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Henry Ford: American Folk Hero

January 30th, 2013 · No Comments

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Writer/Producer/Director Sarah Colt and Professor of History at Rice University Douglas Brinkley of 'AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: HENRY FORD' speak onstage during the PBS portion of the 2013 Winter Television Critics Association Press Tour at the Langham Huntington Hotel & Spa on January 14, 2013 in Pasadena, California.(January 13, 2013 - Source: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Writer/Producer/Director Sarah Colt and Professor of History at Rice University Douglas Brinkley of ‘AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: HENRY FORD’ speak onstage during the PBS portion of the 2013 Winter Television Critics Association Press Tour at the Langham Huntington Hotel & Spa on January 14, 2013 in Pasadena, California.
(January 13, 2013 – Source: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Sarah Colt, the documentary filmmaker By Valere Milano Pasadena, CA (Hollywood Today) 1/29/2013 – American Experience: Henry Ford premiered on PBS January 29th.  Historian Douglas Brinkley, best selling author, whose books include Wheels for the World: Henry Ford, His Company, and A Century of Progress,  discusses Ford’s eccentricity, “…when he made it and he got rich, really the money never got to his head, but he started really disdaining people that he didn’t feel shared in his work ethic. And it was kind of a warped version of the puritan work ethic, where you labor all the time. You’re not allowed frills. You’re not allowed to have these good times with alcohol or tobacco. They were banned from his operations. And he became a bit of a scold. And making him more unusual is the man who launched all of our lives on the industrial world that we’re in today, the automobile, the super highways, gasoline, shopping malls, all of it Henry Ford did all of that he spent a lot of his later decades trying to resort back to a rustic rural beginning.” Mr. Brinkley goes on to describe the people’s fascination with Ford, “…he never needed money. He never did anything that he did for the cash. It was all about changing the world. And he could have, he did live much of his life  with Clara, his wife, in a small quarter and been just as happy as to have had a huge mansion. And that kind of person’s unusual. It’s sort of a priest. He was the priest of the gospel of efficiency.” Henry Ford was a leader in the mechanical and industrial revolutions. His goal was not to provide transportation to only the wealthy, his vision was to change the landscape of transport for the every day man. His success came in accomplishing not only this goal but he revolutionized manufacturing by creating the first assembly line, which increased production of one car from twelve hours to a little over one hour, which increased his production to a record-breaking one thousand cars a day. This insightful and all-compassing documentary tells of Ford’s successes and failures not only in the world of automobiles but in the world of the new American man. It details his ever-driving need to control his company, his strained relationship with his son and his burning desire to spend his day-to-day time in his own personal space. It accounts his early humanism that later transitioned to tyranism. Sarah Colt, the documentary filmmaker, explains, “He knew how to inspire people. He had a charm that was kind of an elusive charm. He could walk into a room, and if he was looking at you, you absolutely felt like you were the center of the world. So when he wanted to, he could make you feel great. He was quite charming and quite interesting and had lots of amazingly innovative ideas about almost everything. I mean, he had his hand in everything.” She goes on to describe her attraction to the story of Henry Ford, “…what I was fascinated by was sort of the transformation of this person who was so inspirational to people early in his life or, you know, not that early he was 40 when the Model T came out but in his sort of first 40 years and then what happens to somebody when they sort of gain too much power and control and how that changes a person.  There was a real evolution in terms of working for Henry Ford. So I think early on, as I mentioned, working for him would have been fantastic, down to the person you know, the lowest you know, sweeping the floor in his small factory early on. He was inspiring, and he spoke to the young men and boys that were there, and they loved him. They looked up to him. Things do not progress well as his company gets much, much bigger, and his relationship with his workers really deteriorates. And I think that in some ways it’s about — in the way sort of I came to understand it and why he was somebody who prided himself on treating his workers well, and then by the ’30s, you have these incredibly terrible sort of spy systems in the factories, treating workers horribly, beating people up, threatening people, firing people.  

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