Reds (25th Anniversary Edition) [HD DVD] ---"Warren Beatty's lengthy 1981 drama about American Communist John Reed and his relationships with both the Russian Revolution and a writer named Louise Bryant (Diane Keaton) is a compelling piece of little-known history told in a uniquely personal way. Beatty plays Reed as he did the title gangster in Bugsy and Senator in Bulworth, as a visionary likely to die before anyone fully recognizes the progressiveness of the vision, including those who are supposed to be on the same page. Jack Nicholson has an interesting part as fellow intellectual Eugene O'Neill, and the late author Jerzy Kosinski--himself a refugee from then-Soviet-controlled Poland--makes a strong impression as Reed's problematic Russian liaison."
Matewan --- "A little-known chapter of American labor history is brought vividly to life in this period drama from writer-director John Sayles. It's a fictional story about labor wars among West Virginia coal miners during the 1920's, but every detail is so right that the film has the unmistakable ring of truth. The tension begins when the Stone Mountain Coal Company of Matewan, West Virginia, announces a lower pay rate for miners, who respond by calling a strike under the leadership of a United Mine Workers representative (Chris Cooper). Proving strength in numbers, the miners are joined by black and Italian miners who initially resist the strike, and a fateful battle ensues when detectives hired by the coal company attempt to evict miners from company housing. Violence erupts in a sequence of astonishing, cathartic intensity, and Matewan achieves a rare degree of moral complexity combined with gut-wrenching tragedy. The film salutes a pacifist ideal while recognizing that personal and political convictions often must be defended with violence. To illustrate this point, Sayles enlisted master cinematographer Haskell Wexler, who creates the film's authentic visual texture--a triumph of artistry over limited resources. The result is a milestone of independent filmmaking, and Matewan remains one of Sayles's finest achievements."
Harlan County, U.S.A. - Criterion Collection ---"A man crouches and pokes at what first appears to be a wad of chewed-up pink bubble gum on the ground. "That's what a scab will do to ya, by God," he says, his voice quavering with emotion. The pink wad is brain tissue from a striker shot in the head by a strikebreaker. That's one of the harsh realities of Harlan County USA. Barbara Kopple's documentary camera looks at this forgotten corner of 1970s America, the site of some of the bitterest labor violence in American history. It's hard to believe that some 40 years after the Depression, there were parts of Appalachia that were hardly better off than they were in the 1930s. The care-worn faces of the miners and their families speak volumes. They're the tough, proud faces of people struggling to make a living the way that their parents and grandparents did in generations past. Kopple skillfully weaves archival footage and traditional labor songs through the film to give a historical perspective to the strike against Eastover Mining Company. Above and beyond the labor issues, the film takes a hard look at the living conditions, health issues, and poverty faced by Harlan's residents, the human toll that goes along with the mining industry. The tense confrontations between Eastover's slimy security goons and the unionizers are particularly gripping, with the threat of violence hanging thick in the air. Sometimes ugly, always absorbing, this is an important, enlightening social record, one that serves the highest calling of the documentary filmmaker's art."
The Wobblies---""Solidarity! All for One and One for All!" With that slogan, the Industrial Workers of the World, aka the Wobblies, took to organizing unskilled workers into one big union and changing the course of history. Along the way to winning an eight-hour workday and fair wages in the early 20th century, the Wobblies were one of the few unions to be racially and sexually integrated and often met with imprisonment, violence, and the privations of prolonged strikes. This award-winning film airs a provocative look at the forgotten American history of this most radical of unions, screening the unforgettable and still-fiery voices of Wobbly members--lumberjacks, migratory workers, and silk weavers--in their 70s, 80s, and 90s. Eerily echoing current times, THE WOBBLIES boldly investigates a nation torn by naked corporate greed and the red-hot rift between the industrial masters and the rabble-rousing workers in the field and factory. Replete with gorgeous archival footage, the film pays tribute to American workers who took the ideals of equality and free speech seriously enough to die for them. Directed by Stewart Bird and Deborah Shaffer, THE WOBBLIES is a rare and challenging invitation to rethink both past and present through the eyes of an organization largely omitted from memory."
The Corporation---"An epic in length and breadth, this documentary aims at nothing less than a full-scale portrait of the most dominant institution on the planet Earth in our lifetime--a phenomenon all the more remarkable, if not downright frightening, when you consider that the corporation as we know it has been around for only about 150 years. It used to be that corporations were, by definition, short-lived and finite in agenda. If a town needed a bridge built, a corporation was set up to finance and complete the project; when the bridge was an accomplished fact, the corporation ceased to be. Then came the 19th-century robber barons, and the courts were prevailed upon to define corporations not as get-the-job-done mechanisms but as persons under the 14th Amendment with full civil rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (i.e., power and profit)--ad infinitum. The Corporation defines this endlessly mutating life-form in exhaustive detail, measuring the many ways it has not only come to dominate but to deform our reality. The movie performs a running psychoanalysis of this entity with the characteristics of a prototypical psychopath: a callous unconcern for the feelings and safety of others, an incapacity to experience guilt, an ingrained habit of lying for profit, etc. We are swept away on a demented odyssey through an altered cosmos, in which artificial chemicals are created for profit and incidentally contribute to a cancer epidemic; in which the folks who brought us Agent Orange devise a milk-increasing drug for a world in which there is already a glut of milk; in which an American computer company leased its systems to the Nazis--and serviced them on a monthly basis--so that the Holocaust could go forward as an orderly process. The movie goes on too long, circles too many points obsessively and redundantly, and risks preaching-to-the-choir reductiveness by calling on the usual talking-head suspects--Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Michael Moore. And except for an endlessly receding tracking shot in an infinite patents archive, there's scarcely an image worth recalling. Still, it maps the new reality. This is our world--welcome to it."
Manufacturing Consent - Noam Chomsky and the Media---"Peter Wintonick and Mark Achbar made this penetrating documentary about the career and views of linguist and media critic Noam Chomsky. While the man is the subject of the movie, the filmmakers wisely and carefully choose not to make Chomsky more important than his insights into the way print and electronic journalism tacitly and often willingly further the agendas of the powerful. We learn a lot about Chomsky's formative experiences as a child, student, academic, activist, and politician (he has campaigned for office), but we learn just as much about the media institutions that deny him access today, from ABC to PBS. The centerpiece of the film, arguably, is a long examination into the history of the New York Times' coverage of Indonesia's atrocity-ridden occupation of East Timor, reportage that (as Chomsky shows us) was absolutely in lock step with the government's unwillingness to criticize an ally."
Anarchism in America---"Two fascinating documentaries on one disc! In the first, Anarchism in America, the filmmakers take a road trip to map anarchism as a distinctly American tradition, interviewing a diverse cast of characters: from "ordinary" truckers and farmers to famous anarchists like Kenneth Rexroth and Ursula LeGuin. The second, The Free Voice of Labor, traces the history of the Yiddish anarchist newspaper of that name-publishing it's final issue after 87 years-as told by it's now elderly, but decidedly unbowed staff."
Norma Rae---"In an Oscar-winning performance, Sally Field is unforgettable as Norma Rae, the Southern millworker who revolutionizes a small town and discovers a power in herself she never had. Under the guidance of a New York unionizer (Ron Leibman) and with increasing courage and determination, Norma Rae organizes her fellow factory workers to fight for better conditions and wages. Based on a true story, Norma Rae is the mesmerizing tale of a modern day heroine. Beau Bridges co-stars."
A Place Called Chiapas---"A trip into the perilous state of Chiapas in southern Mexico is taken in this documentary, which focuses on the Zapatista National Liberation Army and its mysterious leader, Subcomandante Marcos. The narration notes that The New York Times has referred to the struggle of the Zapatistas as the "world's first postmodern revolution," and there is a remarkably surreal air at times. At one point Subcomandante Marcos is filmed while posing for the French fashion magazine Marie Claire, yet there can be no denying that the residents he champions are extremely poor. The interviews with farmers who fear they will be murdered by government troops are moving, and a press conference in which tape recordings of death threats are played is disturbing. The film's director, Nettie Wild, has a definite point of view and notes stoically that a memo from American bankers may have inspired the violence directed against the local rebels by the Mexican government. The background of the rebellion in Chiapas is told concisely with most of the film consisting of atmospheric footage showing life in the troubled and violent region. The film crew was itself threatened by right-wing paramilitary death squads, and the paranoia that is an asset in such an environment is tensely translated via filmed encounters with government troops."
The Molly Maguires---"An expensive box-office flop when released in 1970, The Molly Maguires can now be appreciated as a compelling drama with potent political undertones. The talent involved is first-rate all the way: In addition to the volatile teaming of Sean Connery and Richard Harris on opposite sides of a Pennsylvania miners' war, director Martin Ritt and screenwriter Walter Bernstein were at the height of their Hollywood powers, determined to give viewers a visceral, grittily authentic drama about the exploitation of Irish immigrant miners in the centennial America of 1876. Connery's secret gang, the Molly Maguires, retaliates by destroying mines and equipment; Harris infiltrates the group as an informer hired by the coal-company owners, leading to his inevitable crisis of conscience. Pub brawls and manly action give the film its meat-and-potatoes appeal, and discerning viewers will appreciate the story's careful pacing and moral ambiguity; ironically, those qualities were blamed for the film's commercial failure."