Friday, October 07, 2005

Ol' Virginy

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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.

2 Comments:

Blogger John said...

And of course it features the marvelous Will Oldham, aka Bonnie Prince Billy, he of Palace Music.

4:19 PM  
Blogger wsp-pdx said...

A couple of observations from an american comrade...

A number of my UK friends have found the Bladwin-Felts (union busters) agents as played over the top. Most of us yanks find it completely believable. That's how they were.

The organizer's character's pre-Matewan experiences are taken almost verbaitum from the IWW's cartoonist/songwriter Ralph Chaplin's autobiography "Wobbly".

For us (and I've see this many times in groups of people) the focus always comes back to the unity of all the workers despite race/place of origin, etc. and possibilities found there. But that has always been a funfdimental issue in american social life.

3:50 AM  

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