Just about thirteen months ago, the company Massey Energy made its name world famous when an unfortunate tragedy occurred at one of their coal mines in West Virginia. Twenty-nine people lost their lives in an explosion. Massey, with its repeat violations, and other companies, through the practice of mountaintop removal, have been problematic for the universal image of the laborious miner. Pollution of the water table in West Virginia has pitted families against members over one of the communities’ few viable occupations. But without our miners’ tireless and dangerous work, our country, as well as other ones, would never have achieved the modern industrial state, let alone reached the industrial revolution.
The Miners’ Hymns by Bill Morrison combines archival footage from various British sources to stir up some melancholy for the heyday of mining. This film takes primarily black and white footage placed (sensationally if not accurately) chronologically to show the routine of the miner by day and the overall trend of mechanization in mining itself. Even without having previous knowledge of the film, a viewer of Morrison’s careful selection will come away understanding the strong and cohesive narrative. Miners move from home to workplace with apparent uniformity to their actions. But there is a moment a worker is free from the Taylorism as he kisses a lantern for good luck. Scenes of undulating coal and giant cogs turning transform into trucks involved in large scale mining.