[Frameworks] Wednesday - Travis Wilkerson's AN INJURY TO ONE (Chicago)

From: Patrick Friel <patrick.friel_at_att.net>
Date: Mon, 28 Feb 2011 23:03:25 -0600

White Light Cinema Presents
Travis Wilkerson¹s AN INJURY TO ONE
Wednesday, March 2 ­ 7:30pm
At The Nightingale (1084 N. Milwaukee Ave.)
White Light Cinema is pleased to present Travis Wilkerson¹s stunning 2002
experimental essay/documentary film AN INJURY TO ONE. Given the current
events in our neighboring states to the north and east, this powerful film
about a compelling episode in early labor rights and union organizing
history is timely and telling.
AN INJURY TO ONE (2002, 53 mins., Video)
Directed by Travis Wilkerson
"I was genuinely knocked out by AN INJURY TO ONE. I loved... the way in
which the film manages to be both startlingly beautiful and distressing at
the same time, the counterpoint of the firm, almost dispassionate voice and
the plaintive and elegiac cinematography." (John Gianvito, Harvard Film
³Radiating from an examination of the 1917 murder of labor agitator Frank
Little, An Injury to One tells of the larger calamity known as Butte,
Montana and its place in American culture, economy and environment. Armed
with tremendous storytelling skill, this uncompromising, unapologetically
leftist work of people's history draws together landscape, song and acute
connections among the facts and footnotes of the official (or company) line,
to arrive at a poetic, stirring tour de force of history as agitation.²
³AN INJURY TO ONE provides a corrective‹and absolutely compelling‹glimpse of
a particularly volatile moment in early 20th century American labor history:
the rise and fall of Butte, Montana. Specifically, it chronicles the
mysterious death of Wobbly organizer Frank Little, a story whose grisly
details have taken on a legendary status in the state. Much of the extant
evidence is inscribed upon the landscape of Butte and its surroundings.
Thus, a connection is drawn between the unsolved murder of Little, and the
attempted murder of the town itself.
Butte's history was entirely shaped by its exploitation by the Anaconda
Mining Company, which, at the height of WWI, produced ten percent of the
world's copper from the town's depths. War profiteering and the company's
extreme indifference to the safety of its employees (mortality rates in the
mines were higher than in the trenches of Europe) led to Little's arrival.
"The agitator" found in the desperate, agonized miners overwhelming support
for his ideas, which included the abolishment of the wage system and the
establishment of a socialist commonwealth.
In August 1917, Little was abducted by still-unknown assailants who hung him
from a railroad bridge. Pinned to his chest was a note that read 3'-7'-77",
dimensions of a Montana grave. Eight thousand people attended his funeral,
the largest in Butte's history.
The murder provides AN INJURY TO ONE with a taut, suspenseful narrative, but
it isn't the only story. Butte's history is bound with the entire history of
the American left, the rise of McCarthyism, the destruction of the
environment, and even the birth of the detective novel. Former Pinkerton
detective Dashiell Hammett was rumored to have been involved in the murder,
and later depicted it in Red Harvest.
Archival footage mixes with deftly deployed intertitles, while the lyrics to
traditional mining songs are accompanied by music from William Oldham, Jim
O'Rourke, and the band Low, producing an appropriately moody, effulgent, and
strangely out-of-time soundtrack. The result is a unique film/video hybrid
that combines painterly images, incisive writing, and a bold graphic
sensibility to produce an articulate example of the aesthetic and political
possibilities offered by filmmaking in the digital age.² (Icarus Films)
³A deft, ambitious exercise in old-school socialist agitprop crafted with
the precise multimedia flair of a corporate PowerPoint presentation, Travis
Wilkerson's An Injury to One retells the gritty class struggles of the
previous century through smoothly contemporary digital means. It chronicles
the saga of environmentally devastated Butte, Montana, by focusing on the
murder of Frank Little, spitfire World War I-era Wobbly organizer. Via
Wilkerson's parade of archival data‹photos, songs, landscapes, quotations,
text, and charts‹the Little affair grows into a metaphor for the greater
course of American and global capitalism.
Injury's back-and-forth motions track Butte from a tiny gold-mining outpost
to a copper-mine boomtown (thanks to the advent of the electricity age) soon
monopolized by the Anaconda Mining Company, which grew fat from WWI
profiteering as thousands of workers perished in unsafe mines. In 1917, the
already notorious Little arrived to press Butte's masses into action.
Referred to simply as "the agitator" by corporate accounts, Little concluded
his career at the wrong end of a noose, strung up by unprosecuted anti-union
goons. Anaconda continued as a closed shop; when the company left Butte in
the 1980s, it had made billions. Its legacy is a former mining pit, now a
massive toxic lake.
Wilkerson could not have found a more convenient case study against the
excesses of capitalism, with Manichaean protagonists worthy of Chomsky and
pro wrestling: The muscular Anaconda crushes the Little guy. Historical
tangents and coincidences provide illustrative excursions. Pinkerton
detective Dashiell Hammett, who may have been involved in the murder, later
transformed his Butte sojourn into the 1929 proto-noir crime novel Red
Harvest, renaming the town "Poisonville." In a commie-baiting roundup of
Butte unionists, one of the detained miners was named Joseph McCarthy.
Little is portrayed as not simply a rabble-rouser but a breed of visionary
artist. His speeches, Wilkerson argues, attempted "to describe an image of a
different kind of world."
A slow-twang soundtrack by Low, Will Oldham, Jim O'Rourke, and others
dovetails with the director's own voice as narrator. Wilkerson's patter
flows in rich, clear, quick tones, occasionally primed into restrained
punctuations of righteous anger. The overall emotional palette‹melancholy
evocations arranged on the cold platter of reality‹is of a generational
piece with similarly political works by Jem Cohen, while the film's
post-cinematic structure owes a debt to recent experimental video essays:
the show-and-tell aesthetics of artists like Steve Reinke, Matt McCormick,
or Elisabeth Subrin. What the pining sense of loss and fallen-ness says
about contemporary attitudes toward social change poses a greater question
in itself.
While Injury draws parallels between then and now (corporate and government
collusion in war, resulting in free-floating McCarthyism), it's the gap
between past and present political realities that swells the void of somber
sadness. Today, global markets make local action less effective. The actual
American working class largely resides in China, Mexico, India, and
elsewhere. The sordid histories of post-WWI socialist states need no
mention. In a sense, Injury pines for a simplified version of the past it
critiques: an unambiguous time, with evil villains and heroic martyrs,
before the events of the 20th century shattered the retroactively innocent
ideals of socialist revolution.² (Ed Halter, Village Voice)
This program screens Wednesday, March 2, 2011 at 7:30pm at The Nightingale
(1084 N. Milwaukee Ave.).
Admission: $7.00-10.00 sliding scale

Website: www.whitelightcinema.com

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Received on Mon Feb 28 2011 - 21:03:57 CST