(Note: this post has been updated on April 25 to reflect the following change: In order to accommodate any possible attendees who might also be participating in the march in New Haven for immigrant rights, labor rights and peace, we have moved back the starting time to 8 PM from the originally scheduled 7:30 PM.)
In recognition of May Day, the Best Video Performance Space will host a performance by New Haven-based singer and guitarist Bill Collins followed by a screening of the legendary blacklisted film “Salt of the Earth” on Wednesday, May 1. The program begins at 8 PM and admission is $5.
As singer, songwriter and guitarist, for the last 35 years, Bill Collins has played everything from Hardcore Punk to Children’s music: Irish, Rockabilly, Ska, Folk, Blues, Metal, Reggae, Country, Rap, and nearly every kind of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Since 2005, he has expanded his musical calling to perform music that supports progressive political causes, especially the Labor Union Movement. Collins will play a short rabble-rousing set at 7:30, prior to the showing of the film.
Collins was a 2010 recipient of an Arts Council of Greater New Haven Arts Award. The Arts Awards “honor the artistic excellence and outstanding achievements of visual, performing and literary artists, arts organizations, architects, arts educators, advocates and administrators whose contributions enable the arts to thrive in the region.” In honoring Collins, the Arts Council wrote:
Bill Collins is an established guitarist and singer-songwriter whose music is steeped in diverse musical traditions, from punk rock to country, folk, blues, and rockabilly. For 25 years, Bill Collins’ performances of original and traditional songs have lent a powerful voice to the struggles of the working class and the passions of social activists. From his work with groundbreaking punk-rock artists of the 1980s to his forays into rockabilly and explorations of Irish song, Bill Collins’ music has delivered a message. When he married a labor organizer, Collins’ found another source of inspiration, and, with a renewed dedication to political activism, he found a new movement to support and a new message to deliver. Through his rousing and inherently participatory music, Bill Collins continues to lead a spirited rally cry, providing a sturdy voice for the interests of the working class, and always choosing passion and possibility over profit and probability.
“Salt of the Earth,” completed in 1954, tells the story of a strike by mine workers in the American Southwest. But it is so much more than that. The only true American Neorealist film in the tradition of the Italian directors Vittorio De Sica and Roberto Rossellini, it is also remarkable for its ahead-of-its-time feminist viewpoint and its incisive depiction of anti-Latino discrimination. “Salt of the Earth” was chosen in 1992 to be included on the National Film Registry maintained by the Library of Congress of “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant films.”
“Salt of the Earth” was made under conditions of extreme political repression: director Herbert Biberman, screenwriter Michael Wilson, producer Paul Jarrico and actor Will Geer were all targets of the anti-communist blacklist. The screenplay was based on a 1951 strike against the Empire Zinc Company in New Mexico led by the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers. The Mine, Mell and Smelter Workers—which had been expelled from the CIO for refusing to purge alleged Communists from union leadership—helped bankroll the production; there was an attempt to burn down their local affiliate’s union hall during the filming. The production was targeted by the Red-baiting press and anticommunist vigilantes attacked union families—many participants in the strike on which the film was based acted in the production—and members of the film crew. The film had to be processed and edited in secrecy because the blacklist forbade Hollywood labs from doing the work. After its opening night in New York City, showings of the film were extremely rare because theater owners feared bad publicity, possible visits by the FBI and the potential that they might themselves be blacklisted.
Notwithstanding the foregrounding of the film’s social message(s), “Salt of the Earth” stands as a gripping human drama. New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther wrote in 1954, “Against the hard and gritty background of a mine workers’ strike in a New Mexican town—a background bristling with resentment against the working and living conditions imposed by the operators of the mine—a rugged and starkly poignant story of a Mexican-American miner and his wife is told in “Salt of the Earth.”
“Salt of the Earth” is, in substance, simply a strong pro-labor film with a particularly sympathetic interest in the Mexican-Americans with whom it deals. True, it frankly implies that the mine operators have taken advantage of the Mexican-born or descended laborers, have forced a “speed up” in their mining techniques and given them less respectable homes than provided the so-called “Anglo” laborers. It slaps at brutal police tactics in dealing with strikers and it gets in some rough, sarcastic digs at the attitude of “the bosses” and the working of the Taft-Hartley Law.
But the real dramatic crux of the picture is the stern and bitter conflict within the membership of the union. It is the issue of whether the women shall have equality of expression and of strike participation with the men. And it is along this line of contention that Michael Wilson’s tautly muscled script develops considerable personal drama, raw emotion and power.
Under Mr. Biberman’s direction, an unusual company made up largely of actual miners and their families, plays the drama exceedingly well. [Actress Rosaura] Revueltas, one of the few professional players, is lean and dynamic in the key role of the wife who compels her miner husband to accept the fact of equality, and Juan Chacon, a non-professional, plays the husband forcefully. Will Geer as a shrewd, hard-bitten sheriff, Clinton Jencks as a union organizer and a youngster named Frank Talevera as the son of the principals are excellent, too.
The trailer for “Salt of the Earth”:
UPCOMING PERFORMANCE SPACE EVENTS:
• Thursday, May 2. INDIE ROCK—THE SAWTELLES
• Sunday, May 5. FILM SCREENING & DISCUSSION: “ALL ME: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF WINFRED REMBERT”
• Wednesday, May 8. INDIE ROCK: POOLS ARE NICE, BUCK McGRANE
• Thursday, May 9. BEST VIDEO MANAGER RICHARD BROWN’S 60TH BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION: MUSICAL SPECIAL GUESTS—THE FURORS, THE STREAMS, HAPPY ENDING and more
• Wednesday, May 15. JAZZ: THE NICK Di MARIA QUARTET
• Thursday, May 16. ROCK—ROPE
• Thursday, May 23. ROCKABILLY: BIG FAT COMBO
• Wednesday, June 12. SINGER-SONGWRITER: ANNA AYRES-BROWN
• Thursday, June 13. INDIE ROCK: THE MOUNTAIN MOVERS
• Wednesday, June 19. CABARET: RICH MORAN
• Thursday, June 20. INDIE POP: THE FURORS, AL HOWARD
• Wednesday, June 26. INDIE ROCK: THE JELLYSHIRTS
• Thursday, June 27. SINGER-SONGWRITERS: FRANK CRITELLI, MARK MIRANDO