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Moving Earth (1949)


Main image of Moving Earth (1949)
16mm, colour, 25 mins
DirectorJohn Mallison
Production CompanyChelsea Colour Films
ForJohn Laing & Sons Ltd.
ProducerJohn Mallison
ScriptJohn Mallison
PhotographyFrank H.W. Cox
CommentatorF.H. Grisewood

A look at the technology and purpose of open-cast coal-mining.

Show full synopsis

The civil engineering and construction firm of John Laing & Son used a variety of methods to communicate across its nationwide spread of projects and offices. An in-house magazine called Team Spirit was published, sharing news and achievements across the many divisions, featuring everything from house building statistics to reports on the annual staff outings and sports days insisted upon by chairman John William Laing. Though the many films that Laing sponsored had a wider promotional use, they were also used to spread knowledge of the company's work among its staff in order to foster a stronger sense of identity.

Moving Earth is typical of Laing's films in not just giving out a company PR message, but also taking an extreme technical interest in the work, and attempting to document it for posterity. The film lists machines by name and number as if discussing old and new friends. Other films offer thanks or recognition to the workers involved in the project, but here they are purely incidental to the machines that dwarf them.

For a wider audience, the film paints a very untraditional portrait of coalmining, without the familiar sight of a trail of men covered head to foot in coal dust leaving or entering a mine shaft lift. In Moving Earth the large-scale scouring of the earth by machine is presented as a perfectly natural means of reaching the fossil fuels lying dormant in the ground, just waiting to be dug up to assist the recovery drive of the country's economy. But such operations were extreme measures, first adopted on a large scale as a wartime expedient in 1942. The rapidly growing machines, some imported from the US, made possible an expansion of such operations, and of the proportion of the countryside that could be swallowed up and spat out for the national cause. The challenge of the film is to make the viewer see the end as justifying the means, and to provide reassurance that the land is only disturbed in the short-term, hence the concluding section of the film proclaiming Britain's desperate postwar need over footage of pastoral scenes.

Jez Stewart

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Video Clips
Complete film (19:00)
Laing Film Unit