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
Thurmond was the site of one of the five offices of the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency. Two of the men killed in Matewan that day were Albert and Lee, brothers of agency owner, Thomas Felts. In retaliation, Felts had the former Matewan police chief, Sid Hatfield, and his deputy and friend Ed Chambers, killed when he was tried in Welch, WV. Both young men, unarmed and accompanied by their wives, walked up the steps to the courthouse and met five detectives (including the former spy Charles Everett Lively) waiting for them at the top. They were gunned down. Hatfield died almost instantly from chest wounds. Detective Hugh Lucas turned and emptied a gun into the courthouse wall, then placed the gun in the dead man's hand to make it look like self-defence. Lively shot Chambers, who had already been hit several times in the body and neck, behind the ear to make sure he was dead, despite Mrs Chambers' efforts to fend him off with her parasol. Hatfield was 28 years old, and Chambers 22, when they were killed. Their funeral was attended by thousands of miners. See more »
The steam locomotive used in "Matewan" was ex-New York, Chicago, and St. Louis Railway ("Nickel Plate Road") #765. It was a modern steam locomotive built in the 1940's and thus would not have existed at the time of the events depicted in "Matewan." See more »
[about the owner of the Baldwin-Felts agency:]
I've met Mr. Felts. I wouldn't pee on him if his heart was on fire.
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As important move about the American spirit as there is
This movie was obviously made as a labor of love, by someone whose ideals are deeply American. Director Sayles masterfully documents the nuances of the ageless conflict between those that would control others for profit and those that would not let themselves be controlled and thereby captures the essence of a battle that still rages between the American ideals of freedom and free enterprise.
Historically, the film documents a victory (some say massacre) by the miners over the power brokers and thugs of the early 20th century coal mining industry. Taken in the overall context of the history of Appalachian coal mining, however, what it truly documents is one battle in a war that was eventually lost when the government once again came down on the side of commerce as opposed to human dignity at the battle of Blair Mountain.
Fortunately for us, Mr. Sayles seems all too keenly aware of the tremendously important under-currents of this historical event. Rather than merely documenting the conflict and violence of this historic event, he artfully imbues the story with human elements of betrayal, regret, loss, resolve, and ultimately, sacrifice in the name of what is right and just. He reminds us that righteousness often comes with a price and that the real war is never won or lost but rages on forever, claiming the salvation and damnation of souls in it's wake.
This film is a masterpiece and deserves its due. It represents everything good about film-making and should hold a special place in the hearts of all free Americans aspiring to the ideals expressed in our constitution.
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