Film Reviews : John Sayles : Matewan : Trade Unions : United States.
Last night I got a chance to watch Matewan (Pronounced seemingly Mayt wan). As the synopsis says, a film about a Miners' strike in 1920's Wester Virginia, in Mingo County. I seem to recall a certain Ingrate raving about this film, and justly so.
It is, I think, a many layered film, wherein the Preacher boy's line draw your own conclusions is applicable. Yes, the Brady Agency men are depiicted as unrelenting despicable (except the greenhorn spared at the end), but even that is given life and they don't strike as pure charicature - the story of the trench seems to carry some pain as well as gratuitous pleasure.
The miners have a common indentity and meaning that holds them together against all outsiders - mine owners, negroes, Italians or unions. So much so common for strike movies.
What I think is significant that had it been a British strike movie, it would have ended with miners winning and going on to build the Labour party. In this film, though, the strike breaks down into a gun battle - a splandidly and clearly self-consciously western style shoot out, beautifully shot.
It seems the gun wielding hillbillies who make a brief appearance are included as a sort of spirit of America, the underlying consciousness of a few men and their guns standing up for themselves, that foreshadows the eventual ending of the film.
John Sayles seems dedicated to producing films about America beyond California and New York, and I think this one succeeds. Definitely worth seeing, if only for the haunting singing.
p.s. please follow the links to get some of the history of the story, it's worth knowing. There is power in a union.