brooke.
It’s easy to see why the BFI picked Britain’s steel industry as the subject of its latest two-disc documentary collection. The entire process of steelmaking is fabulously cinematic, whether it’s the initial smelting of raw pig iron, sparks flying off lumps of white-hot metal as they’re hammered into shape, or even slagheaps momentarily glowing as they’re topped up with a fresh load. This is especially true when filmed by world-class cameramen like Jack Cardiff, Wolfgang Suschitzky or Geoffrey Unsworth, all featured here.
The twenty films are presented in chronological order, from a 1901 Mitchell & Kenyon ‘factory gate’ film (the famous one with a worker flicking a V-sign at the camera) to a 1987 video newsreel about the bleak prospects for Consett after the closure of a firm that employed a third of its population. In between are assorted pieces of political and industrial propaganda (a morale-boosting royal tour, an anti-nationalisation film by the Conservative Party) and some multi-part newsreels - one of which, Ingot Pictorial, complemented the coal industry’s Mining Review.
The end uses of steel are shown via Building of the New Tyne Bridge (1928), which uses animation to clarify construction stages, Mastery of Steel (1933), which shows how iron ore is transformed into a Morris Eight car, and The Ten Year Plan (1945), a look at prefab housing that not only stars Charles Hawtrey but which was future Bond director Lewis Gilbert’s directorial debut. Meanwhile, the animated fantasy River of Steel (1951) imagines a world without the metal. As for steelworkers’ own lives, Steel Town (1958) looks at steel-dependent Stocksbridge, there’s a rather quirkier look at Men of Consett (1959), while Women of Steel (1984) records the reminiscences of wartime munitions factory workers.
But each disc also showcases a great British documentary masterpiece, the newly-restored Steel (1945), with Jack Cardiff’s magnificent Technicolor images capturing every stage of the steelmaking process, and Scottish jewel The Big Mill (1963), whose camera glides along the vast expanses of Ravenscraig steelworks in a strangely haunting, sometimes near-abstract look at an increasingly mechanised process.
Michael Brooke on 24th January 2013
Author of 145 reviews
Following the acclaimed box sets covering the history of Britain's coalmining and shipbuilding industries, the BFI turns its focus on the nation’s steel industry.
Steel provides the backbone of Britain’s industry and society. It was a driving force behind the Second Industrial Revolution and shaped many regions of the UK. In its heyday over 450,000 people were working in the steel industry and while much of the employment it generated is now gone, its influence still lives on, as was spectacularly illustrated in Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony for the 2012 Olympics.
This comprehensive double DVD set features 20 rare documentaries, animations and short films which span the twentieth century. Highlights include footage of the building of the New Tyne bridge in 1928 and the rare 1945 film, Steel, which was shot by award-winning cameraman Jack Cardiff. Other gems include Men of Consett (1959), a wonderfully odd film directed by explorer, cameraman and food writer Tom Stobart, who ventures into the steel community in Consett, County Durham and Women of Steel (Jenny Woodley, 1984) which gives a rare insight into women’s role in the steel industry in wartime Sheffield.
Contents - Disc 1: Parkgate Iron and Steel Co., Rotherham (1901); His Majesty’s Visit to the Clyde (1917); The Building of the New Tyne Bridge (1928); Steel (Civics and Commerce series) (1933); Mastery of Steel (1933); British Steel (1939); Teeth of Steel (1942); Steel (1945); The Ten Year Plan (1945); Common Sense about Steel (1948); Mrs Worth Goes to Westminster (1949); Steel in South Wales (1950)
Disc 2: River of Steel (1951); Ingot Pictorial No 27 (1956); Steel Town (1958); Men of Consett (1959); The Big Mill (1963); Steel for the Seventies (1970); Women of Steel (1984) and Northern Newsreel No 7 (extract - Consett item) (1987).
Length: 348 mins
Format: DVD Colour
Released: 18th February 2013
Cat No: BFIVD868
- 2 discs
- Comprehensive illustrated booklet of film notes and essays.