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Launch (1974)

Courtesy of Amber Films

Main image of Launch (1974)
16mm, colour, 10 mins
DirectorsPeter Roberts
 Murray Martin
Production CompanyAmber Films
ProducersPeter Rogers
 Murray Martin
PhotographyMurray Martin
 Peter Roberts

Activities leading up to the launch of a large ship built at the Swan Hunter's Wallsend shipyard.

Show full synopsis

Amber's first film, Maybe (1969), had its origins as a student film by Murray Martin and Graham Denman at the Regent Street Polytechnic. Having obtained financial support from Northern Arts, they then produced Launch in 1973, documenting the construction and launch of a tanker at the Wallsend shipyards. Produced with a budget of only £400, Launch exemplifies Amber's approach to aesthetics, politics and working practices. The influence here of the British documentary movement and even the newsreels is clear, as is that of European neo-realism and perhaps even the early workplace documentaries of Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski. However, there are important differences and shifts of emphasis. There is, for example, no narration, and the treatment of the royal visitor subtly undercuts the established news treatment of such events, marginalising the VIPs that are conventionally the focus of attention, and shifting the political significance to the representation of labour and community.

Visually, the film creates not only an authentic portrait of shipyard labour, but also the way in which the tanker comes to dominate the landscape, culminating in its final launch, is breathtaking. Structurally, Launch represents the lifecycle of a community equally dominated by shipbuilding. The shot of the tanker sliding out of view from the end of the street was, at the time, emblematic of both an end and a beginning. 30 years on, following the decline of British shipbuilding, the image takes on a more poignant quality. When shown on Channel 4 in 1982, Chris Auty aptly described the film in the Sunday Times as "a tone poem on working life with a distinctive combination of loving nostalgia and political protest." It remains both an outstanding film and a remarkable social record.

Martin Hunt

*This film is included in the BFI DVD compilation 'Tales from the Shipyard'.

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
Complete film (10:37)
King Edward VII Launches H.M.S. Dreadnought (1906)
Amber Collective (1969-)
Amber Films
Short Films
Tales from the Shipyard