The story might seem familiar. Men go to work in Bill Morrison’s The Miners’ Hymns, hard, dark work in coal mines. They also find ways to celebrate their labor, in images from the early days of the UK’s coal industry: crowds cheer union candidates, placards proclaim support for miners and also, offer to insure them “on holidays.” Shots of one throng from a distance dissolve into closer shots, the camera panning faces, revealing that they’ve dressed up, in hats and jackets and vests. Some frames show more recent crowds, women in sunglasses and a reporter with a reel-to-reel tape recorder. In others, children hold balloons and bounce a bit, so excited to be out for the event. A boy turns to look at the camera as it passes. A little girl—her short hair shockingly blond—sits on her father’s shoulder, her gaze steady and, you think, somehow self-aware.
In this and other moments, Miners’ Hymns—now available on DVD from Icarus Films—indicates its other subject. The film, comprised of archival footage and perfectly scored by Jóhann Jóhannsson, shows what happened then, or what was recorded, but it also asks how any of us might see it. If mining is about digging and producing, struggling and surviving, the film is about how we conceive these themes, how films teach us to see.
See PopMatters’ review/