Salt of the Earth

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
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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