Harlan County USA [Criterion Collection] [DVD] [1976]

Barbara Kopple's Harlan County, USA was one of the most important and powerful political documentaries of the 1970s, a startling and compelling look at a bitter coal miner's strike in Kentucky in the early '70s, and this DVD release of the film from The Criterion Collection treats Kopple's work like the masterpiece it is. This edition of Harlan County, USA has been transferred to disc in letterboxed format at the widescreen aspect ratio of 1.78:1 (while the film was shot in 16 mm at the 1.33:1 ratio, this disc reflects the presentation of the 35 mm blow-up used for theatrical release), and has been enhanced for anamorphic play on 16 x 9 monitors. While the grain of the 16 mm image is apparent throughout, this transfer is noticeably clearer and sharper than Harlan County, USA's previous releases on video, and the colors are clear without being pushed into excessive brightness. The audio has been mastered in Dolby Digital Mono and is crisp and full of presence, despite the occasional (and unavoidable) flaws of documentary field recording. The film is in English, with no multiple language options. Among the bonus materials are 26 minutes of deleted sequences from the film, a 21-minute documentary on the movie's long and difficult production (including interviews with Kopple and her associates), an onscreen interview with filmmaker John Sayles, who talks about his appreciation of Harlan County, USA and its influences on his own picture Matewan, and a conversation with singer Hazel Dickens, who discusses growing up in coal country and her music (which was used in the picture). Roger Ebert hosted a panel discussion on Harlan County, USA at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival, and footage from that presentation has also been included. Kopple and editor Nancy Baker contribute a lively and fascinating commentary track in which they offer still more background on how the movie was made. The original theatrical trailer for Harlan County, USA rounds out the disc, and the package includes a handsome booklet with essays from Paul Arthur and Jon Weisberger. Few films say as much about class, labor, and the battle for economic equality -- and say it with such simple eloquence -- as Harlan County, USA, and Criterion's DVD release is easily the definitive presentation of this landmark in documentary moviemaking.
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Special Features

  • New, restored high-definition digital transfer, approved by producer-director Barbara Kopple
  • Audio commentary by Kopple and editor Nancy Baker
  • "The Making of 'Harlan County USA,'" a new documentary featuring interviews with Kopple, crew members, and strike participants featured in the film
  • Never-before-seen outtakes from the film
  • New video interview with legendary bluegrass singer-songwriter Hazel Dickens
  • New video interview with director John Sayles
  • A panel discussion from the 2005 Sundance Film Festival featuring Kopple and Roger Ebert
  • Original theatrical trailer
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Plus new essays by film scholar Paul Arthur and music journalist Jon Weisberger


Harlan County, USA
Director Barbara Kopple's look at a 13-month coal miners' strike that took place between 1973 and 1974 in Harlan County, KY, is one of the great films about labor troubles, though not for a sense of objectivity. Kopple lived among the miners and their families off and on during the four years the entire story played out, and it's clear in every frame of the film that her sympathies lie with the miners and not their bosses at Eastover Mining, owned by Duke Power Company. Kopple's camera focuses on the desperate plight of people still living in shacks with no indoor plumbing and working dangerous jobs with little security and few safety rules. The miners are determined to join the United Mine Workers, and the company is determined to break the strike with scabs, who are even more desperate than the men with jobs. The miners eventually win a new contract, though it turns out that some of the benefits they had fought for were not included in the final deal. The filmmaker's strong identification with one side of a labor struggle doesn't make for a balanced historical record, but it did provide the right stuff for a powerfully dramatic film. ~ Tom Wiener, Rovi

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