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Published on 03 Dec 2022 / In Film & Animation

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American Tempo is an industrial documentary detailing the manufacture of General Electric’s Mazda lamps and various other light bulbs.

The film opens with multiple exposures showing machine and man whirling together, bars of the song “America” are heard mixed in with stirring stock music. Titles dissolve to shots of shipyards, factories and railroads as narration pronounces the USA the leading industrial nation: “Make it better, make it cheaper, make it faster, that is the American tempo.” Assuming a low-angle view alla Soviet Cinema, a parade of workers stroll in front of a factory (1:01). A new movement of Eisensteinian montage follows with industrial machinery and workers in action set to the beat of classical music. The narrator builds a case for the importance of light to promote efficiency and safety, finishing with machines of war—tanks, bombers, and battleships. The film cuts to a studio movie set in order to show the difference proper lighting can make on the clarity and impact of the object lit, the example a vase of flowers (3:34).

The scene shifts to G.E. laboratories in Nela Park, Cleveland Ohio (4:11), dissolving to workshop interiors containing equipment for lamp testing and manufacture (4:48). An animated diagram shows the evolution of G.E. Mazda bulbs, cost and efficiency from 1907-1940 (5:07). The parts of incandescent bulbs are described through a short piece of animation (5:43). Raw materials are discussed— mines, factories and chemical plants are shown. A machine that “turns out many thousands of glass bulbs every hour” is shown (7:08) and contrasted to lamps being blown by hand (7:24). Flare and filament construction are detailed, the filament referred to as “the heart of every Mazda lamp.” Filaments are shown being pressed and refined (9:04) to become 1/3 the thickness of a human hair (9:51). Filament coiling for brighter bulbs is shown and discussed. Machine assembly for stamping the flare closed around the element is shown in action. The bulb’s gas chamber is shown in extreme close-up, next to the point of a pencil (12:59). The inner framework of the lamp is discussed and shown through animation (13:40). A woman in a suit-jacket and stylish 1940s hairstyle is shown positioning bulbs in a sealing machine by hand (14:41). Logo stamping is detailed. The machine process of injecting the gas and sealing off the bulbs is discussed in detail with some animation (15:05, 15:52). A non-G.E. testing lab is shown with a large variety of equipment. G.E.’s Nela Park testing lab is shown with racks of glowing bulbs being life-tested (18:26) and placed in futuristic looking photometers. One of the more remarkable testing machines simulates train movement (18:59). The various purposes for specialty lamps are shown in montage through a distinctive iris shape—medical equipment, tanning beds, flashlights, etc. Fluorescent lamps are mentioned as an innovation. The film finishes with another Eisensteinian montage showing well-lit factories with workers in action. Once again, bars of “America” are heard as the film moves to sweeping views of nature and end titles.

Mazda was a trademarked name registered by General Electric (GE) in 1909 for incandescent light bulbs. The name was used from 1909 through 1945 in the United States by GE and Westinghouse. Mazda brand light bulbs were made for decades after 1945 outside the US. The company chose the name due to its association with Ahura Mazda, the transcendental and universal God of Zoroastrianism whose name means light of wisdom in the Avestan language.

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This film is part of the Periscope Film LLC archive, one of the largest historic military, transportation, and aviation stock footage collections in the USA. Entirely film backed, this material is available for licensing in 24p HD, 2k and 4k. For more information visit http://www.PeriscopeFilm.com

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