the beast of yucca flats (coleman francis, 1961)
oscars

film fatales #74: american factory (steven bognar and julia reichert, 2019)

This film will always be known as the first one produced by the Obamas' production company. It makes sense that they back it ... Bognar and Reichert make every effort to be fair to all sides. You could say it's a centrist film.

American Factory is about work, but it is more about clashing cultures, where the workplace is where the cultures meet. It takes place near Dayton, Ohio, where a Chinese company took over a former GM plant and remade it as a factory for making auto glass. The workers, many of whom lost jobs with GM, are initially glad to have someone running the plant and offering jobs, but over time, the American ideas about work clash with those of the Chinese. This comes across most clearly as the workers try to organize into a union (they fail).

I am not trustworthy about this topic. I spent ten years working in a factory, and that informed/poisoned my attitudes to this day. When the Chinese try to encourage a family feel among the workers and bosses, I get pissed just thinking back 35+ years to when I saw similar attempts at my workplace. I appreciate the desire of the filmmakers to show both sides, and I understand how the workers feel it necessary to accept less than ideal working conditions just so they can keep their jobs. But I can't stand the bosses. I think they are right about one thing ... the Chinese understand that automation is the future. In American Factory, they are seen as callous because they seem happy to lay off as many humans as possible and replace them with machines. But as someone with first hand knowledge of how shitty many factory jobs can be, and with a belief that there should be a way to support those workers as they are replaced (because the machines will do jobs no human should have to do), I find the whole thing frustrating. In my future utopia, no one works any more. I don't want people to get shitty jobs, I want people to get enough money to live without working. In other words, I am not trustworthy about this topic.

(Here is a letterboxd list of Film Fatales movies.)

Comments

steve

This is the best take on this film I've seen. Reichert and Bognar are good lefties, but they really seem to pull their punches here. They seem to accept the Chinese work ethic on its own terms, because...why? Don't want to impose western values? In fact, lots and lots of Chinese workers chafe at the paternalistic, rigidly top down management structure in both blue and white collar settings and would really like something more humane. But Chinese unions serve management interests, kind of like the Commissioner of Baseball serves owners.

Steven Rubio

It's telling that Chairman Cao was pleased with the Oscar.

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