The National Coal Board knew the power of film, using it to communicate key messages like ‘you’ve never had it so good’ and ‘try not to die’ to the thousands of miners it employed. The format they used is not dissimilar to a Public information Film, but differs in two respects: these films were not for public broadcast, they were for miners only; as a result, they are far more explicit in terms of content, including graphic deaths, pram accidents, sexual situations and equal opportunities nudity.
A PIF might show a man at work on a circular saw, for example, racking up the tension before juxtaposing images and music or sound effects to imply that he has just cut his fingers off – an NCB film shows you the severed fingers, and the bloodied hand they’ve just been parted from.
Case in point: ‘Man Failure’ from 1971. In it, the NCB basically say ‘we’ve made it safe for you – try not to mess it up’, giving two stark examples of what happens if you don’t pay attention. In this first part, our victim is brooding on an unpleasant and violent argument he had with his wife that morning. The argument is her fault, of course, but it’s his job to forget about it while he’s work. He can’t, so ends up dead, extravagantly spitting blood as he falls. As for his wife, well, she should have known not to put such a burden on a working man, so now she’s a widow, mouthy cow.
In this second part, an older man is paired to work alongside a much younger man – a mistake initially made by the foreman, but fatally compounded by the old man who tries to keep pace with his more energetic colleague, and by the younger man, who is constantly distracting him with tall tales about picking up hippy chicks on his chopper, skinny dipping (cue nudity) and sex. When sudden, violent death comes to the old geezer, as it surely must, it’s actually a relief for us all, although not immediately for the poor man, who has to undergo some painful looking crushing first.
'Man Failure' is a well thought out and highly imaginative short film, professionally made and with a simple and uncompromising message: don't get married, don't get old and, for fuck's sake, don't get killed.