A revolutionary film that remains unique in American cinema.
|Rosaura Revuelas and Juan Chacon|
Salt of the Earth impressively counterpoints the strike itself and the relationship between a striking Mexican-American miner and his wife.
[Juan] Chacon helps organise the strike which demands that Mexican-Americans be given the same safety standards that the mining company provides for Anglo workers, but at home he refuses to end discrimination and change the status quo. Miss [Rosaura] Revueltas, pregnant with her third child, is traditionally passive and at first reluctant either to take part in the strike or to assert her rights for equality at home. But she changes and when the men are forced to end their picketing by a Taft-Hartley Act injunction the women take their place in the picket line and she joins them. The women, indeed, come out looking stronger than the men, some marching with babes in their arms, resisting tear gas and making jail so unendurable for the sheriff (deliciously played by Will Geer) that they are released.
|The abandoned Empire Zinc mine in Hanover, N.M.|
- Linda Gross, Los Angeles Times, 7/2/76
|Historic Plaque in Hanover, N.M.|
A brief clip from the movie showing Rosaura Revueltas.
ABOVE AND BELOW--HISTORIC MARKERS NEAR HANOVER, N.M.
Article about Juana Sierra, resident of Hanover, N.M. who walked the picket line with the Empire Zinc strikers.
An Interview with Juana Sierra filmed in 2010
NEW YORK TIMES Review of "Salt of the Earth" from 1954
Salt of the Earth (1954)
THE SCREEN IN REVIEW; ' Salt of the Earth' Opens at the Grande -- Filming Marked by Violence
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," a union-sponsored film drama, which opened last night at the Grande Theatre on East Eighty-sixth Street.
It is the story of a husband's firm objection to women—and, especially, his wife—mixing in the grim affairs of the strikers, and of the strong determination of the wife to participate, along with other women, in the carrying on of the strike.
This is the film that occasioned controversy and violence when it was being made near Silver City, N. M., just one year ago. The facts were then widely noted that members of the independent company making it, including the director, Herbert J. Biberman, and the producer, Paul Jarrico, had been identified before the House Committee on UnAmerican Activities as past or present Communists and that the organization sponsoring the picture, the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers, had been expelled from the Congress of Industrial Organizations for left-wing leanings.
Threats of Vigilante Action
Rosaura Revueltas, the Mexican actress who plays one of the leading roles, was seized as an illegal alien while the production was underway, and fisticuffs and threats of vigilante action occurred in Silver City while the company was there.
Recent sub rosa difficulties of the film's producers in getting a theatre in which to show it here have further evidenced the pressures against it and the obstructions placed in its way.
In the light of this agitated history, it is somewhat surprising to find that "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.
Conflict of Personalities
For this conflict of human personalities, torn by egos and traditions, is shown in terms of sharp clashes at union meetings, melees on dusty picket lines, tussles with "scabs" and deputy sheriffs and face-to-face encouners between the husband and wife in their meager home. It is a conflict that broadly embraces the love of struggling parents for their young, the dignity of some of these poor people and their longings to see their children's lot improved.
Under Mr. Biberman's direction, an unusual company made up largely of actual miners and their families, plays the drama exceedingly well. Miss 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 hard-focus, realistic quality of the picture's photography and style completes its characterization as a calculated social document. It is a clearly intended special interest film.
20 Years Of Classes Promoting Social Justice At the Salt of The Earth Labor College
Salt of the Earth Labor College is a school for working people like yourself. It's a place to come together and learn about the political, economic social and cultural forces shaping our lives.
(from the school's website)
|A Class at SELC in Feb. 2012 on The Occupy Movement|
A plaque to honor the wonderful couple who made the school possible.
A crowd enjoys the annual screening of "Salt of the Earth" at SELC. Juan Chacon's wife, Virginia, was honored at one of these events before she passed away.
Interview with Steve Valencia, board president of SELC and chair of Tucson Jobs With Justice. He tells how his parents, who were labor leaders, appeared in "Salt of the Earth", how the life and work of Lorenzo and Anita Torrez inspired SELC, and positive changes in the labor movement.
who discusses the evolution and work of SELC, and the role of the Communist Party in supporting the miners union, along with the attacks and blacklisting that occurred during the making of the film and after its release.
Link To Salt of the Earth Labor College's website and schedule of classes
Haven't seen "SALT OF THE EARTH" yet?. Well here it is. Enjoy:
FINALLY, ANOTHER FABULOUS REVIEW
I first saw Salt of the Earth in 1972 at a benefit for a new women's centre on the west side of Los Angeles. Like others in the audience, I was deeply moved. Salt of the Earth seemed to articulate the aspirations of women of my generation. "I want to rise. And push everything up with me as I go." Here was a film that presented housework, child care, sanitation as important political issues; that used humour to deflate macho attitudes; that recognised the necessity of rejecting the "old way" but acknowledged the difficulty of creating something new; that had chosen a woman as protagonist and entrusted to her the role of narrator. Here was that rarity, a female hero who not only struggles and suffers but grows and wins. And she gains not simply in self-knowledge, not simply through wresting a piece of hard-won turf from an unchanged society; rather, her victory represents the shared triumph of the community - the specific victory of a successful strike, the less tangible victory of greater equality between Anglos and Mexican-Americans, women and men...
The outspoken feminism of Salt of the Earth is rare in films of any era, particularly rare in the fifties when the feminine mystique exerted so powerful a hold. Its portrayal of women's daily lives and its vision of growing power through growing sisterhood have made the film deeply welcome in the culture of the contemporary women's movement. Its story though, must be one of struggle on many fronts... The struggle of workers, of Mexican-Americans, of women for dignity and equality are the substance of Salt of the Earth. The film's significance today is its insistence on their relatedness, its vision of what director Herbert Biberman called "the indivisibility of equality" - and its acknowledgement of how hard it is to make that vision work...
Young audiences today, seeing Salt of the Earth for the first time, often express surprise that so "old" a film should portray with such passionate comprehension the sometimes conflicting claims of feminist, ethnic and class consciousness - issues still very much with us, conflicting claims still unresolved. That surprise underlines the real damage of the repressive eras of our history. For the story of Salt of the Earth - the strike, the film, the people - is an integral part of progressive belief and action in our politics and in our culture, a heritage that did not completely disappear in the "haunted decade" of the fifties but went, often unwillingly, underground.
- Deborah Silverton Rosenfelt, from the published screenplay of Salt of the Earth, New York, 1978