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9 The Boss’s Film: Expert Amateurs and Industrial Culture Brian R. Jacobson Amateur films pose unique interpretive challenges to modern viewers and historians. They encourage speculative readings based more on contemporary ideas about their subjects than the historical realities—often unknown, always incomplete—of their production, distribution, exhibition, and reception. We read them—as much as, if not more so, than other kinds of films—through the lens of the present, mediated by both our distance from the past and our preconceptions about it. This lens shapes, no less, the very choice of the objects we examine. With amateur films, the historian and archivist face what might seem like an undifferentiated mass of often quotidian footage: hunting trips, beach scenes, train rides, plane flights, children playing, dogs barking, horses jumping , people running. How does one choose what deserves further consideration? To what degree and in what ways can the historian illuminate both the chosen content and the choice of it? And what kinds of unexpected insights can even the most orthodox of choices produce? This essay poses these questions about a small selection of films taken from two moving image collections at Northeast Historic Film in Bucksport, Maine. Its title—“The Boss’s Film”—already suggests why these particular films have been selected and one interpretive lens through which they might be analyzed. Two come from a collection of films made between 1926 and 1941 by Henry Sturgis Dennison (1877–1952), the “boss” of paper products company Dennison Manufacturing in Framingham, Massachusetts. Dennison’s films include footage—much of it skillfully captured—of family trips to Martha’s Vineyard, Niagara Falls, and Yellowstone National Park; holidays spent at the family’s lodge near Springfield, Maine; scenes of leisure time at the family home; hunting, hiking , and river trips; and sporting events. Several films, though, focus on Dennison ’s working life. The first, most likely shot in late 1927, presents workers leaving the Dennison factory in Framingham. One sequence captures a long stream of workers who pass the filmmaker as they depart from the factory, which is visible on the opposite corner. A second sequence includes departing workers carrying gifts, and the factory, here seen from several vantage points, decorated for The Boss’s Film | 199 the holiday season with garlands looping around the building’s colonnade and a large wrapped present on the front lawn. A second film, shot in 1936, features the boss on his own lawn, sitting, talking, and pacing in the sun with economist John Kenneth Galbraith. The final film comes from a collection made by Charles B. Hinds (1881–1958), the owner of a hand cream company in Portland, Maine. Like Dennison, Hinds used film to record both his working and family lives, including travel, leisure, and public events. And like Dennison, he made his employees film subjects. But rather than capturing them leaving their work, Hinds put his camera in the midst of it. His 1925 factory film documents the company’s production process at length, from the initial preparation of their trademark cream, to successive stages of bottling, labeling, packing, and shipping. Why these films? What do Dennison and Hinds—and their respective films—have in common? What can they tell us about amateur filmmaking? About the aesthetics of home movies? About bosses and workers in the first half of the twentieth century? Or about today’s interest in yesterday’s amateurs, experts, and celebrities? This essay uses such questions about the Dennison and Hinds films to challenge the assumptions that have guided their selection. It argues that these films likely meant something rather different at the time of their production than the assumed meanings that attract us to them now. It also uses them to explore both the changing meaning of amateurism and the early development of industrial film as a form of advertising in cinema’s late silent period. Dennison’s factory films, for instance, evoke the kind of enlightened paternalism often associated with nineteenth-century bosses like the Lumière brothers. The Lumières’ factory gate film—La sortie de l’usine Lumière à Lyon (Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory, 1895)—helped inspire other filmmakers and factory owners to do something similar. Its importance as one of the world’s first films continues to make similar films like Dennison’s interesting for historians. But while they may share similarities, we should not assume that these films are all the same. Indeed, Dennison’s film presents a very different idea...


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