Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Class Four - Other films about Labor Unions, Immigration and Health Care

Bread and Roses addresses so many different social justice issues that it's hard to know where to start in finding other films.

Labor union organizing? Of course, there's the Oscar-winning Norma Rae with Sally Field and The Garment Jungle with villain Lee J. Cobb.

I found a set of labor union films called Classic Labor Unions Films 3 DVD Box Set: 1940s - 1950s American Labor Union Relations, Workers
Rights & AFL-CIO History Pictures Films. It features many short pieces, really more like documentaries and recruitment pieces, but it does include a movie described thusly at Amazon.com:
Salt Of The Earth (1954) - A full length feature produced by the International Union Of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers which tells the story of the struggling mine workers efforts to gain a safer working environment and higher pay.

There's a great list of labor and big business films at changesurfer.com - take a peek at the site and list and see if there's something you recognize, or something you'd like to see. While it's traditional to think of unions in terms of blue collar jobs like garment workers or truck drivers, one of the films reminds us that workers have been exploited in a wide variety of fields - including the outfield. The list includes Eight Men Out, described thusly:

Eight Men Out - The loose history, directed by John Sayles, of the 1919 Chicago Black Sox scandal. The players received a pittance and turned to the only source of financial security they could find, the bookies. With stunning performance by John Cusack as the only player who refuses to go along, and a cameo by Studs Terkel.
It would be fun to do a course on sports in popular culture films. Interested? For that matter, we could do a series just on baseball in film... There are so many good ones.

Actor John Cusack's in another film where he pursues an unconventional profession which Dan Ackroyd tries to unionize:
Grosse Pointe Blank (George Armitage, 1997). Though a case can perhaps be made that a running gag in this film, Dan Aykroyd's attempt to form a union of hit men, underscores the film's portrayal of professional killers as the hired help of the ruling class, that argument is undercut by protagonist John Cusack's anti-union position. The real left-wing content of this film is the subverting of the product placement trend in movies and the solidarity with the Detroit newspaper strike by placing a "No News or Free Press Wanted" sign in a storefront window. - Steve Press
Check out the trailer here.

Maybe I just need to offer a John Cusack film class...

There's a great list of films dealing with immigration over at murthy.com. I think the earliest one they include is The Immigrant by Charlie Chaplin. The film's origins - and its use by the US government against Chaplin - is fascinating. Wikipedia comments:

According to Kevin Brownlow and David Gill's documentary series Unknown Chaplin, the first scenes to be written and filmed take place in what became the movie's second half, in which the penniless Tramp finds a coin and goes for a meal in a restaurant, not realising that the coin has fallen out of his pocket. It was not until later that Chaplin decided the reason the Tramp was penniless was that he had just arrived on a boat from Europe, and used this notion as the basis for the first half. Purviance reportedly was required to eat so many plates of beans during the many takes to complete the restaurant sequence (in character as another immigrant who falls in love with Charlie) that she became physically ill.

The scene in which Chaplin's character kicks an immigration officer was cited later as evidence of his anti-Americanism when he was forced to leave the United States in 1952. In 1998, The Immigrant was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

So Chaplin's film helped in the effort to deport him. Life is weird.

What films are you aware of that deal with unions and/or immigration?

As for the third focus of Bread and Roses, it's your turn - what popular culture films deal with the issue of inadequate access to health care and insurance coverage?


Erin said...

Re: Labor - Don't skip the Brits! Fun heartwarmers in The Full Monty, Billy Elliot and Brassed Off.

Professor J said...

The story about Chaplin is great--and sad.

Fantastic Forrest said...

Erin - I hadn't realized any of those related to unions. I need to see them anyway; this gives me another reason to do so. Thanks!

Professor J - yes, it is. Have you seen the movie version of Chaplin's life with Robt. Downey Jr.? Sad too.