Cinema Lumiere - Sala Scorsese > 21:45


Bill Morrison

il regista Bill Morrison


Sunday 25/06/2017


Original version with subtitles


Film Notes

The hard, weathered faces that stare out of the past in The Miners’ Hymns at times look as if they were carved from granite. They were, in truth, created in the coal pits of County Durham, in northeast England. From the middle of the 19th century until the 1990s, Durham was the site of hundreds of collieries with atmospheric names like Akleyheads Pit and Yew Tree Drift.

[…] A miner himself of a type, Mr. Morrison has dug into the archives of the likes of the British Film Institute to cull primarily black-and-white images so rich, so alive with dirty faces, shadows and the occasional pit pony that they resurrect a world that for many has long been lost to history.

The movie opens with aerial colour visuals of an unidentified coastline, the camera gliding over washed out swatches of green and row upon row of identical looking houses. Every so often Mr. Morrison punctuates this view with text indicating that this or that swatch was the site of a former colliery and gives the date of its closure. This proves a rare instance of overt authorial presence, beyond the inclusion of the moody, mood-painting score by the Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson. Unlike mainstream documentary filmmakers, Mr. Morrison doesn’t like to explain much – there are no guiding voices or additional text – even if it quickly becomes evident that he has a story to tell that stretches from the dawn of the 20th century to near its dark close.

Initially, it appears to be a tale of work and of men wrenching treasure out of the earth’s depths, though there’s play here too, mostly in scenes from the annual celebration called the Miners’ Gala. Soon, as Mr. Morrison gently skips around in time, a historical narrative emerges as the images shift from what looks like the early 1900s deeper into the century. Clips from the galas are mixed in with shots of men laboring, first with hand tools and then with machines that shave coal off the tunnel walls like ice, seemingly rendering human effort almost if never entirely superfluous. Some late images of massing police and busloads of what may be scabs gesture toward the story’s eventual end.

At a fast-moving 52 minutes, The Miners’ Hymns makes for enthralling if also somewhat frustrating viewing. It’s understandable why Mr. Morrison wouldn’t want to clog up these beautiful images with banal information, say about death rates and strikes, but the absence of such directorial input gives the material an ahistorical quality that’s at odds with the difficult, sometimes brutal, violent and still-living history behind these images.

Manohla Dargis, An Industry Beneath the SurfaceBill Morrison Documents the Reign of Old King Coal, “The New York Times”, 7 February 2012

Cast and Credits

Mus.: Jóhann Jóhannsson. Prod.: Forma. DCP. D.: 52’. Bn. e Col.