Workers Leaving the Factory

1995 | 00:36:00 | Germany | English | B&W and Color | Stereo | 4:3

Collection: Single Titles

Tags: Activism, Film or Videomaking, Found Footage, History, Labor, Media Analysis

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Workers Leaving the Factory - such was the title of the first cinema film ever shown in public. For 45 seconds, this still-existent sequence depicts workers at the photographic products factory in Lyon, owned by the brothers Louis and Auguste Lumière, hurrying, closely packed, out of the shadows of the factory gates and into the afternoon sun. Only here, in departing, are the workers visible as a social group. But where are they going? To a meeting? To the barricades? Or simply home?

These questions have preoccupied generations of documentary filmmakers. For the space before the factory gates has always been the scene of social conflicts. And furthermore, this sequence has become an icon of the narrative medium in the history of the cinema. In his documentary essay of the same title, Harun Farocki explores this scene right through the history of film.

The result of this effort is a fascinating cinematographic analysis in the medium of cinematography itself, ranging in scope from Chaplin's Modern Times to Fritz Lang's Metropolis to Pier Paolo Pasolini's Accattone!. Farocki's film shows that the Lumière brothers' sequence already carries within itself the germ of a foreseeable social development: the eventual disappearance of this form of industrial labor.

-- Klaus Gronenborn, Hildesheimer Allgemeine Zeitung (21 November 1995)