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Shovel, The (1953)


Main image of Shovel, The (1953)
35mm, black and white, 17 mins
DirectorAlun Falconer
Production CompanyNational Coal Board Film Unit
SponsorNational Coal Board
ProducerDonald Alexander
PhotographyLionel Griffiths
CommentatorPhilip Robinson

The evolution of the shovel over the centuries has led to a wide range of types for different purposes.

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Everything you always wanted to know about shovels but were afraid to ask...

After a scene-setting history lesson, we're into practicalities - choosing from a bizarrely eclectic selection of shovels, learning how they're deployed in sister industries, observing their use in the pit and analysing good shovel action in minuscule detail. For the lay viewer, the effect is mind-boggling, mesmeric. But for the specialist viewer - the only one for whom the film's intended - the technical theory should be crystal clear, ready for applying at the face.

"A good miner is a good shoveller." The 1950s were transitional in as much as traditional methods co-existed with modern ones, which spread gradually at first. This film was still in the catalogue 25 years later, though by then much less frequently booked. Through the 1950s and early 1960s shovelling was reduced greatly by the game-changing spread of mechanised power-loading proclaimed by New Power In Their Hands.

But if the eponymous implement makes for a humbler, more primitive subject than that of many Technical Film Unit productions, the film's style is handsomely representative. Compositions are sometimes startlingly well-judged, lighting crisp, and cinematic technique resourcefully used: slow-mo studies of shovels in graceful action. But any unnecessary artiness - in fact anything at all that might distract from the training task - is rigorously spurned. Economy, lucidity, a thorough grasp of technicality, impeccable analytical logic, and a love of film form as a means to useful ends: these were the prime characteristics of the NCB's earliest phase of internal film production, instilled in gifted filmmakers like New Zealander Alun Falconer by the charismatic, strong-willed Donald Alexander.

Patrick Russell

*This film is included in the BFI DVD compilation 'Portrait of a Miner: The National Coal Board Collection Volume 1'.

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Video Clips
1. Historical shovels (3:01)
2. Contemporary shovels (3:03)
3. Shovelling skills (10:05)
Complete film (17:03)