• Educational Film Institute of New York University and Documentary Film Productions, Inc.
  • 1941
  • 30 minutes
  • Directed by Willard Van Dyke
  • Script by Spencer Pollard and Willard Van Dyke
  • Commentary by Spencer Pollard [Assisted by Ben Maddow ("David Wolff") courtesy of Frontier Films]
  • Music by Marc Blitzstein
  • Photography by Roger Barlow and Bob Churchill
  • Edited by Irving Lerner
  • Narrated by Ray Collins
  • Orchestra Conducted by Alexander Smallens

  • Valley Town


    New York University "presents the first in a series of films on national economic issues." Valley Town looks at one Pennsylvania community that slept and ate by machines and asks, "What about the men?" The first half of the film portrays machines bringing life to the small town, with plants, mills, men, and trains working in time with the music.

    The prosperity does not last, however, as high speed automatic strip mills leave men out of work. "What am I going home for?" asks one husband and father, as his wife ironically sings "Add up pennies" in the wondrous Age of Machines. There once was hope of the mills re-opening. Yet, the downing of the smoke stacks signals that the displaced workers are truly obsolete, broken machines in a national crisis. The conclusion of the film urges for government re-training programs that will keep men as modern as machines.

    Valley Town


    Valley Town appears to have a simple descriptive documentary structure telling the story of the struggles of an American industrial town. Yet Van Dyke utilized "unconventional" techniques in his documentary. The first is the narration. As Van Dyke states, "the narrator becomes a character. He is the mayor of the town. And the people in the town use song and speech to carry the story forward." 1

    Van Dyke broke from the confines of the medium and added characterization and dramatic musical scenes to his documentary. He goes on to state: "There was one thing missing. We felt that somehow we must get inside the people's minds....What does the workman think when he begins to lose his skill? We knew well enough what he would say, but that wasn't enough. We'd have to find a way to let his thoughts speak for him." 2

    The way was discovered through music. The overall structure of the work is straight forward. A descriptive syntagma introducing the town and the mayor. The narration then becomes sparse as a series of montages (bracket syntagmas) appear with dynamic music synchronizing with the actions of men and machines in factories. Then a dramatic middle in which the line of the physical documentary and telling the story is crossed so that the characters relay their own thoughts and emotions through song.

    After the dramatic melodic sequence, the documentary returns to ordinary sequence as the smoke stacks are downed and the displaced workers sit broken and dejected. For the ending, however, two different versions exist. Van Dyke was asked by his sponsors to stress the fact that workers need to keep re-training themselves to prevent future Valley Towns. In the original, men were back to work in defense plants, talking to each other, accompanied by music. In the second version shots were cut up, music left out, and narration was added stressing government training. Major revisions were also made to the woman's voice in the melodic sequence and even the mayor, Ray Collins's voice, both being made "less shrill."

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    1 Jacobs, Lewis. Ed. The Documentary Tradition: From Nanook to Woodstock. New York: Hopkins and Blake, 1971. (349).
    2 Kracauer, Siegfried. Theory of Film: The Redemption of Physical Reality. London: Oxford University Press, 1960. (206).