A Day in the Life of a Coal MinerBracket Record:
- Round 1 bt. The Electrical Vitalizer
- Round 2 bt. The Four Little Tailors
- Round 3 bt. Rose o' Salem Town
- Round 4 bt. Max Takes a Bath
- Round 5 lost to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
Link to film: https://player.bfi.org.uk/free/film/watch-a-day-in-the-life-of-a-coal-miner-1910-online
- Round 9 lost to The Beautiful Margaret
When I was a lad ee, it were ard. Tough. Up't a crack-a-dawn, straight down't pit. All day on't knees, pick in't hand, piggin' coal dust gettin' up't yer nose. Up on't surface kids n' womenfolk pushin' tubs o'coal all day long. All so some fat lord f'nt-le-roy and 'is fat flock of kids cant smoke 'is cigar in 'is socks.
This is a fascintating, political look at the life of miners in Wigan in 1910. In Whitehaven Colliery that year, 136 men died in a firedamp explosion, the South Wales Miners' Federation began a 10-month strike over pay leading to the Tonypandy Riots. 300 suffragettes clashed with Police outside Parliament on Black Friday over the failure of a Bill that would have allowed some women the vote. 12 days later, a male suffragestist attempts to whip (literally) the Home Secretary, Winston Churchll, on a train. At the end of the year, another explosion in a mine in Westhaugton, only five miles away from the mine shown in this film, kills 344 men. Only one man who was underground at the time survived. That's the background against which this film is set.
The film we see here shows the daily labour at a mine. Men arrive, go down to the minehead in cages. At the surface, more lifts filled with wagons of coal emerge to be pushed around by (mainly) women and kids, the coal sifted from the slag by hand by women, eventually making it to coal-wagons on the railway to be transported and sold. The final shot is of a wealthy family enjoying a coal-fire, as the paterfamilias pulls his chair closer, cigar on the go. Now, some of the shots are definitely staged. For instance two miners on their needs with picks hacking at the coalface both stop and look at the camera the same time. The miner leaving for work and returning. The happy, warm, clean family with maid at the end. Nevertheless, that this is the geunine daily grind of a mine is not in doubt, and it's all hard, hard work for the entire community. The women all wear head coverings looking like something out of The Handmaid's Tale. Everyone is covered in the black soot of coaldust. Fingernails will never be clean again.
There is also a good eye for composition. Look at this shot (above). It's like a still from a Joy Division video from Anton Corbijn. The atmosphere isn't just grime, it's menacing and funereal. These people are embittered. The men check their pay carefully at the end of the day, eyeing their coins with suspicion. There are hundreds of miners and mineworkers. There is only one man who gets to hand out the pay. Before going down into the mine, the lamps are checked carefully and sealed against leaks lest a stray flame spark the gases below. Death is a genuine possiblity. The pit-props are mostly sawn lengths of tree, some warped and bent. A miner hammers one into position, using a stone to wedge it in place. In the mine, the light is bright. I have to wonder if that was actually shot in a mine. Their lamps appear not to be alight, yet there is more than enough light coming from the source of illumination behind the camera. It must have been a live flame lamp - there would have been no electrical supply down there, and as the list of mine disasters from the time show, a naked flame down a pit is not a risk to be undertaken. I'm left wondering about how it was done.
The first 'official' documentary is 'Nanook of the North', made 12 years after this. This film does tend towards 'actualities' rather than documentary, simply being a series of scenes from a day at the mine. However, there is another story being told here. It's definitely heading towards something we'd call a documentary today, even if it hasn't quite got there yet. Also of interest is that this film was made at the behest of the London and North Western Railway, on of the four main railway companies in the UK at that time and probably one of the biggest consumers of coal in the country. I would expect their point would be to show their role in taking coal from the mine to the household, giving another explanation for the sequences shown. You could read this film as friendly Northern folk, with homes to go to, gainfully employed to their and your benefit, and my, don't they look happy! But they don't, not really. To my eye, there's more going on here than what was in the brief of the comissioning company. Definitely one to watch.Notes on the Vanquished:
- The Electrical Vitalizer sounds like a wonderful little grotesque from the UK, indeed from Kineto, the company that made A Day in the Life of a Coal Miner. In it, a man creates an electrical device which can animate waxwork dummies of historical figures. And that's a new horror franchise right there.
- The Four Little Tailors is yet more Cohl, this time animating clothing, needle and thread. There does seem to be a story and moral framing this set of trick photography.
- I'm hoping to get to Max Takes a Bath as I really want to review at least on Max Linder film.