Category Archives: News

A Great Double Feature

Back in 2014 I wrote about a film called Palikari — Louis Tikas and the Ludlow Massacre. Directed by Nikos Ventouras and produced by Lamprini Thoma, the film tells the story of Greek and other immigrant miners during the Colorado Coal Strike of 1913-1914.

The other day, our friend Michael Kleff sent word that Palikari screened last month in Trinidad, Colorado, at an event commemorating the life and work of Louis Tikas. A statue of the Ludlow Tent Colony leader was unveiled.


This was a local event, but it occurs to me that Palikari and 1913 Massacre would make a great double feature anywhere, especially now, at a moment when there are powerful forces trying to demonize immigrants (we all know who’s leading that charge), undo the accomplishments of the labor movement (witness the recent Janus decision), and generally distort and whitewash American history.

Remember, also, that Woody Guthrie wrote and played “1913 Massacre” and “Ludlow Massacre” together, as “a group of two” songs. He read about both tragic incidents in the same chapter of the same book: Ella Reeve Bloor’s We are Many.

The chapter from which Woody wrote these songs, sometimes lifting whole phrases, is called “Massacre of the Innocents.” 11 children died at Ludlow; 59 in Calumet. In both places, immigrant children — innocents — found themselves on the frontlines of a violent struggle not just for better working conditions, but for basic human rights, and for an idea of what the country could be that we now abandon at our peril.

Deanna Kamiel, 1946-2018

Back in September of 2012, when Ken and I had just finished 1913 Massacre, Deanna Kamiel invited us to screen our new film for her graduate documentary filmmaking class in the School of Media Studies at The New School. Like other screenings in the DOC Talk series, it included a videotaped Q & A with the filmmakers, which Deanna moderated and produced.

At the time, we were on our way to Calumet — where we would hold the first public screenings of the film at the Calumet Theatre. We were bringing the film back to where it came from, back to the town and the people it was about. When we mentioned our upcoming trip during the Q & A, Deanna said that George Stoney had done the same thing with Uprising of ‘34 (his film about the General Textile Strike in the south). That was all we needed to know we were on the right track.

Deanna kept in touch throughout our Calumet trip, and encouraged us after that to take the film to Twin Cities Public Television in Minnesota — where it was broadcast on Labor Day of 2013.

Ken emailed yesterday to let me know that Deanna had passed away over the weekend. We will remember her as a teacher, friend, and guide.

A Perfect Holiday Pairing for the Bob Dylan Fan in Your Life

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s a holiday gift idea for the Bob Dylan fan in your life: a copy of Daniel Wolff’s Grown Up Anger, tracing the connections between Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, and the Italian Hall disaster, and a DVD of the film 1913 Massacre.

Seamless editing, engrossing interviews and a stirring well-integrated music soundtrack make the film flow like long lost friends catching up on history… It joins the ranks of great progressive movies.

People’s World

You can buy the DVD right here, and order Wolff’s book on Amazon.

Woody Guthrie and Arlo Guthrie fans will love it, too!

For Woody’s Birthday, A New Book About “1913 Massacre”

Just in time for Woody’s birthday — he’d be 105 years old today — a new book about 1913 Massacre by Daniel Wolff: Grown up Anger.

Wolff’s book explores the deep personal, cultural and historical connections between Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan, following a trail that leads from Dylan’s “Song to Woody” through “1913 Massacre” to Christmas Eve, 1913 in Calumet, Michigan.

This is a dimension of the 1913 Massacre story we explored in making the film, but which — for all sorts of reasons — never made it into the film. In our editing system, there’s still an unfinished scene, cut from 1960s protest footage, with “Song to Woody” as the music bed. There’s some consolation in the fact that the scene that we never realized in our film has now gotten the book-length treatment it warrants.

The book is close not only in subject but also in spirit to our film: Patti Smith says Wolff manages to “raise the ghosts of greed and misery. Through memory, music, and a clear insight into the emotional process of protest, Wolff reminds us of how it did, and how it does, ultimately feel.”

Put Daniel Wolff’s Grown Up Anger on your reading list. Check it out.

A Little Song About A Man Gone Wrong

Joan Baez:

https://youtu.be/AHQ7N9lEl_E&w=512&h=288

People’s Stories and The Italian Hall Memorial

There’s a discussion underway in Calumet right now about the design of a new Italian Hall Memorial. We contributed the following thoughts to that discussion today.

To the Italian Hall Memorial Group and The Village of Calumet,

As producers of 1913 Massacre, the feature-length, 2012 documentary film about the Italian Hall disaster, we strongly support the effort to bring the public into the process of deciding what the new Italian Hall memorial should look like.

As outsiders, it’s not our place to express any strong preferences or opinions about the
design of the memorial. But we think it’s important for us to share one big lesson we
learned in the course of our work on the film and at screenings of 1913 Massacre we did at the Calumet Theatre, around the country, and in Europe over the past five years.

People’s voices matter profoundly when it comes to remembering their history.

There isn’t just one Italian Hall story; there are many, and there will be many more as long as the stories of the Italian Hall are passed down, told and retold.

How should the victims of Italian Hall be honored? Some people visit the cemetery or the Italian Hall site. Others light candles. Some tell stories or share pictures or hum Finnish tunes they learned from grandparents or uncles and aunts. Some people knocked down the Hall itself; that was their way of coming to terms with the story. Others still remember the victims in the way Woody Guthrie memorialized them in a song.

Everyone has his or her own way of remembering and making sense of the events of December 24th, 1913, and the public should be given a strong voice — or many voices, a chorus of voices — in the deliberations of the Memorial Group and the Village.

We encourage you to keep this process open and transparent to the public, and to listen to everyone who wishes to be heard. We look forward to seeing the results of your work next time we are in Calumet.

From Bowling Green to 1913

Refugees, 1913: Calumet was populated by immigrants, many of whom fled their native lands due to war, famine, or political persecution, and came here seeking a better life.

In an interview with Chris Matthews on MSNBC last night, inveterate liar Kellyanne Conway defended Trump’s travel ban by claiming, falsely, that Trump is only doing what Obama did; then, in a weird twist, she went on to say that Obama “had a six month ban on the Iraqi refugee program after two Iraqis came here to this country, were radicalized, and they were the masterminds behind the Bowling Green Massacre.”

The Bowling Green Massacre? What’s that? Most people never heard about a massacre in Bowling Green, Kentucky, because it didn’t get covered, she claimed.  I’m not sure why Chris Matthews let this slide; maybe he’s learned that there is no point talking facts with someone to whom facts “no longer matter,” as Robert Reich put it. To be clear: there’s no such thing as the Bowling Green Massacre. It never happened.

Ms. Conway has taken her canon of “alternative facts” to a despicable new place: now she’s just making up history. To say that we have gone through the looking glass is now an understatement.

History presents many cases where there was in fact a massacre but people are loath to acknowledge it, make up alternative stories to justify or accommodate it, or deny it outright. We found our way into this territory in the course of working on 1913 Massacre, and there are still people to this day who bristle at the word “massacre” (a word Woody Guthrie took from Mother Bloor), or who claim that the doors of the Italian Hall opened inward. Maybe it’s just too much, too horrible to contemplate; maybe outright denial, fussing over terms, or blaming a badly designed door, is a way for people to get by and for neighbors to get along.

When we interviewed labor historian John Beck, he likened the reluctance to acknowledge the truth of what happened at the Italian Hall to the story told in Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude (which is based on the actual slaughter of United Fruit Company workers by Colombian government forces in 1928): in the novel, Jose Arcadio Segundo returns to Macondo, where he witnessed the brutal massacre of three thousand strikers, but he can find no one who will believe him. Nobody’s ever heard of a massacre — not even the friends and families of the dead. 

When you start playing political games with historical memory, you enter a very tricky, dangerous place. Woody Guthrie knew this (and, let’s admit it, he knew how to play the game). Rational people can argue about interpretations. This is different: when you refuse history, you falsify the present and foreclose on the future. We learned that much in Calumet. And when you make up massacres that never happened, you risk losing sight of those that did.

Update, one week later:

Woody and the Nobel Prize

dylan_carnegie

By now you’ve probably heard that Bob Dylan has been awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature, and you probably won’t be able to turn on a radio or a TV today without hearing a Bob Dylan song. Sara Danius, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, “advised those unfamiliar with the work of Dylan” — who’s that? — “to start with the 1966 album Blonde on Blonde.”

Not a bad suggestion, but Dylan’s “Song for Woody,” which he set to the tune of “1913 Massacre,” is really the better place to start tracing Dylan’s journey and to appreciate the act of self-creation that turned Robert Allen Zimmerman into Bob Dylan.

Dylan still performs the song — or, more accurately, he started performing it again around 1999 and 2000. The original recording appeared in 1962.

 

In his formative years, Dylan emulated Woody; he even dressed like Woody and combed his hair like him. In 1961, he made a pilgrimage to Woody’s house and visited him in the hospital. Later that year, when performing “1913 Massacre” at Carnegie Hall, Dylan would remember learning the song along with “Ludlow Massacre” from Woody as a “group of two.”

Here’s how Arlo Guthrie remembered Dylan’s visit in an interview we did for the film:

Well I remember the day in 1961 when Bob Dylan came to our house. I was 13 years old. He must have been 20. And ah, he wanted to know where my dad was. And I told him he was down the road, you know he was in the hospital at the time. And the next, within the next few years, there was this massive human undertaking around the world, this great drama of events being played out. And the sound track was Bob Dylan songs. It was an incredible. I mean not just Bob Dylan songs, but they were a major part of the sound track of the times that were going on.

And I think one of the reasons that that probably happened was because he had taken this technique of talking about serious issues, reading the papers, going to places where people were struggling. Writing their stories from their point of view, and doing it with such poetry and such power. Such simple music. Nothing complicated in these Bob Dylan music songs. But poetically, verbally, text-wise, mighty powerful imagery, that goes beyond the average ability of a mind to foresee what’s coming next. It was always surprising. And not only that, half the time it was angry and pissed off and wonderfully so, because he was angry about the same things that everybody else was angry about so when we heard a Bob Dylan song he was speaking for us. In the same way that I think my dad had spoke for a lot people a generation before.

When Oscar Met Woody

Seeing Oscar Brand’s obituary in the New York Times earlier this week sent me back to the interview we did with Oscar for 1913 Massacre. Here’s a brief audio excerpt from that interview: the story of how Oscar and Woody Guthrie met in 1940, after Woody wrote a song about the gathering of the American Youth Congress in Washington, DC.

oscarbrand

1. OscarMetWoody     

Woody and the Seventh-Inning Stretch

As you read this short article from the Sports section of last Friday’s New York Times, bear in mind that Woody wrote “This Land Is Your Land” after he grew tired of hearing Kate Smith singing “God Bless America” every time he turned on the radio:

In the middle of the seventh inning of the Baltimore Orioles’ game against the Arizona Diamondbacks two Friday nights ago, the public-address announcer asked the crowd at Camden Yards to stand and celebrate America’s diversity. Three singers then stood on the first-base dugout and did a rendition of “This Land Is Your Land,” the famous folk song written by Woody Guthrie.

By the time the end of the third verse arrived — “All around me a voice was sounding, this land was made for you and me” — fans had joined in.

In a tradition that dates to the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terror attacks in 2001, “God Bless America” is played in major league ballparks around the country, including in Baltimore, during the seventh-inning stretch of Sunday games. The song can also be heard during assorted holiday games, and the Yankees play the song during the seventh inning of every home game.

But Baltimore is the only major league franchise to regularly play “This Land Is Your Land,” which it does at Friday home games. And the song, long considered an anthem of the left because of its populist themes, is meant to be more than a Camden Yards singalong. It is a subtle, yet intentional, message from the Orioles’ management that at the intersection of sports and patriotism, one size does not have to fit all.