A Vast National Story Forgotten


Barbara Kopple’s Oscar-winning socialist-cinema paradigm offers an extraordinarily detailed chronicle of an intimate, forgotten American war. Documenting a 1973 Kentucky coal miners’ strike in what amounts to real time, Kopple documents a community tale of murder, gun threats, crowd violence, corporate usury, and in the end, astonishing union solidarity. Simultaneously, the film sketches out a succinct historical context of nearly a hundred years of union building and its resultant bloodshed, a vast national story that still goes missing from public school history classes. In 1976, Kopple’s rather terrifying film rocked its minuscule audience and instantly became a cultural touchstone; today, it also spotlights, with its customized Communist ballads, IWW sloganeering, and memories of healthier early-20th-century worker networks, the pathetic state of organized labor in the new global economy. Ancillary stuff includes multiple interviews, audio tracks, never-seen outtakes, and a new production doc with fresh sit-downs with surviving miners.