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Harlan County, U.S.A. (The Criterion Collection)

67 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

This film documents the coal miners' strike against the Brookside Mine of the Eastover Mining Company in Harlan County, Kentucky in June, 1973. Eastovers refusal to sign a contract (when the miners joined with the United Mine Workers of America) led to the strike, which lasted more than a year and included violent battles between gun-toting company thugs/scabs and the picketing miners and their supportive women-folk. Director Barbara Kopple puts the strike into perspective by giving us some background on the historical plight of the miners and some history of the UMWA.

Special Features

  • New, restored high-definition digital transfer, supervised by director-producer Barbara Kopple
  • Audio commentary by Kopple and editor Nancy Baker
  • "The Making of Harlan County, USA," a new documentary featuring interviews with Kopple, crew members and strike participants featured in the film
  • New video interview with legendary bluegrass singer-songwriter Hazel Dickens
  • Never-before-seen outtakes from the film
  • New video interview with director John Sayles
  • A panel discussion from 2005 Sundance featuring Kopple and Roger Ebert
  • Booklet with new essays by film scholar Paul Arthur and music journalist Jon Weisberger
  • Original theatrical trailer

Product Details

  • Actors: Norman Yarborough, Houston Elmore, Phil Sparks, John Corcoran, John O'Leary
  • Directors: Barbara Kopple
  • Producers: Barbara Kopple
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Color, NTSC, Widescreen
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 1.0)
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: PG (Parental Guidance Suggested)
  • Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
  • DVD Release Date: June 1, 2010
  • Run Time: 103 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (67 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B000E5LEVU
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #16,513 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Harlan County, U.S.A. (The Criterion Collection)" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

95 of 97 people found the following review helpful By Rosemary Thornton VINE VOICE on December 11, 2001
Format: VHS Tape
When I told the librarian I wanted to see a video on coal mining, she handed me "Harlan County." I looked at the date - which indicated that the coal miners' strike featured in the movie took place in the early 1970s and I handed it back to her saying, "No, I'm interested in something with more history in it."
A few days later, I felt impelled to return to the library and get this VHS. I sat down to watch it one morning and could not turn it off. It's compelling, intriguing, educational and emotional. I cried several times, watching the struggle and learning more and more about a coal miner's life.
For the last few months, I've been doing research (in preparation for a book on Sears Homes) about Standard Oil's coal mines in Macoupin County, Illinois in the 1920s. "Harlan County" showed archival footage and presented information that showed what a miner's life looked like - through the ages. Duke Power's coal mines in Harlan County, Kentucky were so backwards and Standard Oil's coal mines in Macoupin County, Illinois were so progressive, that I learned more than I ever expected about early 1900s mining techniques.
The story about the man and the mules is something I'll never ever forget. Or the miner's conversation with the New York policeman. Thank God for the director Ms. Koppel, who was inspired to create this documentary! And for her having the wisdom and foresight to record these old miners' reminiscences of life in the coal mines in the early years of the 20th Century.
Suddenly, all the puzzle pieces from my months of book reading and research came together when I saw these old films and heard the miners talk.
I'll be watching it again and again - with my family, too. And I hope every person who uses electricity in this country will watch it, too.
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70 of 70 people found the following review helpful By anjajosa on December 18, 2004
Format: VHS Tape
I read a comment from a reviewer who thought the film focused too much on the women and "glossed over" the past sacrifices of miners. I'm from Harlan County. My Mother was Lois Scott who was one of the women featured. I was growing up during the time and my mother risked everything to help the striking miners even though my father had a better, union job at another mine. She had "no dog in this fight" other than to help others. If you watch the film, it's plain the strike would have folded and failed had it not been for the women of the strike. My mothers father was a union organizer during the 1930's "bloody harlan" days. She wanted to help working class people with no thought of any personal gain. She passed away May 15 this year, and though I miss her so much myself, I know the world lost a working class hero that they needed even more than I did. The focus of the film was this strike, the 1930's references were background.
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63 of 65 people found the following review helpful By Janie on November 5, 2004
Format: VHS Tape
I am from Harlan County, Kentucky. This movie is a compelling visual of my family and its rich history of roots and labor. Harlan was known back then as "Bloody Harlan" because of the conflicts regarding the area. There is a song called "You'll Never Leave Harlan Alive", it embodies this documentary of the 70s. People spent their lives digging coal until they reached the bottom of their grave.

My mother grew up in those coal camps and knew no other life. She was pregnant with me during the filming of the documentary and worked at a small resturant where she met my daddy who was a coal miner. She stated that those times were hard and just left it at that...she did not speak about it very often and when she was cut short. My dad made it through the riots and protesting, but he died in those mines in 1980 from a rock fall because the saftey conditions were so poor. My stepfather has worked in the coal mines for almost 30 years. He, like many others in Harlan are aware of the dangers when traveling into this deep graveside that holds so many.

I have watched this movie many times with my grandmother who was right there on the picket lines protesting these conditions. When we watch it now, she always points at the television and know that is such and's funny how she never forgets who and what that time was about.

My generation of Harlan County USA has seen little of what our parents and grandparents endured back in the 1970s. My brother has now entered the world of coal mining and the tradition continues. It is much safer now. My father wants to be a Mine and Saftey inspector because he remembers what it was like and how far they have come. Coal mining is our legacy, our way of life.
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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Gregor von Kallahann on November 21, 2004
Format: VHS Tape
This acclaimed 1976 documentary about a 1972 miners' strike in Harlan County, Kentucky has been on my "must-see" list for years now. I actually find myself feeling a little embarrassed that it's taken me almost 30 years to finally see it. On the other hand, I find myself agreeing completely with other reviewers (both on Amazon and elsewhere) who find it as relevant today as it was in the 70s. And maybe more hardhitting too.

I recall being vaguely aware of some of the United Mine Workers' concerns as a young man, but in the post-Vietnam)/Watergate era, it probably was something of a back burner story. I'm sure if I had seen this film at age 23, I would have been properly outraged. To be honest, however, I'm not sure how long that outrage would have lasted. In that tumultuous era there seemed to be so much else to be upset about. (Not that there isn't today, but I do have at least a little more perspective.)

Now more than 30 years after the events this film depicts, we can at least begin to sort out and separate this particular human drama from all the others that were clamoring for our attention at the time. And appreciate it on its own terms, at the same time understanding that issues of social injustice and exploitation were emblematic of the day.

Filmmaker Barbara Kopple and her crew did a masterful job of capturing the lives and struggles of the mining families of Harlan County. These are people you get to know and care about over the course of the two hour documentary. It's a group portrait, of course, and you know that there's more to these folks' individual lives than the camera can show. But those moments the camera does capture are poignant and dramatic, and ultimately profoundly moving.
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