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One of the quickest ways of identifying the social issues of a particular generation is by looking at the films produced in that generation. This paper looks at a documentary by Fisk Tire Company titled, “America’s Safest Tires”. Wilding Pictures Production Inc. produced this film. The focus of this paper is the relationship between film grammar used in “America’s Safest Tire” and the social and historical issues of that time. The film was a marketing tool for the company. It wanted to educate the public on the benefits of using their tires, which they termed as the safest tires in America.
Synopsis of the Film
The film starts with a short introduction by a narrator. The narrator sets the stage by introducing Hollywood, which he calls “the glamour and film capital of the world” (Yarbrough, 1930). The narrator then introduces the main character of the film. He is a Hollywood stuntman who does dangerous stunts for films in Hollywood. The motion pictures accompanying the narration include short clips of fast moving vehicles that end up crashing or rolling, a low flying plane that makes acrobatic turns in the air, and a speedboat rushing in the waves. After the introduction, the first scene shows the stunt man arriving in his office in the morning.
His blonde secretary, whom he addresses as “Goldilocks” greets him gleefully and starts discussing his diary. She informs him that a tire company wants him to carry out a test for them. His secretary tells him that the tire company wants him to drive a car that has new test tires on one side, and normal tires on the other side. After attaining some speed, he should slam on the brakes. This test is the main theme of the film. The stuntman feels that the test is too simple and he happily agrees to take the job.
In the next scene, the stunt man arrives in the test yard and meets an official from the tire company. After some explanations, he gets into the test car and after slamming on the brakes, the car rolls. This surprises the stunt man. The company official then explains to him why this happened. This section is the informational part of the film. The stunt man is very impressed by the tires that he orders a set for his stunt car. In the final scene, he uses the car in a daring stunt where he drives the car onto a ramp and then successfully flies over a row of cars. A close up shot of the tires shows that he had used the new tires developed by the Fich Tire Company.
Objective of the Film
The main objective of the film was to demonstrate that the new tire made by the Fich Tire Company was superior to other tires in the market. The company official explained the features of the new tire, which made it superior to the tires in the market. The tire had better grip hence it led to better braking. In addition, it gave the driver better control because of better grip of the road.
A careful scrutiny of the film reveals several sub-themes in the feature film. First, it is clear that the film was keen to portray Hollywood as the film capital of the world. Hollywood was already a filmmaking center by 1930. The decision to stress this fact shows that the director of the film wanted to place the context of the film in Hollywood. Judging from the scenes in the film, the film could have been shot anywhere in the world.
The movie has only one woman in it. The woman in the film is the secretary of the stunt man. It may not have been intentional for the film producers to use only one woman in the cast. In those days, women did not have the opportunities that are available to them today (Stoicea, 2006). They had very few roles in movies and did very little work outside their homes.
It is also important to note that the woman plays the role of a secretary. Historically, most women who had formal jobs were secretaries. All the other people involved in the testing exercise were men. Again, in that generation, men were the technical people in all industries. It would have been a departure from the norm to give a woman a role in the film, which men played in real life. In this regard, the producers did not try to leave the traditional mold. This may have made it easier for the company to pass its message.
The main selling point of the new tire developed by the Fich Tire Company was road safety. It is important to note that in the 1930s car safety standards were rudimentary in comparison to today’s standards. Road safety was a serious concern because cars were becoming faster but the technologies available for controlling the cars were not well developed.
Social Issues in the 1930s
The 1930s was a period of relative peace across the world. The First World War had taken place about a decade earlier, and the Second World War would kick off in another decade. As such, the world was relatively calm, with many countries struggling to rebuild their economies (Lavigne, 1999). However, several prevailing social issues had an impact on the production of the film under review.
The first prevailing issue in the 1930s was the great depression. The great depression had a significant impact on the American economy. The post war years were difficult for most people when the war efforts died down. This means that thrift was one of the key attitudes that influenced how people spent their money. As part of the effort to deal with the great depression, the American government embarked on large-scale construction projects to provide employment for the unemployed masses (Lavigne, 1999). The automobile industry was also struggling to remain afloat because the reduced buying power of many consumers. The economic forces created a depressed, thrifty, and cautious community.
The second social issue in the thirties was the discussion and a redefinition of the place of women in the society. Women still played the traditional roles that they had played for many centuries. The prevailing view was that their place was in the home because they were homemakers and nurturers (Stoicea, 2006). At the time, it was often possible for families to survive on one income. Women were also not very well educated in the 1930s. Social barriers denied women access to specialized education. Many women were settling in marriage and starting families at the time when their male counterparts were joining colleges. In addition, the women could not leave their homes to go to school.
Thirdly, male chauvinism was common in the thirties. Men felt superior to women intellectually. Since men had access to better education and training, they often seemed more knowledgeable and more intelligent compared to women. In reality, the social situation at the time gave men more exposure to personal development opportunities. Men outperformed women because the society made it inevitable. The society did not give women the opportunities they needed to develop their potential. Therefore, the claim that men were superior to women was a self-fulfilling prophecy. Society made women to play lesser roles because it defined them as inferior (Faulkner & Segan-Horn, 2004). It then denied them the resources to develop their potential.
The next theme that pervaded the social climate of the 1930s was prosperity. Dreams of prosperity tend to pervade any society that is undergoing difficult times. In the 1930s, everyone was trying to get ahead in life towards a more prosperous future (Rosenberg & Turner, 2004). This was a global phenomenon spurred on by the legacy of the First World War. At the time, many nations were struggling with high poverty levels, high unemployment, and low levels of social standards.
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Finally, the 1930s was also a time when technology seemed as the emblem of progress. Societies felt that they were advancing if their technological initiatives were bearing fruit. The automobile industry in the US was approaching its first golden age. Apart from this, many countries were working hard to provide electricity and water for their citizens.
Relationship between Social Issues and Film Grammar
Each film is a reflection of the social issues affecting the society at any time. It is clear that the producers of the film under review played into the hands of the prevailing social narratives of the time. The following are the main social issues that affected the film’s grammar.
In the opening scene, the Hollywood stuntman enters his office and finds his secretary eagerly awaiting his arrival. When he gets into the office, the stuntman addresses his secretary as “Goldilocks”. He does so in a casual manner. The secretary does not take any offense at his address. In fact, she eagerly responds to his greeting by asking him how his hand is doing. It seems the stuntman had injured his hand in a previous stunt.
The choice of the term, “Goldilocks” can mean various things. First, the stuntman could simply have been using a pet name for his secretary, and she did not seem to mind it. This would be highly inappropriate today in a professional environment. Secondly, the reason the stuntman calls his secretary “Goldilocks” is that she has blonde hair. Is it possible that the choice of this reference has any relationship with the stereotypical association of blonde hair to unintelligent women?
The company official uses safety as the main element of his marketing effort. The two issues that arise from this decision are as follows. First, the movie audiences in the 1930s were looking for safety from the economic turmoil of their time. They had either witnesses first hand, or been involved indirectly in the First World War a decade earlier. In this regard, any product that promised them safety would be attractive to them at a psychological level. Secondly, the safety features in cars in the 1930 were very elementary. This tire promised to make driving much safer because it had a better grip of the road. In this regard, the film made the tire the link towards safety on the roads.
At some point, the company official mentions that good tires lead to better fuel economy. The official says it once as an afterthought and does not stress it in any way. Someone watching the film today can pick it up easily because it is a proven fact that tires contribute to the fuel economy of a car. The main point in this reference to fuel economy is that the film was shot during the time of the great depression. The tire would make economic sense if it actually led to better fuel economy. However, it is possible that it was not yet proven that tires actually contributed to fuel economy. This must be what made the company official reluctant to state it confidently.
The fourth aspect of the grammar of the film was the decision to use “macho” language and concepts in the production of the film. The main actor in the film is a Hollywood stuntman. He seems invincible and is ready to tackle dangerous assignments. The director of the film is trying to embolden people to make changes. The grammar of the stuntman is full of references that show that he is not afraid of anything. At a subconscious level, the producers of the film are challenging the viewers to take a risk and buy the new tires. In other words, the producers are trying to make viewers feel good about making this decision.
In conclusion, this film shows that the prevailing social issues influence the grammar of films made at the time. Film writers use the prevailing social constructs as a means of passing on their messages, or setting the stage to pass on their message.
Faulkner, D., & Segan-Horn, S. (2004). The Economics of International Comparative Advantage in the Modern World. European Business Journal , 4 (1), 20-31.
Lavigne, M. (1999). The Economics of Transition: From Socialist Economy to Market Economy. New York: St. Martin Press.
Rosenberg, M., & Turner, R. H. (2004). Social Psychology: Sociological Perspectives. Piscataway, NJ: Transaction Publishers.
Stoicea, G. (2006). Re-Producing the Class and Gender Divide: Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. Women in Germany Year Book , 11 (1), 22-26.
Yarbrough, J. (Director). (1930). America’s Safest Tires [Motion Picture].