Displayed simultaneously across twelve monitors, Farocki’s Workers Leaving the Factory in Eleven Decades (2006) opens with footage from one of the first films ever made: La Sortie de l’usine Lumière à Lyon (1895), in which the Lumière brothers recorded workers leaving their family factory in Lyon. As Farocki explains, ‘In cinematography, perception and concept diverge. Indeed history’s first film … shows a building that doesn’t look like a factory at all. It looks more like a farm. When it comes to social conflict, the show place “in front of a factory”, is very significant; when it comes to a private life of a film’s character, which really only begins after work, the factory is relegated to the background. In Fritz Lang’s Clash by Night (1952), one sees Marilyn Monroe on the assembly line, coming out of the factory, and one hears her talking about it. But the existence of factories and movie stars are not compatible. A movie star working in a factory evokes associations of a fairy tale in which a princess must work before she attains her true calling. Factories – and the whole subject of labour – are at the fringes of film history.’ Usually the backdrop to a character’s narrative arc, factories and the whole subject of labour are brought to the fore in Farocki’s work.
In this work, Farocki has compiled a filmic record that spans eleven decades, from the birth of cinema to the new millennium. August and Louis Lumière’s 1895 film is followed by excerpts from Gabriel Veyre’s Sortie de la Briquetterie Meffre et Bourgoin à Hanoi (1899); unattributed footage from the Moscow National Film Archive; D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance (1916); Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1926); Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times (1936); Slátan Dudow’s Frauenschicksale (1952); Michelangelo Antonioni’s Il Deserto Rosso (1964); Jacques Willemont’s La Reprise du travail aux usines Wonder (1968); Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet’s Trop tot, trop tard (1981); elkosta’s Durchfahrtssperre DSP (1987); and Lars von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark (2000). As Farocki explained, ‘The work structure synchronises the workers, the factory gates group them, and this process of compression produces the image of a work force. As may be realised or brought to mind by the portrayal, the people passing through the gates evidently have something fundamental in common. Images are closely related to concepts, thus this film has become a rhetorical figure.’
Workers Leaving the Factory in Eleven Decades is related to an earlier, single-channel video work from 1995, entitled Workers Leaving the Factory, which evolved a decade later into the 12-screen video installation.