Category Archives: English Language

Films produced in the English language

Nothing But a Man

film stillNothing  But a Man is the most acclaimed movie you’ve never seen. Released in 1964, it won the San Giorgio Prize at the Venice Film Festival, awarded to films considered especially important for the progress of civilization. It was re-released nearly thirty years later, at which time the Washington Post said of it, “It may be that the best film to come out so far in 1993 was actually made in 1964. [It] is one of the most sensitive films about black life ever made in this country.” One year later it was listed in the National Film Registry. And on its fortieth anniversary it was released on DVD, at which time a critic for DVD Talk said of it, “Brilliant is not a word to be taken lightly, but in the case of 1964’s Nothing But a Man, brilliant barely begins to scratch the surface.” Yet, it was a commercial failure during the three decades after being made. While planned to be shown to integrated audiences, the film would mainly be presented in schools and churches in black communities in sixteen millimeter format. Continue reading


Film StillSeveral months after Reds was released, American Film magazine usefully published the identities of 32 ‘witnesses’ to the events depicted, whose recollections supplement and are meant to authenticate the film’s narrative. (See below. Biographic links can be found at the Wikipedia entry for Reds) . Though listed in the film’s credits, the witnesses’ names do not accompany their onscreen testimony, as they would in a documentary, leaving the viewer confused. Still, these inconclusive reminiscences, only a fraction of the interviews conducted by Beatty with John Reed’s contemporaries, hint at the film’s rich and complex context while masking the omission of Reed’s life prior to meeting Louise Bryant. Continue reading

The Errand Boy

Film StillJerry Lewis is not a filmmaker who has received his due in my opinion. He is an artist and a personality that I must confess to feeling equally fascinated and repelled by and I fear that a sense of balance doesn’t exist in most viewers who are mostly just repelled by him. But I believe my own reaction to that is in keeping with what’s always been Jerry’s own personality, especially around the time when he made the film you’ll see tonight, which is this curious mix of self-love and self-loathing. Continue reading

H-2 Worker

film stillWhen Jon asked me to introduce the film I said I was more than glad to do it and I was glad to see that the labor community was showing this film. Having been involved with migrant farm workers for the past twenty some years, I think this film will offend your sense of decency and your sense of honesty and your sense and belief in justice and democracy and freedom, and I’ve got a whole lot of words I can use to talk about what we believe in and what we feel exists in our country. As you watch the film I think you’re going to be offended by its examples of racism in our society. It’s really evident when you look at the H-2A workers and they’re all black, and you look at the members of the Department of Labor and you look at the growers and you look at the festival in celebration of a great harvest that’s attended by all white people as the black Jamaican workers get on a plane furnished by the company and go back to Jamaica. Continue reading

The Navigators

film stillThe Navigators is the sixth film by Ken Loach to be included in these Labor Film Series. There’s a good reason why we’ve shown so many of his films:  of contemporary filmmakers Ken Loach has dealt most consistently and critically with the experience of the working class. Continue reading

Modern Times

film stillCommenting on the appearance in 1936 of what was essentially a silent picture, film critic Otis Ferguson snipped, “Modern Times is about the last thing United Artists should have called this film.”

Chaplin was the only figure in Hollywood who could have successfully made a silent film almost eight years after the U.S. film industry converted to synchronized sound film making. While the talkies had become the standard of the day, Chaplin’s popular screen identity — the little tramp figure that we all know and that was known and beloved around the world — had been fully formed in the silent cinema of the teens and early twenties. The silence of the tramp was an issue that Chaplin had fretted over when producing his previous film, City Lights, in 1931. And while that film was a huge success four more years had gone by and the silent era was already being represented as ancient history. Continue reading

How Green Was My Valley

film stillIn 1939 when How Green Was My Valley was published in England, it sold fifty thousand copies within four months. When this novel by an unknown Richard LLewellyn appeared in the US, it went through fifteen printings and sold nearly 200,000 copies in 1940. It has remained in print ever since.The book is a sprawling tale of three generations of a Welsh colliery family, at once a sentimental novel about the lives of the Morgans and also the story of coal mining in the Rhondda Valley. On the surface a domestic chronicle of the family’s courting and cooking, their singing and schooling, the novel critically examines the transformation of the colliery in which the Morgan men work and depicts their response to these changes. Continue reading

British Documentary

Film StillBetween 1930 and 1939 in Britain some sixty filmmakers working together in collaborative film units produced over 300 documentaries, a body of work central to the historic development of the documentary and documentary film practice. Several of the films made by the filmmakers associated with the Empire Marketing Board (the EMB), from 1930 to 1933, and with the Government Post Office film unit (the GPO), from 1933 to 1939, became crucial references for almost every subsequent documentary movement. Continue reading

Trash Dance

film still Tonight you are going to see an extraordinary film — extraordinary because it is not only about work and workers but because it shows workers doing work and because it celebrates both the workers and their labor. Unlike the work depicted in many of the labor films we’ve screened over the years — work in mines, fields, factories and other worksites — trash collection takes place on your own street. You have seen these workers and their vehicles moving in ways that might be imagined as dance. Continue reading

The Grapes Of Wrath

film stillThe night Woody Guthrie saw Grapes of Wrath he went home and composed “Tom Joad,” one of his most famous dust bowl ballads. He was moved not only by the film but by Steinbeck’s evident sympathy with migrant farm workers:

There was a feller that knew us Oakies … because early in the deal he throwed
a pack on his back and traipsed around amongst us, and lived with us, and talked
to us, and et with us, and slept with us,and he felt in his heart and knew in his
head that us Oakies was a lookin’ for a “Living with Labor.” Continue reading