solid d.a. pennebaker/maysles brothers style documentary that follows the bitter miner strike in harlan county, kentucky. it predates norma rae and it’s a true story so it really should be more popular than it is, but it was made before documentaries were popular. it does a really good job of highlighting the usual grievances of the workers and the ways in which they attempt to get raises, benefits, etc. it exposes the corruption of some union bosses (yablonski is challenging doyle for union president and is murdered as a result) as well as that of the company involved. it documents the (large) role that the women of the community played in keeping the picket lines strong. kopple is also there when the strike is finally mutually ended in large part because of a scab murdering a picketer. it incorporates guthrie style folk done by people of the community to give it a grassroots feel that complements the film quite well.
it’s a very strong document of the american experience and the labor struggle. one portion of the film finds picketers in nyc hoping to sway stock holders of the company. one picketer discusses the labor issues with a cop. both cop and picketer get along well and discuss the merits of each other’s contracts. the discussion beautifully shows the collaborative spirit that seems all but lost amongst laborers today. another scene captures this spirit equally well. a black miner is talking to kopple (who is off camera) while two of his white co-workers look on. they are in a doctor’s office being tested for initial signs of black lung. the black miner tells kopple how, at the end of the day, they are coated in black coal dust – they are all brothers. the three miners chuckle knowing the truth of the statement. the film is full of these moments of solidarity in spite of the efforts of violent strike busters.