A grand opening shot, pulling back from a mountain view to reveal the drone music as diegetic, walking with a marching band from overlooking ruins to a street that dead-ends into a canyon. The drummer steps forward and says he used to live here, and his entire neighborhood is now in the pit.
We’re in a Serbian mining company – typical-Ben follow-cam through their workplace and into the crowded high-speed de-elevator to an underground mining city. Long takes of long drills into rock walls intercut with b/w miner screen tests, and interviews about their hopes and dreams (answer: not much of either).
Admittedly a really good transition between the halves, joined by a graphic and the sound of a metal detector, a different kind of drone for a different kind of mining. From 20 guys working in the dark underground, we move to Suriname and 3 guys working on the surface in daylight. Wavery handheld late-night conversations with the men and their women, worries about killings at another site, more hopes and dreams, more screen tests. At least it ends with a song (no dance party).
Presumably the champions of this whole endurance test were Mai 68 Proletariat Cinema people who love anything involving miners. This doesn’t apply to the Cinema Scope Gang, who champion things for inscrutable reasons… Phil Coldiron’s analysis of Russell’s exploded ethnography is convincing, when I can follow it:
Like Frampton, Russell has elaborated a conception of film that approaches a particular limit or model: thought itself, with its infinite capacity for expansion. And like Frampton, this project has necessitated a sustained engagement with both the material of film and with that grand technology whose shadow film continues to toil in, namely language.
Russell captures the rhythms by which the plan of capital is expressed and enforced. In working on the level of the workersâ€™ experience, he mirrors the image that the factory is always already producing of itself and offers it for reflection.
A not-too-exciting Marlene Dietrich/John Wayne western. Boring ol’ Randolph Scott (Roberta, Ride Lonesome) rides into town claiming to represent the law of the country but really planning to steal land from local miners. John Wayne is seduced by Scott’s uneasy companion Margaret Lindsay (Jezebel, Fog Over Frisco) until he catches onto their scheme. Dietrich is wise from the beginning. She and third-wheel Richard Barthelmess (that guy from Only Angels Have Wings who looks like a cross between Buster Keaton and Peter Lorre) help Wayne foil the plan, and the mines are saved, yay.
But most notably: John Wayne in blackface!
Slow-motion stock footage and photographs of miners and their mines, with slow-motion color helicopter shots of their present-day locations, accompanied by slow-motion music. The movie doesn’t tell a conventional story, allowing you to apply your own knowledge and bias to the visuals. In my case what came to mind was Harlan County USA, Ace in the Hole and every Freakwater song (plus some Mekons/Freakons, Johnny Miner). Anyway, nothing hopeful or positive. The helicopter shots seem to back this up, showing these sites erased by history, covered up with parking lots, shopping centers and housing developments, unmourned. But it ends on a happy note, a massive parade of Durham-area miners marching into a cathedral.
Since each is under an hour, you could easily double-feature this with Coal Money, or maybe more appropriately, Profit Motive and the Whispering Wind.
Quick-n-dirty handicam following coal traders in Inner Mongolia – mostly it’s people bitching and haggling for 50 minutes. I suppose it’s a useful film as a cinema verite document of a trade, but is this what most of Wang Bing’s cinema is like? Is West of the Tracks (about decline of an industrial district) like this for nine hours, and Crude Oil for fourteen?
As Harvard puts it: “The hard, even bitter, bargaining and accusations of thievery that erupt at each juncture suggest the free market system to be based on an ever-sliding scale of distrust and insecurity.”
Wang is one of Cinema Scope’s 50 Under 50. C. Fujiwara writes: “If Wangâ€™s cinema is dedicated to uncovering the past of labour, it is also a search, in the middle of an era when labour is being disavowed, disgraced, and denied, for the possible futures of labour.”