Friday, May 4, 2012

Haymarket and Matewan

Whenever I start to entertain hyperbolic thoughts about how political repression is worse now than it's ever been, I remind myself of events like the Haymarket massacre, which took place 126 years ago today. Clearly, a bunch of people died there in uncertain circumstances. What wasn't clear was who was responsible, but the press coverage and trials that followed convicted people based on their politics and not their actions.

Another example can be found in John Sayles' 1987 movie Matewan, which I watched tonight. I had seen it once before on VHS, probably around 1990, and ever since counted it as one of my favorites. On second watching, it felt a bit slow and less amazing, but it still gave a good feeling of how hopeless the coal mining people of West Virginia must have felt in the pre-union, 16-tons days, when hired "detectives" enforced the mine owners' wishes with impunity and there wasn't even hope of national media to raise an outcry.

The Matewan Massacre happened on May 19, 1920. 

Sayles's film is basically unavailable through the usual channels -- which these days means it's not in the Netflix library, or on instant watch. I had to buy it to see it. How many films by well-regarded, still-working directors aren't on disc from Netflix? Not too many, in my experience.

That reminded me of how accustomed I am to being able to get any movie that's ever been made, and how odd and entitled that expectation is. Which circled back to how things today can't compare with many moments of our history.


Michael Leddy said...

If you have borrowing privileges at a university library, you might have access to hundreds of otherwise inaccessible films. That's how I got hold of Matewan a few years ago.

Daughter Number Three said...

Ah, libraries.