Valley Town (film #3 on Our Secret Century, Vol. 2: Capitalist Realism CD-ROM (Voyager). Also, film #1000 on Prelinger Archive). [Category: Public Service]

This 1930s documentary about the impact of the Depression on steelworkers in a Pennsylvania town stands in stark contrast to the optimistic corporate films on this and the other Our Secret Century discs, and yet it shares certain traits with them as well. This film shows us the downside of capitalism and the Industrial Revolution. A steel town thrives from all the new industries providing jobs for its citizens and lots of nifty machine-made goods to buy. But then the Depression hits and factories close down. Two thirds of the workforce is thrown out of work. And when some of the factories open up again, it's with new, high-speed automated equipment, which requires much fewer workers. The despair of the unemployed workers and their families is shown, as is the need for aggressive retraining programs, so that the workers can find new jobs. This film uses a lot of the same techniques as the corporate-sponsored films, but with a very different message. Thus it reminds me a lot of those other films, but in stark counterpoint. The initial images of thriving factories are a lot like those in Master Hands, but with the looming specter of the inevitable closing of the plant hovering over them. We see a worker walking home, like in From Dawn to Sunset, but this worker is not walking home from work, but from another unsuccessful day looking for a job. He walks through a run-down slum area, rather than one of the pretty neighborhoods in the other film. And instead of hearing voices singing about his "perfect life", you hear him thinking about how he dreads going home and seeing once again the disappointment in his wife's face when he tells her he hasn't found work yet. There's even a musical interlude featuring a housewife, like in Design for Dreaming. But this housewife isn't having pretty dreams about a rosy future, she's adding up all the family expenses in her head and worrying about where the money's going to come from––to her, the future looks pretty bleak. A touching film that provides a good dose of reality to the Our Secret Century series.

Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: N/A. Weirdness: ****. Historical Interest: *****. Overall Rating: *****.

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