They Don't Sound Real to Me


At the end of an In These Times article about Salt of the Earth—a much-venerated 1954 film about a New Mexico mining strike, made by blacklisted filmmakers trying to forge an alternative to capitalist Hollywood—Christopher Capozzola speaks a truth too rarely admitted:

By most of the standards that filmmakers use to measure the greatness of a film Salt of the Earth comes up short. In fact, watching 90 minutes of agitprop can almost make you understand why the Eastern Europeans who leapt the Berlin Wall in 1989 so eagerly snapped up Ernest Goes to Camp videos.

The movie plays like a bad imitation of Italian neorealism: It has the leftist filmmakers, the cast of nonprofessional actors, everything but the neorealists' talent. If you want to get a feeling for the artistic quality of Salt of the Earth, here's the scene I remember best six years after seeing the picture. A miner gets into a fight with his wife about the payments he has to make on her radio. Fed up, he finally exclaims the immortal line, "The installment plan—it is a curse on the workingman!"

The story of how the film was made? Now that's interesting. But the movie itself? It's an unjust world indeed when Salt of the Earth has a spot in the National Film Registry while The Day the Clown Cried and Snuffy's Parents Get a Divorce still rot unreleased in a vault somewhere.