For Reel

Harlan County, U.S.A. (1976)
December 28, 2016, 9:41 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Barbara Kopple
4 Stars
harlan-county-usaThe opening images of Harlan County, U.S.A. depict miners “riding” to work on a conveyor belt, a cleverly efficient way of traversing the cave’s minuscule entrance. As the film continues to detail the life of a miner—particularly the shocking working conditions and criminally low wages—one can hardly believe that this isn’t a document of the Depression-era working class. While the film’s success has much to do with its support of unionization (and particularly the violent resistance these people are met with), it is the reality of the miners’ day-to-day life that makes a tremendous case for the importance of a voice for the working class. Director Barbara Kopple follows in the tradition of great documentary filmmakers such as D.A. Pennebaker and the Maysles brothers in the way she values a sort of fly-on-the-wall reporting, however her use of editing and the prevalence of the folk music, in particular, creates a sense of urgency that many documentarians would shy away from. If she allows the subject matter to unfold naturally, the very act of filming the stories she does is a memorable act of protest.

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