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Three Installations (1952)

Courtesy of Lois Smith/The Sutcliffe Family

Main image of Three Installations (1952)
35mm, black and white, 23 mins
Director Lindsay Anderson
Production CompanySutcliffe Film Unit
ProducerDesmond Sutcliffe
PhotographyWalter Lassally
Commentator Lindsay Anderson

Three different uses of Sutcliffe's conveyor installations.

Show full synopsis

How fortunate that Lindsay Anderson should bump into Lois Sutcliffe at a gathering of film societies in 1947. The meeting resulted not only in a warm friendship which lasted until Anderson's death in 1994, but also in the start of his filmmaking career. Sutcliffe soon commissioned the inexperienced Anderson to make pictures for and about her husband's conveyor belt business, Richard Sutcliffe Ltd and the result was a series of four films, made between 1948 and 1954, of which Three Installations is the third and most accomplished.

Watching Three Installations now, it is strikingly - irrepressibly - kinetic. The film documents three separate conveyor belt operations at an iron works, a cement plant and a dock construction - so there is some degree of movement built in. But Anderson does all he can to inject even more. Conveyor belts zig-zag across the screen. Shots tumble on swiftly, one after the other. Dials turn, lorries shudder, typewriters bash, and all the while accompanied by a sprightly soundtrack which includes a number called 'Conveyor Boogie'. Yes, this is more lively than Anderson's narration about 'rubber-covered impact idlers' would have you believe.

Which is not to say that there aren't moments of reflection. Working on the first of nine documentaries with the cinematographer Walter Lassally, Anderson incorporates luminous interior shots of 1950s factories, and pulls back to reveal delicate landscape compositions. A scene where heavy boats glide their way into the Manchester canal is playfully reminiscent of one of Anderson's favourite films, Jean Vigo's L'atalante (France, 1934). And, at all times, the camera shows more interest in the people operating the machines than in the machines themselves. As with Anderson's earlier work for the Sutcliffes - especially Meet the Pioneers (1948) - there is an honest concern for the working man and woman.

Three Installations is also drenched in raw optimism. Anderson seems to be enjoying himself as he uses conveyor belts to join the dots between the different parts of the industrial process, from design to installation to fabrication to finished product. But the real delight comes in watching the workers interact with one another, weaving themselves into the fabric of society. And so it becomes clear that everyone, from draughtsman to driver, has a place in this particular patchwork. Anderson simply sits above it all, quietly observant, and following E M Forster's dictum - only connect.

Peter Hoskin

*This film is included in the BFI DVD compilation 'Shadows of Progress: Documentary Film in Post-War Britain 1951-1977'.

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
1. Pease and Partners (5:22)
2. Associated Portland Cement (4:09)
3. Sir Alfred McAlpine and Son (9:57)
Complete film (22:14)
Anderson, Lindsay (1923-1994)
Lassally, Walter (1926-)
Postwar Documentary