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Others here have mentioned the film's amazing cinematograhy, fine performances (indierockers note: a young Will Oldham -- aka singer/songwriter Bonnie "Prince" Billy -- has a featured role) and stirring story. But it bears repeating that this digital transfer is *atrocious*. The film is presented in "full-screen" format, lopping off the edges of Haskell Wexler's beautiful frames. Celluloid scratches and "reel change" hole-punches are visible throughout. And the sound, if you can believe it, is worse -- it's in hissy, almost inaudible MONO, for God's sake!
Zero commentaries. Almost no bonus extras, unless you count a few panels of "production notes."
Not worth a purchase. Wait for the morons at Artisan to get their collective act together and give this fine film the gold-star release it deserves.
The pace is slow as the story unfolds, each actor giving depth to his or her role. The Union is represented as a good and unifying force for the diverse types of people caught up in the drama. The company is represented as bad. Really bad. Not only did they exploit their workers and push people out of their homes, they also did not stop at brutal murder. There were enough personal stories to keep the film interesting although I found some of the speeches a little long and talky. It was all about mood and bleakness and John Sayles sure is a master of setting the mood. Most of the extras in the film lived in the area of Appalachia where it was shot and the close-ups of their faces added to the film's authenticity.
One of the problems was that the transfer of the film to DVD wasn't done well. The sound was muffled and some of the words were indistinct. And the shots set in the forest were so dark that it was hard to tell what was going on. I enjoyed the film although I thought it was too long. Followers of John Sayles work will enjoy it though, as well as those with an interest in union struggle.
Life in the coal towns is portrayed realistically and the film color is a marvel. The guards really did throw people out of their homes. Around 1912 there is a documented story that during the Paint Creek - Cabin Creek strikes, one miner's wife, in labor, was thrown out of her house. She pleaded to be allowed to first have her child, but the guards threated to shoot her if she didn't leave the house. She gave birth a couple of hours later in a UMWA tent. So remember when you watch this film that other indignities and unspeakable acts occurred in these mine fields - Sayles gives you a good taste of the unfortunate circumstances.
Good reading for those interested in learning more after seeing Matewan might be David Alan Corbin's "Life, Work, and Rebellion in the Coal Fields." Matewan is discussed several times in his book. (I have no affliation). You will learn more about how every aspect of a miner's life was controlled by the company - for instance, lessons taught at the company-operated school were designed to educate the children in mining methods and hazards.
Matewan touches upon these issues but of course not everything can be shown in one movie.
I'm glad this movie was produced to educate others about the miner's plight. It's an excellent addition to anyone's collection. Too bad it was never publicized enough to make it more mainstream.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Based on court transcripts, this is a well-researched, well-acted piece of coal mining history everyone should see. Well done!Published 28 days ago by kathyd
Great movie! Chris Cooper is fantanstic. The subject matter of rich coal companies taking advantage of workers is one we all should be aware of. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Best movie ever. Gritty portrayal of an actual event. My students were mesmerized from the beginning (a difficult thing to accomplish!).Published 2 months ago by Sharon Tucker
I owned this film on video and now on DVD. I would purchase it again if it were to become available on Blu ray. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Amazon Customer