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From The Socialist newspaper, 19 March 2008

Profit motive and the whispering wind

A documentary (60 mins), directed by John Gianvito (Vertigo 2008)
Reviewed by Lynn Walsh

This is a pilgrimage to cemeteries, graves, monuments and plaques commemorating pioneers, martyrs and countless anonymous fighters of the US workers' movement. Some of these markers have only recently been rediscovered and restored.

We visit the monument to the Ludlow massacre, recording the massacre of 45 striking miners and their wives and children by the Colorado National Guard.

There is the grave of Anna LoPizzo, a striker killed during the great Bread and Roses strike at the Lawrence textile mills.

Other monuments testify to the violent repression used by the US bosses and the state, always ready to use sheriff's deputies, Pinkertons, assassins, agents provocateurs and thugs.

There are memorials to activists Joe Hill, Emma Goldman, Eugene Debs, Malcolm X, Cesar Chavez, and many more.

The only music on the soundtrack is a snatch of Paul Robeson, with his deep bass voice, singing, "I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night, alive as you and me," celebrating the intrepid 'Wobbly' union organiser who was framed and executed on a trumped-up murder charge. "'I never died,' said he."

Shots of the fresh graves of Iraq war veterans and, at the end, anti-war demonstrations remind us that, once again, history is changing gear. This is not the History Channel, processing past events into frozen 'heritage'. Rediscovery of past struggles anticipates struggles to come.

Gianvito relies on images and metaphor. There is no narration and minimal textual information. It's a poetic elegy rather than narrative history.

The 'profit motive' is suggested by the continuous, impersonal roar of vehicles up and down the highways. The 'whispering wind' is the spirit of freedom stirring the trees of the woodland graveyards. The pioneers and martyrs lie in unquiet graves.

Does it work? Although strange to begin with, I found this a very moving film. The chronological journey from one historical marker to another has a cumulative effect. It evokes the US's rich tradition of workers' struggles: fighters for workers' rights, women's rights, the Native American, African-American and Latino movements, all part of the struggle for "the emancipation of working people," as it says on one gravestone.

But I am not sure what impact it will have on those who have yet to learn of these struggles.

Gianvito has said he hopes that viewers will be inspired to read Howard Zinn's great People's History of the United States, his own starting point.

Perhaps it would be good for a showing to be followed by a talk and discussion on the people and events it refers to.

  • Interview with John Gianvito:
  • The film will screen on 13 March at the Bradford International Film Festival.
  • Why not click here to join the Socialist Party, or click here to donate to the Socialist Party.

    In The Socialist 19 March 2008:

    Global economic crisis

    Darling's 'more of the same' budget

    Anti-war demonstration

    Interest in socialist ideas on anti-war demo

    National Union of Teachers Conference

    Strike back against pay robbery!

    Magic strike at Merlin school

    School tries to evict pupils

    Socialist Party youth and students

    Fight for decent youth facilities

    Socialist Students

    Socialist Party workplace news

    Anger and strength in the DWP workplaces

    End the blacklist!

    Support for Shelter staff

    Pay more to get less

    One law for them, another law for us

    In brief

    Socialist Party news and analysis

    It's not that councillors can't's that they won't!

    Sack the mayor - not the wardens!

    Remote MPs' privileged lifestyle

    Salford campaign reprieves women's centre

    Post Office closures

    No more post office closures!

    Following the Essex road

    Socialist Party congress 2008

    Socialist Party 2008 congress

    Building a campaigning, fighting socialist party

    International socialist news and analysis

    Portugal: Strikes and mass protests against government


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