The shipyards of Barrow-in-Furness are the setting for this enduring classic of 1930s British documentary . Paul Rotha, one of the most precocious and distinctive talents of the documentary movement, takes a familiar subject and format for industrial documentary – something being made, in this case the meticulous assembly of the sea liner Orion – and turns it into a modernist masterpiece.
Inspired by Soviet ‘montage’ editing, Rotha brilliantly captures the metronomic rhythm of the construction process and the beauty of the resulting grand vessels. Rotha made the film while working for Gaumont-British Instructional (normally known for much more conventional filmmaking), on money from the Orient Shipping Company and shipbuilders Vickers Armstrong, making monthly filmmaking sorties to the shipyard for almost a year (there is sleight-of-hand in the film, in that Rotha actually filmed the construction of two different boats, built three months apart). His choice of final image - shipbuilders departing the quay following the triumphant launch - adds a subtle, socially conscious and melancholy undertone to the otherwise thrusting forward momentum of his memorably vigorous filmmaking.
Shipyard is also available on the BFI DVD collection Tales from the Shipyard.