Native Land (1942)

Synopsis:
In the 1930s, the burgeoning American labor movement is under threat from large corporations, which will stop at nothing to prevent unionism and collective bargaining.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
This “legendary political film” — a series of historical reenactments based on reports from the La Follette Senate Civil Liberties Committee, and narrated by Paul Robeson — posits that “major U.S. corporations were involved in a large-scale conspiracy to undermine unionism through the systematic use of terrorism, labor spies, police, and blacklisting.” While the documentary now comes across as “a bit disappointing considering its reputation”, it nonetheless remains a salient example of progressive filmmaking in early 20th century. My favorite vignette shows a flirtatious young cleaning lady whose pastoral working existence is shattered when she discovers one of her clients lying murdered on the floor of his apartment. Indeed, the entire film is framed as a series of contrasts between the “natural” joy people experience in communal existence, versus the corruption, greed, and disloyalty of Big Business.

Redeeming Qualities:

  • Beautiful cinematography and powerful editing — especially in the Russian-inspired “Michigan sequence”
    Native Land Cinematography
  • The natural, unglamourized actors who portray the workers — what a contrast their faces are with those of Hollywood stars at the time!Native Land Actors

Must See?
Yes. While naturally one-sided and overly simplistic, this film holds a special place in documentary history.

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One Response to “Native Land (1942)”

  1. First viewing. A once-must, for its place in both cinema history and American history.

    I’m unsure in what way the assessment above views the film as “one-sided” (what other side would there be in this case?; the side of domestic fascism or the self-serving interests of corporate America?) and “overly simplistic” (when it seems fairly detailed).

    Though the film’s low-budget is apparent, that doesn’t take anything away from its urgency. It powerfully serves as a reminder that American democracy is always open to threats – and that such threats come in waves.

    This doc – bizarrely – is especially relevant now in 2017. Currently we are counting less on our own government to come to the aid of American citizens; we are threatened from within. The power of right (and the integrity of rights) rests more at the moment with the American people themselves (in tandem with institutions of force that remain intact).

    It’s good to have docs like this that keep history alive and reveal, again, why we fight (and resist).

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