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Liverpool - Gateway of Empire (1933)


Main image of Liverpool - Gateway of Empire (1933)
16mm, black and white, silent, 273 feet
Production CompanyMerseyside Workers' Film Society

Liverpool in times of prosperity with busy docks, shipping companies, prosperous commercial buildings contrasted with empty docks, idle machinery, unemployment and workers' demonstrations.

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Started by a group of socialist teachers who met in Birkenhead, the Merseyside Workers' Film Society was formed in 1930, one of a number of such societies which followed the establishment of the Federation of Workers Film Society a year earlier, with the objective of facilitating and encouraging the exhibition and production of films of value to the working class.

At first, the Merseyside society's activities were concentrated on film screenings, which sometimes attracted more than 500 people. Because of the society's perceived 'subversive character' - an impression based on the movement's controversial programmes, which drew heavily on Soviet film - such screenings frequently brought protests from local authorities and the press. In 1933, it produced its only known moving image production, Liverpool: Gateway of Empire, shot on 16mm film. The film has been likened to what the German cultural critic Siegfried Kracauer described as 'cross-section films': a particular form of filmmaking, often associated with the work of Walter Ruttmann and Dziga Vertov, which describes various social aspects of the everyday life of an urban population.

Liverpool: Gateway of Empire dedicates itself exclusively to the portrayal of various activities in and around the Liverpool docks, which makes this production a rare and valuable document of dock activities at the time. The film starts with the depiction of typical Liverpool landmarks, such as the Liver Building, the Liverpool Docks and the 'dockers' umbrella' - the Liverpool Overhead Railway. These sites are shown filled with dock workers diligently loading and unloading cargo, moving cranes and other machinery. Later in the film, such imagery is juxtaposed (in line with a Soviet montage aesthetic) with provocative intertitles, announcing 'speed up', 'wealth', 'stored', or 'for profit', alongside shots showing decorated shop windows, buildings of financial institutes, and the Ministry of Labour Seamen Employment Exchange, all of which highlight the economic and social injustice and menace of impending unemployment of the working class. In the style of the Russian political strategy 'agitprop', the film shows the mobilisation of the dock workers, who are called into strike action executed in the streets of Liverpool.

Selected Resources:
Jones, Stephen G., The British Labour Movement and Film, 1918-1939, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London and New York, 1987.
Hogenkamp, Bert, Deadly Parallels: Film and the Left in Britain 1929-39, Lawrence and Whishart, London, 1986.

Richard Koeck

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