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Enginemen (1959)


Main image of Enginemen (1959)
16mm, black and white, 21 mins
DirectorMichael Grigsby
Production Co.BFI Experimental Film Fund, Unit Five Seven
Producer/ScriptMichael Grigsby
PhotographyAndrew Hall, Ewan (Euan) Halleron, Eric Harrison

The working day of enginemen at Newton Heath locomotive sheds, Manchester. They discuss the impact of dieselisation on their jobs.

Show full synopsis

Enginemen was the first film made by Unit Five Seven, a group of young independent TV technicians from Manchester. Produced thanks to a tiny grant from the BFI Experimental Film Fund, it was shot over two years at weekends and early in the morning with virtually no equipment other than a 16mm camera. However, the Unit later admitted that the most difficult stage was to add the sound - hence the poor quality of the soundtrack.

Thanks to the BFI connection, Michael Grigsby's film managed to attract the attention of Free Cinema mentor Lindsay Anderson. It was finished just in time to be included in the sixth programme in Spring 1959.

Enginemen records the life and work of enginemen in a locomotive shed outside Manchester. Grigsby remembers that "it was the time of British Railways' modernisation plans and among other things the film explores the enginemen's sense of loss, frustration and perplexity".

The film looks at the men at work on the footplace or during a break in the canteen with similar compassion to previous Free Cinema films. It also employs the same impressionist technique of disjunction between what we hear and what we see, shunning voice-over commentary. For instance, as the camera pans across the canteen room, focusing on the men's bewildered faces, we can hear some of them describing how they feel about the coming of diesel engine with a hint of nostalgia.

The result may not be as powerful as in Anderson's Every Day Except Christmas (to which Enginemen was often compared) but the beautiful shots of the engines earned the film a comparison with J.M.W. Turner's depiction of smoke and steam.

Christophe Dupin

*This film is included in the BFI DVD compilation 'Free Cinema'.

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
Complete film (17:03)
Monthly Film Bulletin review
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Grigsby, Michael (1936-)
Free Cinema
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