You are here

Along these Lines/Le fil du temps (1974)

See film file
Bilingual, sound, 12min/15min15sec/16min, b&w/colour, shot on16mm, distributed also in 35mm)
Producer: Peter Pearson/Patrick Watson – Director: Peter Pearson – Animation: George Dunning – Sponsor: Bell Canada – Production Co.: Immedia (Ottawa)
Holding Institutions: LAC/BAC

Essay by Caroline Martel

Against the background of a dreamy soundtrack, this bilingual film brings together eight disparate sequences as it mixes animation, documentary, and live action with collages from early Bell System films and classic fiction features showing movie stars on the phone (1). An in-house Bell Canada publication described this film in McLuhanesque terms: “In an exuberant and entertaining style that suggests and stimulates rather than ‘informs,’ the film presents a subtle history of the way in which language has enlarged man’s ability to communicate and shows how the telephone has extended and transformed the functions of human language…Without hard-sell commercialism, it good-humoredly… stimulates the movie-goer’s fancy to consider and explore some of the likely and not-so-likely telecommunications developments that lie ahead (2)."

Commissioned by Bell Canada for the Canadian centennial of the telephone, Along these Lines/Le fil du temps is an imaginative industrial short directed by Canadian cinema champion Peter Pearson (Paperback Hero, The Best Damn Fiddler from Calabogie to Kaladar), with animations by George Dunning (Yellow Submarine). It was launched at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto, and was also screened daily on the dome of the Telescience Pavillion in Brantford, Ontario (3) during the summer of 1974’s telephone centennial celebrations. Along these Lines later opened the 12th New York Film Festival at the Lincoln Center, won Best Theatrical Short at the Canadian Film Awards as well as a prize at the International Telecommunication Union in Switzerland. According to Bell Canada’s then public relations vice-president, the film was meant to run theatrically in 35mm across the country, and then distributed in 16mm through educational networks, and be shown on television (4).

Impressionistic rather than didactic, and featuring some graphic material — an animated topless cyborg-operator facilitates communication between humans and animals or teleports them (5) — could Along these Lines be a détournement sponsored film? Given the subject of the commission, Pearson and Dunning’s approach was rather experimental; for instance, the opening credits (and other scenes such as the one featuring the firemen) draw on Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451. Experimental both in structure and texture, this short film bears an aesthetic typical of World’s Fair multimedia productions from the 60’s and 70’s, and seems to welcome and “…naturalize the newly developing, technologically-mediated modes of absorbing the augmented speeds and diversity of stimuli within an emerging information economy (6).” Along these Lines evokes the structure of feeling of a significant period of cultural, technological, social and corporate changes. In an era marked by major shifts for Bell Canada (7), this production can be appreciated as an avant-garde representation of the rupture between its traditional
and future corporate culture.

Made by accomplished filmmakers and sponsored by the biggest and longest-running communications enterprise in the country (now in the “content business” with Bell Media, Canada’s premier multimedia company), this gem of a film is held at Library and Archives Canada, the ambiguity over who is the copyright owner preventing further preservation. Along these Lines is an unusual corporate film – an “author sponsor” – and a complex and beautiful piece of national cinema.

(1) This preceding Christian Marclay’s first montage video piece Telephones (1995) by two decades.
(2) “Bell Canada’s back in showbiz: Along these Lines premieres at CNE,” Bell News Western Edition, August 19 1974, volume 2, no. 33: 2.
(3) Where Alexander Graham Bell had sketched a primitive telephone in 1884 during his summer vacations in Canada at his family house, “(…) retreating there to rest when his tendency to overwork left him exhausted.” ( – consulted June 10 2015).
(4) Bell Canada’s back in showbiz: Along these Lines premieres at CNE,” Bell News Western Edition, August 19 1974, volume 2, no. 33: 2.
(5) If the emergence of the cyborg figure inscribes itself in the familiar sci-fi imagery of the popular media of the times, it is worth noting that in reality, in 1974, the computer had entered telephone operators’ office with a technology called “TOPS,” an automated system that revolutionized the operators’ jobs and lives forever.
(6) Branden W. Joseph,“‘My Mind Split Open’: Andy Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable,” Grey Room 8, 2002: 93-94.
(7) With the Anik 1 satellite launched in 1972, Canada had become one of the first countries to use satellites for its national telecommunications; and with Dataroute in 1973, Canada was one of the first countries where digital data transmission systems had been created, thanks to Bell-Northern research. In 1974, the historical links between Bell Canada with the American Telephone and Telegraph Company were severed for good as “Ma Bell” withdrew its last stock holdings.

Bibliographical References
“Bell Canada’s Back in Showbiz : Along these Lines premieres at CNE,” Bell News Western Edition, August 19 1974, volume 2, no. 33 : 2.
“George Dunning,” – accessed March 2012.
Pearson, Peter “My Life in the Movies,” unpublished memoir. Accessed March 2012 from a Word file shared by the author.
“Peter Pearson,” – accessed March 2012.
Williams, Raymond, Marxism and Literature, New York: Oxford University Press, 1977.

The 12min version of the film doesn’t include the silent film segment: "Mr. Watson come here I want you", operator at switchboard, etc., and the fire bucket sequence.
A few excerpts of Along the Lines were reused in the montage essay The Phantom of the Operator (Caroline Martel, productions artifact, 2004, 65min).