Review

By Sutcliffe, Thomas | The Independent (London, England), November 14, 1995 | Go to article overview
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Review


Sutcliffe, Thomas, The Independent (London, England)


Documentaries, unlike gas fires, do not come with an accompanying certificate of safety. There is no television Kitemark, a symbol which might offer some guarantee of protection when you allow a film crew into your life. Which is why, despite repeated instances of bad burns to self- esteem, people continue to expose their tender parts to the superheated scrutiny of documentary directors. "We're not like the people in that golf club," they must think. "We'll come out alright."

The latest community to suffer the experience is the Robinson Willey factory in Liverpool, a small company making gas fires from outdated and uncomfortable-looking premises. Only those who work there will know to what degree the smarting sensation caused by some of these scenes is to do with the revelation of truth or merely with the director getting smart. For the rest of us it is a little more difficult, but there were a couple of scenes in "Tell Me Who My Boss Is Please", the opening episode of Paul Watson's The Factory (C4), that alerted you to the possibility, at least, that it was the latter.

Watson's film was nothing if not skilful; within 20 seconds of the start you had the arresting plot-line - a small company with problems, pinning all its hopes on a new product line. A roomful of grim-looking salespeople are told that failure with the new line will have "serious consequences regarding the future deployment of where we are going as a salesforce", a warning that isn't quite in English but still requires no translation. Then Watson cuts from the last gloomy sentence ("this is absolutely critical to our success") to a similar phrase in a Pathe newsreel, full of post-war exhortation about Britain's industrial future. It turns out that Watson has actually edited this newsreel, incorporating in it black- and-white scenes from the Robinson Willey factory. The factory, this edit implies, is archaic in its methods and positively archaeological in its industrial relations. What followed rather bore out this view, but then such a categorical and early verdict has a way of affecting what you see.

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