Arts & Culture » Theater Critic's Choice

Salt of the Earth

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A rarely screened classic of 1954 that has the singularity of being the only major American independent feature made by communists. A fiction film about the strike by Mexican American zinc miners in New Mexico against their Anglo management, informed by feminist attitudes that are quite uncharacteristic of this period, it was inspired by the blacklisting of director Herbert Biberman, screenwriter Michael Wilson (A Place in the Sun), producer and former screenwriter Paul Jarrico, and composer Sol Kaplan, among others. As Jarrico later reasoned, since they'd been drummed out of the Hollywood industry for being subversives, they decided to commit a "crime to fit the punishment" and make a subversive film. The results are leftist propaganda of a very high order, powerful and intelligent even when the film registers in spots as naive or dated. Basically kept out of American theaters until 1965, it was widely shown and honored in Europe (it was selected, for instance, as the best film shown in France in 1955), but it has never received the stateside recognition it clearly deserves. If you've never seen it before, prepare to have your mind blown. (Univ. of Chicago, 1212 E. 59th St., Monday, March 2, 8:00, 702-8575)

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