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Dispute (1960)


Main image of Dispute (1960)
35mm, black and white, 36 mins
DirectorFred Moore
Production CompanyBasic Films
SponsorBritish Productivity Council
ProducerLeon Clore
Written byAnthony Simmons
 Fred Moore
Photography Larry Pizer

A factory stoppage is threatened on the eve of a crucial contract being signed, and the works manager, shop steward, foreman and operative each has a different opinion on what happened.

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Commissioned by the British Productivity Council as an instructional film on workplace grievances, Dispute took its inspiration from lofty sources. One was Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon (Japan, 1950), in which an apparently straightforward incident is rendered far more complex through being presented from four different viewpoints, and the other was Reginald Rose's play Twelve Angry Men (made into a successful Hollywood film in 1957), in which a juror persuades his colleagues to re-examine the evidence at a murder trial.

There's no murder here, but the consequences of what initially appears to be a trivial workplace dispute turn out to be potentially highly damaging. A note of urgency is introduced at the start, when a sales rep is delayed from making an important flight to Sweden because he doesn't know whether the precision gearboxes his tractor firm requires can be manufactured in time. The day's final flight is in a few hours, and if he's not on it, a German firm will get the contract instead.

Like Rashomon, Dispute jumps around chronologically, presenting and re-examining events leading up to factory operator Charlie Wilson's dismissal for insubordination. The problem from a management perspective is that Wilson and union rep Joe Cooper believe that a just-introduced new system of recording machine time for maintenance purposes is a cover for a full-scale efficiency study of the workers themselves, with the aim of creating redundancies or at best shorter working hours (his son-in-law has recently had a significant pay cut for similar reasons). This is complicated by political difficulties higher up - works manager Lloyd Mitchell is young and relatively inexperienced, and knows that a poor decision could mean the end of his career. By contrast, foreman Sid Turner, who actually sacked Wilson, has only a few months to go before retirement, and just wants a quiet life.

Director Fred Moore and co-screenwriter Anthony Simmons pack a lot into less than 36 minutes, and go to considerable lengths to give all their characters a psychologically as well as narratively plausible explanation for their apparently intransigent attitude. They conclude the film with a tantalisingly open ending - the sales rep takes the later flight and might be able to buy 48 hours extra time, but only if the dispute is resolved by then. It is safe to assume that screenings at actual workplaces would have been followed by heated discussions as to the best course of action.

Michael Brooke

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Video Clips
1. The situation (3:17)
2. The machine operator (5:13)
3. The foreman (8:06)
4. The shop steward (4:10)
5. The manager (3:01)
Complete film (34:54)
Clore, Leon (1918-1992)
Simmons, Anthony (1922- )