The best film indie icon John Sayles ever made (sorry “Lone Star,” “Secaucus Seven,” “Lianna” fans) was a brilliant period piece about a miner’s strike answered with corporate and state violence — 1987’s “Matewan.”
It is a classic on every level — labor relations history vividly brought to life, period perfect detail, a gorgeous, lived-in color palette. And that cast.
Before he became an Oscar winner, here was Chris Cooper, introduced to the world as he played a miner.
Mary McDonnell went on to star in “Dances with Wolves.”
Sayles favorite David Straithairn would leap from his iconic turn as flinty, miner-sympathizing police chief Sid Hatfield (of THOSE Hatfields) to mainstream Hollywood, films like “L.A. Confidential,” “Good Night and Good Luck,” an Oscar nomination. He’s the male lead in the similarly indie “Nomadland,” a wonderful actor who is great in everything he plays.
And James Earl Jones has one of his best roles playing an old miner who doesn’t suffer bigots, newfangled gadgets or Baldwin-Felts mine-company goons gladly.
The real Matewan is so damned mountainous and remote “they have to pipe the sunshine in” as the old Appalachian joke goes. So they filmed the movie in the more accessible Thurmond, W.Va. But some friends and I are checking out the REAL Matewan today, remembering the UMW history and the battle. Here are some pictures of it as it looks today
Tip…if you go, take the walking tour offered by Jim Baldwin, descended from the founder of the private police force “detectives” of Baldwin Felts.