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Box illustration for VHS version of Matewan

Matewan: English language, colour, 35 mm film, released by Cinecom Pictures on 28 August 1987; 135 minutes, aspect ratio 1.85:1, rated: PG-13. VHS of the film was released in 1997 by Evergreen Entertainment Group; DVD of the film was released in 2003 by the PDX Studio. 

100   EXT. TENT CAMP   NIGHT   JOE AND FEW [Cloths]

Joe is deep in thought as he speaks

                    JOE

         When I was in Leavenworth there was a          bunch of Mennonites in cause they          wouldn't fight in the war.  Gainst their          religion.  It's also gainst their          religion to shave their beards or wear          buttons on their clothes, and they was          bein forced to do both by the prison          guards.  So they refused to work.  Went          on a strike, right there in Hell's Half          Acre.

         They were handcuffed to the bars of a          cellhouse, eight hours a day for two          full weeks.  They were put with their          arms up like this, so's they had to          stand on their toes or those cuffs would          cut into their wrists.  Can't nobody          stay on their toes eight hours.          Pretty soon their fingers would start to          swoll up, they'd turn blue and then          they'd crack open and the blood would          run down their arms    eight hours a          day, day after day, an still they          wouldn't work, still they tore the          buttons off their uniforms every time          they were sewed back on.  Tore em with          their teeth, cause their hands wouldn't          close no more.

         Now I don't claim a thing for myself             but them fellas, never lifted a gun in          their lives, you couldn't find any          braver in my book.

They sit silent for a moment   

                   JOE

         Wish them guys would get here.

Matewan is an American drama film written and directed by John Sayles, illustrating the events of a coal mine-workers’ strike and attempt to unionize in 1920 in the small town of Matewan, Mingo County, West Virginia. Though the story is fiction many of the film’s characters are historic people.

The drama begins when the Stone Mountain Coal Company of Matewan, announces a lower pay rate for miners, who respond by calling a strike. A union organizer, Joe Kenehan, played by Chris Cooper, who is also a "red," an ex-Wobbly, and a pacifist, is invited in to organize the workers. Italian and Black miners, led by a huge man named Few Cloths, played by James Earl Jones, are brought in initially to break the strike but soon they stop working, too, and join Joe Kenehan’s union. The workers overcome their racism and prejudice in order to organize themselves against the powerful mining corporation who has hired armed thugs from Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency. Some of the miners participate in the local Baptist church in which the director, John Sayles, plays a minor role as preacher. The company agents evict miners from their homes, threaten local officials, assault miners, and use agents provocateur. Though the town’s mayor, Chief of Police and Joe Kenehan try to keep the strike peaceful the Baldwin-Felts agents are determined to punish the strikers resulting in a climatic gun fight in which Kenehan, the mayor, and several Baldwin-Felts agents are killed.

For Mennonites the film is notable for one scene. When Joe Kenehan and Few Cloths become friends Kenehan tells him that he was in Fort Leavenworth Military Penitentiary in 1917, and saw Mennonites imprisoned there for refusing to bear arms. They inspired him as they passively resisted having their beards shaved. They also ripped the buttons off their prison clothes, since these were against their religion.

The text from the shooting script of the film is to the right.

Though Mennonites are mentioned by Joe Kenehan and indeed many Mennonites were imprisoned in Fort Leavenworth Military Penitentiary in 1917-19 for resisting the United States draft, the description of the punishment inflicted on the inmates more correctly describe that inflicted on several Hutterian Brethren in particular on brothers Joseph and Michael Hofer, and on David Hofer, and Jacob Wipf.

The film was universally praised; it received numerous positive reviews and received an Oscar nomination in 1988 Best Cinematography. Matewan is a sometimes called milestone of independent filmmaking, with it being one of Sayles's finest achievements.

Bibliography

Sayles, John. Thinking in Pictures: The Masking of the Movie "Matewan." Boston, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1987. x, 140, (2) , 180 pp.  [see page 138 for the script reference.]

Additional Information

Internet Movie Database entry


Author(s) Victor Wiebe
Date Published June 2011


Cite This Article

MLA style

Wiebe, Victor. "Matewan (Film)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. June 2011. Web. 30 May 2017. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Matewan_(Film)&oldid=101618.

APA style

Wiebe, Victor. (June 2011). Matewan (Film). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 30 May 2017, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Matewan_(Film)&oldid=101618.




©1996-2017 by the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. All rights reserved.