Tuesday, May 12, 2009

DVR-TiVo-Or whatever recording device strikes your fancy-Alert!

As part of their month-long Latino Images in Film tribute, TCM will show the landmark 1954 docudrama Salt of the Earth later this evening at 1:45am EDT (which will technically be May 12th). This film dealing with labor relations—a rare topic addressed in Hollywood films then…and now, if you want to be precise—was overseen by a crew of individuals blacklisted in the movie industry by the House Un-American Activities Committee…including director Herbert J. Biberman, producer Paul Jarrico, co-writer Michael Wilson and actor Will Geer. (Photographers Leonard Stark and Stanley Meredith were also blacklisted, as was Sol Kaplan, who scored the film.) The star of the film, Mexican actress Rosaura Revueltas, had her own problems with “The Man”; she found herself deported during the film’s production due to a minor passport violation, prompting the filmmakers to complete Salt with a double.

Salt is based on a true story involving a strike at a zinc mine in New Mexico; Hispanic workers learn that they are not receiving the same benefits (higher wages and safer conditions) as their Anglo counterparts and walk off the job in order to achieve parity. When the strikers are forbidden to continue due to a court injunction, their wives agree to take their places on the picket line—so not only does this film offer an interesting perspective on labor relations but it’s an remarkable prelude to the later women’s movement (with issues like sexual equality, job equality and equality in the home addressed).

Salt of the Earth still has its detractors (who’ve always dismissed it as some “pinko lefty screed”) but I think it’s an essential must-see to anyone with a passion for both politics and history; I was incredibly fortunate to obtain a DVD of the film for about three bucks at a now-defunct online store about the time I got a DVD player and was putting together the dusty Thrilling Days of Yesteryear archives. As film historian Danny Peary notes in Guide For the Film Fanatic, Salt is “a film that lives up to the legend.”

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