The ill-fated coal mining communities in North East England are the subject of this inspired documentary by artist Bill Morrison. Their story is told entirely without words, yet the film is far from silent: it features a remarkable original score by the Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson.
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Director Bill Morrison juxtaposes the modern British landscape with archival footage of the mining towns they once were in this poetic elegy for a faded way of life. A beautiful and lyrical marriage of image and music that creates a haunting portrait of the fleeting nature of time, and the struggle to be remembered.
"A vivid and unique documentary" indeed. By coincidence I am reading George Orwell's "The Road To Wigan Pier" at the moment – also about the lives of coal miners in Britain between the wars. The film is a nice mix of archival and contemporary footage.
This was quite moving. Really gorgeous photography throughout. Paired with a wonderfully atmospheric soundtrack from Johannson, alternating between stately and elegaic to majestic and stirring.
This has been one of my favorite discoveries on Mubi. I'm planning to track down a DVD or blu-ray of this if I can. Absolutely loved it.
I am ambivalent about most of Morrison's films, but this one had me transfixed. There are a few mismatches between musical crescendos and image, and occasionally editing is a bit misplaced, but on the whole this is a compelling visual story of a particularly optimistic and destructive time in human history. The sad truth is that it looks all too familiar. The false hopes of yesteryear resemble those of today.
Jóhann Jóhannsson's score, majestically melancholy, earthy and ethereal, really cuts into the core conflict of Morrison's message: a forgotten community that never got the necessary respect. The menace in the vintage underground mine shaft footage doesn't even require the score to get you to care.
Even without the music there is a funeral quality to the film. Footage of men marching into the depths of the anthracite hell out of which they earn their daily bread. Digging, always digging, digging their own graves. And of course when they demand better the jackboot of authority comes crushing down on them "You are good enough to dig for us but not good enough to live like us". An elegiac testament.