U.S. History in Film

Prof. McClurken’s HIST 329 — Fall 2008


For one of the first times this semester, I watched the film before the lecture on historical content. My impression? Matewan, as far as historical films go, was pretty acuarte to the events surrounding West Virginian coal miners unionizing in the 1920s, as well as to the Matewan Massacre. BUT….I haven’t been so bored by a movie in a long time. Even if a movie is historically acurate, it does nothing to alter public perception if it can’t even capture my attention – someone who enjoys historical films. I kept checking the time every 5 minutes, hoping it would be over soon, but alas, it continued to drone on. One thing that did not help the film’s case in my mind is that the actors seemed to mumble a lot. Maybe this was an unfortunate product of their attempts to acheive Appalachain accents, but it made the diaologue difficult to understand, and the dvd lacked subtitles.
Apparently this film was low budget. Even so, jewels have been known to emerge out of little money…well I would not call Matewan a jewel. I did enjoy the performance by the young preacher boy who I am not sure even existed historically. I always love watching James Earl Jones in movies, but even he could not save this one for me…his portrayal as Few Clothes Johnson was that of a noble Black man, but more like a follower of the union, rather than a leader – especially towards the end when he was picked to execute Joe. He seemed rather feable and naive when holding that gun.
Overall, even though this movie took less historical liberties than a lot of films we have seen this semester, its impact on me was not significant.

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