Inspired by the heroic struggles across North Africa and the Middle East as well as here in Wisconsin, Woody Guthrie’s folk hymn, “This Land is Our Land,” has re-emerged as a theme song for a new working class movement, one opposed to the attacks on public sector workers and cuts to education and social services. Sung at protests in the 1960s and ever since, Guthrie’s song is purported to have been written to drown out Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America.” Its continued relevance and resonance is a testament to the power of music to bring people together and to animate social movements. This show seeks to explore how songs of protest reflect the history and politics of land, country, and solidarity. Unlike national anthems, these sounds inspire a different kind of feeling, one imbued with an internationalism, the sort that was registered by the signs and chants in the Madison state house and Tahrir Square. The three documentaries in this program offer different approaches to how songs help us to picture ourselves and our world. Join us for a cinematic exploration of the music that speaks to our needs, our dignity, our power, and our desire for radical change.
Peter Miller, The Internationale, 2000, DVD, 30 minutes
This documentary chronicles the fascinating history of the legendary song written in 1871, after the brutal suppression of the Paris Commune. This rallying cry for all the oppressed and exploited people of the world to rise up and overthrow their masters was soon to be translated and sung in over a hundred languages throughout the world. Featuring rare archival footage and performances and interviews with the likes of Billy Bragg and Pete Seeger, The Internationale explores the importance of ideals, the fate of the left, and the power of music as a force for change. (First Run Features)
Paul Hubbard, Guthrie for Today, 2011, DVD, 5 minutes
Madison Wisconsin had nothing on Providence, RI on March 19, 2011. Guthrie’s critique of private property has been revived in the wake of the North African revolutions and the worker’s fight back against attacks on collective bargaining. This version was updated and sung by Alan Hague, a member of the band Prayers for Atheists and socialist activist, as part of the rally on the 8th anniversary of the war in Iraq.
Travis Wilkerson, An Injury to One, 2002, DVD, 53 minutes
This beautiful and distressing hybrid film/video 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. Chronicling the mysterious death of Wobbly organizer Frank Little, the film explores the entire history of the American left, the rise of McCarthyism, the destruction of the environment, and even the birth of the detective novel. Archival footage, deftly-deployed intertitles, and atmospheric images of Montana’s landscape are combined an appropriately moody, effulgent, and strangely out-of-time soundtrack in which lyrics to traditional mining songs are accompanied by music from William Oldham, Jim O’Rourke, and the band Low. (Icarus Films)