“Harlan County, U.S.A. is filled with sounds recorded this way—the voices of local people speaking, shouting, and singing; the hard breathing of protestors running in fear and the rasping breaths of people with black lung; the noise of people laughing, crying, and screaming; and the sound of instruments like fiddles, banjoes, and guitars, calling birds, chirping crickets, and barking dogs; the noise of the vehicles that carry workers into the mine and the grinding machines that dig the coal and the conveyor belts that carry the coal out; the sound of car engines, the crack of pistol fire, and the rat tat tat of machine guns; and the echoing thunder of a mine exploding. These sounds slide into each other without pause. They form layers. Often emerging at first without visual referents, they conjure missing spaces and alternate times. They produce emotions.” Grace Elizabeth Hale does a magisterial job exploring Barbara Kopple’s use of sound in Harlan County, U.S.A., not just to draw the viewer in but to simultaneously reject the documentary tradition of portraying Appalachia as populated by exotic victims of fate (in which goal, Hale informs us, Kopple leans on the work of such indigenous film collectives as Appalshop) and to include the filmmaker herself as both a participant and recorder of the events. Via David Hudson.
“So we have a director of some ambition. That inference is backed up by some flashy moments in earlier 1910s work. In 1916 Taylor released a remarkable nine features, and during my DC stay I saw what remains of four of them. Although they’re in parlous shape, they show a lively pictorial and dramatic intelligence. Are they auteur films in the strong sense? At least we can say that Taylor, like many other directors, was channeling just that exuberant creative energy that Richard evokes. Certain moments in two of these movies have genuine flair, and one film is an all-out stunner. I had never heard of any of them.” Sifting through the remnants of what may have been the filmmaker’s annus mirabilis, or for all we know merely another stretch of admirable if clumsy innovation and occasional inspiration, David Bordwell finds William Desmond Taylor deserving to be remembered for much more than his still unsolved murder.