Before the Super Bowl became the showcase for ambitious advertisements that would be seen and enjoyed by millions, we had the World’s Fair. At World’s Fairs, industry could show off its wares in increasingly elaborate displays. Symphony in F, part of the Ford Collection, fits into this category of advertainment.
Symphony in F uses glorious Technicolor and stop-motion animation to show how a car is made, from the harvest of lumber and other raw materials, to when the final product rolls off the assembly line. A musical score by Edwin E. Ludig, who also composed the score for Ford’s Rhapsody in Steel (made for the 1934 Chicago World’s Fair), accompanies Symphony in F.
The film was exhibited in the Ford Exposition Building at the 1940 season of the New York World’s Fair, as part of a program that included a fashion show that combined “the latest in fashions with the newest in motorcar design,” and A Thousand Times Neigh, a live-action ballet depicting the history of transportation. (Sadly, we do not have a complete film record of the ballet, but a snippet survives in the Ford film Scenes from the World’s Fair for 1940.) The animated portion of Symphony in F features one of the highlights of the Ford exhibit, a 152 ton turntable that used carved figures to demonstrate how 27 raw materials were harvested and turned into products to be used at the Ford plant. According to Scenes from the World’s Fair, the turntable was floated in 20,000 gallons of water.
The Ford Collection is chock-full of films that are well-shot and technically competent examples of early educational works and industrial process films. Symphony in F stands out as a rare example of the Ford Motor Company pursuing artistry to communicate an idea. When considered as a record of the World’s Fair, it also encapsulates the optimism of Twentieth Century progress that was the theme of these events.
For more films of the 1939 New York World’s Fair, see our blog post “World of Tomorrow.”