Mingo County, West Virginia, 1920. Coal miners, struggling to form a union, are up against company operators and the gun thugs of the notorious Baldwin-Felts detective agency. Black and Italian miners, brought in by the company to break the strike, are caught between the two forces. UMWA organizer and dual-card Wobbly Joe Kenehan determines to bring the local, Black, and Italian groups together. While Kenehan and his story are fictional, the setting and the dramatic climax are historical; Sid Hatfield, Cabell C. Testerman, C. E. Lively and the Felts brothers were real-life participants, and 'Few Clothes' is based on a character active several years previously.Written by
Susan C. Mitchell <email@example.com>, expanded by Silverwhistle
In the scene where the coal company executives are trying to bribe the Mayor and Sid Hatfield, the calendar behind the mayor reads September 1920. The historical shootout at the climax occurred in May of 1920, four months beforehand. See more »
I was putting up blackberries when Trammel Blankenship came shoutin' up the holler that the Number 5 had blown. I remember I took the pot off the stovetop and washed my hands before I went down. It took two days to dig through. And then when they brung 'em up, you couldn't tell which was which. They found blood on the walls from fellas trying to claw their way out. Mrs. Elkins, Mrs. Mounts, Bridey Mae, me... we all lost our men in that fire. Danny were seven then. Now he's back in that same ...
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John Sayles is a national treasure! Ferociously independent --most of his films are made with privately organized funds-- and working with what has become a repertory company --most of his actors return to work with him for less than they would get elsewhere-- he has never made an uninteresting film. Even when his films may vary in overall quality, from merely good to great, they are each interesting and arresting.
My mother was an organizer in the southwest coal counties of West Virginia, arriving there in 1926 (having left college), near the end of the coal wars. Her only comment on the film, when I screened it for her before she died in 1988,was that the working conditions and the living conditions of the miners and their families were far worse than depicted in the film. She always spoke at union meetings surrounded by a body guard of 10-20 armed miners. A number of her young colleagues were assassinated (there's no other appropriate word for how they died).
The murder of Sid Hatfield, the town sheriff of Matewan, in the year following the year portrayed in the film, in broad daylight on the McDowell County courthouse steps precipitated the largest insurrection in the U.S. since the Civil War. More than 10,000 armed miners from the six coal counties, descended on the court house looking for the private detectives and law "enforcement" officers who were the assassins. They took over the court house and the town, and threatened open insurrection. Thew film is a great film. Unfortunately, like most of John Sayles's films, it did not play to a large audience.
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