Thursday, September 6, 2012

"The Salt of the Earth" with Will Greer and David Wolfe (1954)

“Salt of the Earth” holds the honor of being the only film ever blacklisted, and actively pursued by the law, in the history of the United States. It was more vigorously harassed than even any pornography which existed at the time. And the saddest part of the whole thing is this; the story is based on fact, and as such is really the story of a group of zinc miners in New Mexico during the 1930’s. This band of miners, consisting of both Mexican and Anglo workers, along with their wives, lived in deplorable conditions, prompting the men to call for a strike. 

This film may seem to be poorly acted at times; and if so, is to be excused. You see, most of the cast are the actual members of the Local Zinc Miners Union, and not actors at all. Just people; like you and I. The actual strike lasted 8 months, with no settlement in sight, until the women stepped in. With their children’s stomachs to be filled, these women could wait no longer to get the strike settled, so they pitched in in the best way they could. They got arrested, causing all kinds of logistical problems; including dirty diapers; for the local constabulary. This hastened them to put pressure on the mine owners to settle with the workers, who were none too happy to be at home washing clothes.
More important than the actual story is the example set by all who pitched in together to organize for change. Together there is nothing that cannot be achieved. It is only when we let the powers that be keep us divided by class, race, religion or sexual and political persuasion that they have any power over us at all. And that is what scared the government so much about this film.

The story not only speaks to labor equality, but is also one of the earliest films to encompass feminism and the deprivations of all workers. Being released in the midst of the McCarthy Era did it absolutely no good, as it was banned; and that ban was widely enforced.

The film was written and directed by Herbert Biberman, who had been among the Hollywood Ten, which was a group of directors singled out by the House of Un-American Activities during the McCarthy Era witch-hunts as being a subversive, and therefore a danger to society. His real crime, of course, was his unwillingness to name other people to be persecuted by McCarthy and his aides, who included future Senator Robert F. Kennedy.
A very educational and groundbreaking film; which also explores the issue of illegal immigration; this is a film that you will want to see more than once, if only to see whether your reactions to the issues remain consistent with what you think you believe, versus whether you have changed.

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