Subtitled "A Study of Machines and Men," NYU's Valley Town examines industrialization's effect upon a community. Like Work Pays America and The River, Valley Town progresses through two contradictory movements: an initial summary of the salutary effects of mechanization, followed by a renunciation of the claim that machines have built a utopia. Although not dealing with nature as directly as the aforementioned films, Valley Town nevertheless explores the relationship between the organic and the mechanical.

Valley Town opens with an establishing shot of the former view from the Mayor's house: a town perpetually shadowed by smokestacks (Clip 1). Illuminated by the early morning sunrise, nestled in the mountains, this industrial setting takes on an almost pastoral quality. Nevertheless, the mayor's yearning is not for the pastoral (i.e., a complete retreat from the industrial world); he instead reminisces about moment of greater balance between men and the machines which they operate. Having set the tone with this peaceful scene, the film moves into the factory, where machines move in rhythmic unison. Although somewhat similar to corporate depictions of the factory, these images show men served by, not in service to, their instruments; as the mayor narrates, he describes each man on camera, emphasizing his individuality over his status as worker.

"But then the wheels stopped." Following this transition, the town appears again; but this time the smokestacks emit nothing. Storefronts are empty, buildings in shambles, and the men loiter beneath the abandoned factories. Now the smokestacks tower malevolently, and finally a frustrated ex-worker cuts them down as though they were the trees undoubtedly toppled to make room for industry. The men worry that they, like their tools, have been rendered "obsolete"; more likely they, like the mythically unblemished landscape which preceded the factory, have been utterly forgotten. In this small community, pastoralism has long been dead.

Valley Town (1940)



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The Aesthetics of American Documentary Film in the 1930s