Salt of the Earth

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This classic labor docudrama, based on the events surrounding a 1950 strike by zinc miners in Silver City, New Mexico has inspired and educated two generations since it survived the harsh blows of the Cold War to make it into a limited release in 1953. Now a rich collection of essays, photographs, newspaper accounts, and interviews bring this struggle within a struggle to CD-ROM.

The events that led to the making of Salt of the Earth had their roots in the same bitter seed. McCarthyism cast unions in the role of Stalinist puppets, while left-wing filmmakers who enjoyed commercial success in the 30s and 40s were publicly persecuted for their beliefs. Bloodied but unbowed, blacklisted Hollywood filmmakers led by Paul Jarrico (whose film about the Hollywood Ten is also included in this collection) and director Herb Biberman combined forces to bring the story of the Mine-Mill Local 890s strike against the Empire Zinc Corporation to the silver screen. Pro-labor during one of Americas most conservative eras, SALT OF THE EARTH also addresses the multilayered politics of race and gender; some say the film prefigured feminism and identity politics.

That may be due largely to the fact that the miners' wives are the story's collective soul. When a court order forces their husbands off the picket line, the women courageously take their place, enduring beatings, jail, and Empire's siege strategy. Forged in crisis, this initially uneasy coalition of both Anglo and Mexican American men and women becomes a union built on mutual respect that ultimately triumphs against the seemingly insurmountable forces of exploitation.

Another reason SALT OF THE EARTH was unique for its time was because it enabled real people to tell their own story. Some of the actors in the docudrama are defiant professionals, others are participants in the strike who play themselves on camera. Juan Chacon, vice-president of Local 890, plays the male lead. Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers union organizer Clifford Jencks and his wife Virginia also reprise their real-life 'roles.'

The value of this CD-ROM is that it offers the user a critical context to explore not only the full text of the film, but also the social milieu of the strike, and the cultural politics of McCarthyism and the Cold War. A holistic treatment of the representation of history as history itself was being made, SALT OF THE EARTH is unique within film history, and uniquely illuminating in its multimedia reincarnation.

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