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Workers and Jobs (1935)


Main image of Workers and Jobs (1935)
35mm, black and white, 15 mins
DirectorArthur Elton
Production CompanyL.F.P.
SponsorMinistry Of Labour

Labour exchanges and the problem of unemployment.

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This was the first in a series of public information films aimed at the unemployed. Others in the series were directed at school leavers (The Right Start and Work Waits for You, both 1936) and the long-term unemployed (On the Way to Work, 1936). This film was aimed at employers and the unemployed, and shows the work of the labour exchange in straightforward fashion. All the films in this series were commissioned by the Ministry of Labour, an early example of cinema as a public information tool.

The film seems to be in two parts. The opening and closing sections are typical public information fare - stirring music, authoritative and informative voice-over, and staged scenes. However, once the operations are shown in the actual exchange the tenor of the film changes. The voice-over disappears, as does the music, while scenes are less staged and performed; indeed the main protagonist, the head of the exchange, is remarkably natural in front of the camera, as are most of the men looking for work (in spite of being far too well-dressed). In many ways, this section has an observational feel, intercut as it is with shots of the men standing, talking, sitting and waiting to be called. The credits make reference to the 'cast' as being actual officials and men looking for work at the Poplar exchange in east London. It feels as if the director is trying to convey 'typical' scenes that an unemployed person might expect to find at the local exchange.

The film was also described as, " experiment in un-enhanced speaking". That is, the microphone was taken on location and speech directly recorded: an unusual practice pre-dating the more celebrated Housing Problems (1935), co-directed by Workers and Jobs' director Arthur Elton with Edgar Anstey.

Its screening history is also curious. Probably made in January 1935 (some of the forms are dated), it was screened at the prestigious Film Society in March 1935, where the use of direct recording attracted comment. This screening drew a rather non-committal review: "I do not see that Elton could have done any other than he has." It was only shown to the Minister for Labour, Ernest Brown, at a special screening in July 1935 and then publicly released.

Simon Baker

*This film is included in the BFI DVD compilation 'Land of Promise: The British Documentary Movement 1930-1950'.

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
1. Recruitment drive (3:46)
2. The waiting list (1:03)
Complete film (10:37)
Cable Ship (1933)
Housing Problems (1935)
Talk About Work (1971)
Elton, Sir Arthur (1906-1973)