The Panoply of Persuasion: A Very Brief History of U.S. Sponsored Films
Programme notes by Rick Prelinger

ADMIRAL CIGARETTE (Edison Manufacturing Co., US 1897)
Regia/dir: William Heise; 35mm, c.50 ft., 30” (?? fps); fonte copia/print source: Library of Congress, Washington, DC.
Senza didascalie / No intertitles.

One of the earliest advertising films, said to have stopped traffic when projected outdoors on Broadway in New York City.  Four actors costumed as national symbols, including a Native American and Uncle Sam, sit in front of a large Admiral Cigarette sign.  A showgirl leaps out of a giant cigarette package and showers the group with cigarettes.  The men unroll a banner that reads “WE ALL SMOKE”.
Advertising films, a full-fledged art form in Europe and a much-berated genre in the U.S., have appeared and disappeared many times throughout film history.  Known in the trade as “Minute Movies”, these films perfected the art of storytelling in one minute or less, and fought to retain the attention of their audiences while alienating them at the same time.  They may be credited as narrative and aesthetic ancestors of today’s television spot.  They resurged in the 1930s and 1940s, largely disappeared with the advent of television, and have now come back with a vengeance.

AN AMERICAN IN THE MAKING (Thanhouser Co., per/for United States Steel Corp., US 1913)
Regia/dir: Charles J. Hite; cast: Harry Benham, Ethyle Cooke, Leland Benham; 35mm, 1075 ft; 18’ (?? fps); fonte copia/print source: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland.
Didascalie in inglese / English intertitles.

A Hungarian immigrant settles in Gary, Indiana, where he finds employment at the Illinois Steel Company, a division of the U.S. Steel Corporation.  The film shows the modern safety measures practiced at the plant, and views of Gary and its facilities for workers and their families.  In parallel, the film shows how the immigrant improves himself through education, marries a schoolteacher, and becomes thoroughly Americanized.  The film was shot on location on Ellis Island, at the Illinois Steel facility in Gary, and at the National Tube Works in Lorain, Ohio.
Sponsored by U.S. Steel and distributed through the U.S. Bureau of Mines, a government agency that operated a broad and long-lasting distribution mechanism for corporate-sponsored films lacking explicit advertising, An American in the Making carries parallel messages, demonstrating corporate paternalism and promoting the “Americanization” of non-English-speaking immigrants.  Far from an isolated instance of corporate speech, this film was part of a broad-based campaign to acculturate immigrants, a campaign that also included adult education classes, citizenship pageants, the publication of considerable printed material, and aggressive social work in communities of the foreign-born.  Industrial safety, the topic of many thousands of industrial films, is the occasion for class collaboration in this film: the company boasts of their achievements in providing a safe workplace, and urges workers to learn English so as to communicate more effectively and work more safely.

UNHOOKING THE HOOKWORM (Coronet Pictures, per/for International Health Board of the Rockefeller Foundation, US 1920)
Regia/dir: George Skinner; 35mm, 944 ft., 10’ (?? fps); fonte copia/print source: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland, & The Rockefeller Archive Center, Sleepy Hollow, NY.
Didascalie in inglese / English intertitles.

Combining a bit of drama, laboratory scenes, and microcinematography, Unhooking the Hookworm was produced to educate rural residents of the Southern U.S. about the destructive effects of hookworm and promote its eradication.  Hookworm afflicted 40% of schoolchildren in eleven Southern states until Charles W. Stiles convinced John D. Rockefeller, Sr. in 1909 to grant $1 million to address the problem.  The program nearly eradicated hookworm in the South over a five-year period, and continued funding kept the program alive and financed this film, whose planning began in 1917.  Educators, scientists, and public health officials reviewed the script prior to shooting.  According to the Rockefeller Archive Center, the microcinematographic work cost $3 per foot.
Like many other public health films of the period, this film was shown where people congregated, especially at fairs, public events, and community meetings. The film enjoyed a long life, was translated into Spanish, French, and Portuguese, and distributed in 17 other countries.

BEHIND THE SCENES AT HUTZLER’S (Stark Films, per/for Hutzler’s, US 1938)
Regia/dir: ?; 35mm, 1 rl., ?? ft., 14’ (?? fps); fonte copia/print source: Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore, MD.
Didascalie in inglese / English intertitles.

This informal and pleasantly-tempered staff portrait was commissioned to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Hutzler’s, a large department store in Baltimore, Maryland.  The picture emphasizes the company’s esprit de corps, and shows workers dining in the staff cafeteria, playing quoits, and relaxing at a company party and talent show.  The film also takes a good-natured swipe at the top managers, showing them trying to lose weight.  The concluding intertitle reads, “THE END OF A PERFECT DAY (EVERY DAY – AT HUTZLER’S)”.
Among the most ephemeral of sponsored films, company self-portraits were made in great numbers, but seldom shown outside the companies where they were produced.  It is likely that few survive.  Most are structured around tours of company buildings, day-in-the-life stories, speeches by top management, or ceremonies, such as the company party pictured in this film.  The genre is venerable, going back to the earliest filmmakers – think of La Sortie des usines, arguably the first industrial film and home movie all in one.

MASTER HANDS (Jam Handy Organization, per/for Chevrolet Motor Company, US 1936)
Regia/dir: ?; 35mm, 2934 ft., 33’ (24 fps); fonte copia/print source: Prelinger Archives, San Francisco, & Library of Congress, Washington, DC.
Didascalie e voce off in inglese / English titles & narration.

This magisterial film (probably produced to show at a stockholders’ meeting) shows the manufacturing of Chevrolet automobiles at the company’s factory in Flint, Michigan, including tool-and-die making, foundry operations, semi-robotic welding of car frames, fabrication of parts and accessories, and final assembly. At the end, the arms and hands of an assembly worker dissolve to the tweed-jacketed arms of a suburban driver, and the finished Chevrolet drives away on a country road. Produced the same year as Modern Times and Triumph of the Will, the film employs representational strategies we might otherwise associate with Soviet-style cinema, and this has led some to call it an example of “capitalist realism”.
Master Hands was produced in early 1936, a time when the United Auto Workers and General Motors, Chevrolet’s parent company, were in conflict over the union’s effort to organize Flint workers.  The plant shown in the film was already contested space, and would become even more so at the very end of 1936, when workers occupied the plant and began the famous “sit-down strike”.  UAW organizer Wyndham Mortimer notes in his autobiography that 10% of Flint workers were paid extra to report on union activity, so it may be reasonable to assume that on average one out of every ten workers pictured in the film may have been a company spy.
Though the film seems to have been produced to ennoble the process of automobile manufacturing, it seems to pay more tribute to the designers and planners of the manufacturing process than those who executed it.  Its real focus is on co-ordination, organization, and logistics, and though it appears to honor the assembly line workers, it also presents the tedium and danger of their jobs in full detail.  This disjunction between the apparent rhetoric of the film and what its images actually show elevates Master Hands above many other films in this category, and turns its portentous Wagnerian-influenced score from a minus into a plus.
Essentially a silent film, the film is set to a score by Samuel Benavie, a Russian-born staff composer at Jam Handy, performed by the Detroit Philharmonic Orchestra, and contains only two lines of narration.  Master Hands was restored in 2006 from the only known material (a 35mm release print) by Film Technology Co. and BluWave Audio.