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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.
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