This film is part of Free

Rayon - First among Fibres

A richly-textured tribute to the king of manmade fibres

Documentary 1965 24 mins


All hail the king of manmade fibres! The pioneering commercial development of viscose rayon took place in Britain under the auspices of Courtaulds. 60 years later, in an era defined by its enthusiasm for artifice, the firm sponsored this film showcasing rayon's history, chemistry and production. A potentially dull science and history lesson is brought to life by tastefully apt filmmaking - all bright colours and rich textures.

Although Courtaulds had its own in-house film unit, this film is a little more ambitious than its usual productions. The credits mention the involvement of Film Centre, a consultancy best known for managing Shell's prestigious Film Unit. Following a classic template for high-quality industrial films, this one alternates lengthy informative sections with purely visual passages that are more stylised, veering close to abstraction at times. The direction and writing are competent - it's the camerawork by ace cinematographer Wolfgang Suschitzky that's superlative. Rayon is a subject well-suited for film: the process of turning wood pulp to viscose to rayon offers a series of almost magical transformations. Stick around for a slightly odd climactic sequence.