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Shipyard (1935)


Main image of Shipyard (1935)
35mm, black and white, 24 mins
DirectorPaul Rotha
Production CompaniesGaumont-British Instructional
 Orient Shipping Line
 Vickers Armstrong
MusicJack Beaver

The building of the S.S. Orion at Barrow-in-Furness.

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Only the fourth of his substantial films, Shipyard shows Paul Rotha well on the way to mastering his documentary craft. By this stage, his use of Soviet-style editing technique was assured and the class polemic of Roadwards (made a year earlier) was displaced by something subtler. Rotha's own account of the film stresses its daring in alluding to the cyclical unemployment of shipbuilding. But to the modern eye the scene showing workers looking after the launched ship and supposedly returning to the dole is remarkably underplayed.

Rotha made the film while he was based at Gaumont-British Instructional, on money from the Orient Shipping Company and the shipbuilders Vickers Armstrong. For almost a year, he made monthly visits to Barrow-in-Furness, staying at "a fly-blown commercial hotel which had no hot water and poor food". On these visits, he filmed the progressive construction of not one ship (which the film conveys), but took advantage of the simultaneous construction of two identical vessels, one three months ahead of the other.

Despite Rotha's leftist intentions, the major theme of the film is, simply, the building and launching of a liner. With the eye of a painter, he composed his shots and waited for good light. For the launch sequence, Rotha hid under a tarpaulin on the ship; the aerial shots of workers in the closing moments are his. The aesthetic of liners as modern wonders had also excited Le Corbusier, and Rotha's film is a true modernist testament.

Tim Boon

*This film is included in the BFI DVD compilations 'Land of Promise: The British Documentary Movement 1930-1950' and 'Tales from the Shipyard'.

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Video Clips
1. Job 697 begins (2:00)
2. Shaping the ship (3:17)
3. The Orion launches (4:34)
Complete film (23:45)
Production stills
Rotha, Paul (1907-1984)
Tales from the Shipyard