Working on Screen: Too Much Fiction or Too Much Fact?

Having seen both "Avatar" and "Up in the Air," I associate "Air" much more than "Avatar" with workers and workplaces as I experience them. If you haven't seen it, actors George Clooney and Anna Kendrick are consultants who fly from city to city to inform white-collar workers they've been fired. What we learn at the end of the movie is that most of these unlucky workers really did lose their jobs in the months before filming took place. The film was all too real, in other words -- Houston Chronicle movie critic Amy Biancolli got it right when she wrote this in her December 2009 review: "Crisply funny and fleetly paced, it's in its quiet way one of the saddest things in the theaters all year."

Meanwhile, James Cameron's smash hit "Avatar" is wowing audiences who see its 3D version but angering some viewers with its plot of soldiers protecting a rapacious mining operation on a distant planet. Is it anti-capitalist? Anti-American? Anti-military? Evidence for all of these themes can be found in the movie.

From "Potemkin" in 1925 to "Race to the Bottom" in 2009, moviemakers have portrayed working people thousands of times and probably have cast just as many greedy or evil bosses. The AFL-CIO's blog touted a new database that makes finding these films much easier. Created by Chris Garlock, director of the DC Labor Filmfest, and the pro-labor LabourStart, the database alphabetically lists more than 1,450 films about work, including classics such as "On the Waterfront" and "The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit."

"Office Space," "9 to 5," and "Norma Rae" make the list, of course, but so do "Caddyshack" and "The Full Monty," comedies that involve labor-management relations and unemployment, respectively. Even "Spartacus," about a revolt of Roman slaves, made the list.

Tell us what you think is missing from the list. What's the best film ever done about workers and working? Which ones are the worst and why?

Posted by Jerry Laws on Jan 12, 2010

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