A documentary on nail manufacturing hardly sounds like the stuff of great cinema, but Phillip Borsos’ 1979 short is a visually gripping contemplation of industrialization deserving of its Academy Award nomination. Nails contrasts the image of a single man silently pounding nails out of steel against high-speed mechanical production, tracing in a simple, modest item modernity’s accelerating and potentially alienating power. Yet the removal of direct human engagement produces an almost abstract beauty found in the rhythms of the machinery and the circular symmetries of glowing steel coiled around spools and along conveyors. Criterion fans of The Documentaries of Louis Malle and The Qatsi Trilogy will appreciate the stunning compositions of Nails.
As per the NFB:
This Oscar®-nominated documentary short tracks the shift in the relationship of an individual to his work between the 19th century and today. Focusing on how nails are made, we first see a blacksmith labouring at his forge, shaping nails from single strands of steel rods. The scene then shifts from this peaceful setting to the road of a 20th century nail mill, where banks of machines draw, cut, and pound the steel rods faster than the eye can follow.