MATEWAN By John Sayles – A masterpiece made in 1987 that is absolutely relevant in 2020

 

‘You think this man is the enemy? Huh? This is a worker! Any union keeps this man out ain’t a union, it’s a goddam club! They got you fightin’ white against colored, native against foreign, hollow against hollow, when you know there ain’t but two sides in this world – them that work and them that don’t. You work, they don’t. That’s all you got to know about the enemy.’

-MATEWAN [2 syllables, pronounced MATE(as in your spouse)- WAN (as in WAND)]

 

Matewan

Click on the above image to purchase.

 

People use words like masterpiece and great, and sometimes the true weight of what you may be getting across may be lost.

Let me therefore explain MATEWAN to you thusly, I just finished watching the film yesterday. And I’m watching and listening to the, newly cut 2019 Criterion interviews today. (quick aside, i really appreciate that criterion went to the expense of doing new interviews and features for this film, which is something i am critical of them not doing, in other films. These 2019 featurettes are really— stunning, and on top of the greatness of the film, make the blu-ray a must own purchase.)

 

This morning I watched the news of Resident Trump dressing up essentially unidentified strike breakers and thugs, and letting them loose in Portland Oregon, and calling it the law.

 

“If you have vacation benefits, if you have unemployment benefits, worker’s compensation— these things weren’t given to you; they were fought for by people throughout this country. And i’m passionate about the fact that people have actually made an effort to fight for other people’s rights.”

—Karen VuRanch, THEM THAT WORK (2004) Documentary/featurette on the Matewan Massacre

 

Watching MATEWAN, a stunningly beautiful film, referencing a caustic bit of American history,  from exactly 100 years ago, gives me, and I think it will give you, one of the greatest gifts art can can give— perspective. Perspective on the mistakes we have made, and the tyranny we have allowed.

And perspective helps us deal with the present, without ignorance, and if not without fear, without hopelessness. Because we can see others have seen these days of Gethsemane, and endured it, triumphed over it.

You can go many days of your life without gaining that type of perspective, that barest hint of —- grace. Looking at the world, many people go their whole life without finding the type of perspective, that glimpse of grace— that MATEWAN hints at.

For $30 to $40, Criterion’s MATEWAN blu-ray is one of the best purchases you can make. And ultimately, what it has left me with, like the best of true art, is priceless.

 

 

 

” The way she poured herself into her song— it can make a doubting man religious.”

—James Earl Jones on Hazel Dickens’ song in the film

2 Comments

  1. Wonderful column, brilliantly written and encapsulates why Matewan is still relevant today and not just because it’s a beautifully told story about a forgotten period in US history. Shot like old photos by Haskell Wexler and performed beautifully by a now all star cast it’s an essential purchase in my opinion.
    Keep up the excellent work sir.

    • SR, honored as always sir. And for those reading this, lest you have not subscribed to SOLITARY RONIN via Youtube, do so now. You will find out about all kinds of great films, that you might otherwise overlook. It is thanks to his channel that I ended up buying and viewing MATEWAN. That is a channel worth supporting.

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