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Canada’s Documentary Essentials: ‘Nails’

Dir. Phillip Borsos, 1979

Courtesy NFB


Nails is a doc in four movements. This gorgeously shot and edited Oscar-nominated short tracks the life of a spike in the preindustrial and industrial periods. In the first movement, a worker forges spikes on an anvil and the simple metal-on-metal sound of the hand-made method provides a soothing overture. Nails shifts to the industrial process as the imposing staccato rhythms by Michael Conway Baker assert the mechanised production of nails en masse. Machinery whirs, sprockets turn and spindles of glowing metal crank through the factory as piano keys and trumpet toots hurry them along. Nails decrescendos with a return to the forger as the snow falls and the sun sets on this traditional practice. With its affectionate eye for rural labour and its jazzy industrial bravado, Nails composes a bold rhapsody for Canada’s working class.

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Watch Nails below:

Nails, Phillip Borsos, provided by the National Film Board of Canada