White Light Cinema Presents

Travis Wilkerson’s AN INJURY TO ONE

Wednesday, March 2 – 7:30pm
At The Nightingale (1084 N. Milwaukee Ave.)

 

White Light Cinema is pleased to present Travis Wilkerson’s stunning 2002 experimental essay/documentary film AN INJURY TO ONE. Given the current events in our neighboring states to the north and east, this powerful film about a compelling episode in early labor rights and union organizing history is timely and telling.

 

 

AN INJURY TO ONE (2002, 53 mins., 16mm)
Directed by Travis Wilkerson

 

"I was genuinely knocked out by AN INJURY TO ONE. I loved... the way in which the film manages to be both startlingly beautiful and distressing at the same time, the counterpoint of the firm, almost dispassionate voice and the plaintive and elegiac cinematography." (John Gianvito, Harvard Film Archives)

*****

“Radiating from an examination of the 1917 murder of labor agitator Frank Little, An Injury to One tells of the larger calamity known as Butte, Montana and its place in American culture, economy and environment. Armed with tremendous storytelling skill, this uncompromising, unapologetically leftist work of people's history draws together landscape, song and acute connections among the facts and footnotes of the official (or company) line, to arrive at a poetic, stirring tour de force of history as agitation.” (Cinematexas)

*****

“AN INJURY TO ONE provides a corrective—and absolutely compelling—glimpse of a particularly volatile moment in early 20th century American labor history: the rise and fall of Butte, Montana. Specifically, it chronicles the mysterious death of Wobbly organizer Frank Little, a story whose grisly details have taken on a legendary status in the state. Much of the extant evidence is inscribed upon the landscape of Butte and its surroundings. Thus, a connection is drawn between the unsolved murder of Little, and the attempted murder of the town itself.

Butte's history was entirely shaped by its exploitation by the Anaconda Mining Company, which, at the height of WWI, produced ten percent of the world's copper from the town's depths. War profiteering and the company's extreme indifference to the safety of its employees (mortality rates in the mines were higher than in the trenches of Europe) led to Little's arrival. "The agitator" found in the desperate, agonized miners overwhelming support for his ideas, which included the abolishment of the wage system and the establishment of a socialist commonwealth.


In August 1917, Little was abducted by still-unknown assailants who hung him from a railroad bridge. Pinned to his chest was a note that read 3'-7'-77", dimensions of a Montana grave. Eight thousand people attended his funeral, the largest in Butte's history.
The murder provides AN INJURY TO ONE with a taut, suspenseful narrative, but it isn't the only story. Butte's history is bound with the entire history of the American left, the rise of McCarthyism, the destruction of the environment, and even the birth of the detective novel. Former Pinkerton detective Dashiell Hammett was rumored to have been involved in the murder, and later depicted it in Red Harvest.


Archival footage mixes with deftly deployed intertitles, while the lyrics to traditional mining songs are accompanied by music from William Oldham, Jim O'Rourke, and the band Low, producing an appropriately moody, effulgent, and strangely out-of-time soundtrack. The result is a unique film/video hybrid that combines painterly images, incisive writing, and a bold graphic sensibility to produce an articulate example of the aesthetic and political possibilities offered by filmmaking in the digital age.” (Icarus Films)

 

*****

“A deft, ambitious exercise in old-school socialist agitprop crafted with the precise multimedia flair of a corporate PowerPoint presentation, Travis Wilkerson's An Injury to One retells the gritty class struggles of the previous century through smoothly contemporary digital means. It chronicles the saga of environmentally devastated Butte, Montana, by focusing on the murder of Frank Little, spitfire World War I-era Wobbly organizer. Via Wilkerson's parade of archival data—photos, songs, landscapes, quotations, text, and charts—the Little affair grows into a metaphor for the greater course of American and global capitalism.
Injury's back-and-forth motions track Butte from a tiny gold-mining outpost to a copper-mine boomtown (thanks to the advent of the electricity age) soon monopolized by the Anaconda Mining Company, which grew fat from WWI profiteering as thousands of workers perished in unsafe mines. In 1917, the already notorious Little arrived to press Butte's masses into action. Referred to simply as "the agitator" by corporate accounts, Little concluded his career at the wrong end of a noose, strung up by unprosecuted anti-union goons. Anaconda continued as a closed shop; when the company left Butte in the 1980s, it had made billions. Its legacy is a former mining pit, now a massive toxic lake.


Wilkerson could not have found a more convenient case study against the excesses of capitalism, with Manichaean protagonists worthy of Chomsky and pro wrestling: The muscular Anaconda crushes the Little guy. Historical tangents and coincidences provide illustrative excursions. Pinkerton detective Dashiell Hammett, who may have been involved in the murder, later transformed his Butte sojourn into the 1929 proto-noir crime novel Red Harvest, renaming the town "Poisonville." In a commie-baiting roundup of Butte unionists, one of the detained miners was named Joseph McCarthy. Little is portrayed as not simply a rabble-rouser but a breed of visionary artist. His speeches, Wilkerson argues, attempted "to describe an image of a different kind of world."


A slow-twang soundtrack by Low, Will Oldham, Jim O'Rourke, and others dovetails with the director's own voice as narrator. Wilkerson's patter flows in rich, clear, quick tones, occasionally primed into restrained punctuations of righteous anger. The overall emotional palette—melancholy evocations arranged on the cold platter of reality—is of a generational piece with similarly political works by Jem Cohen, while the film's post-cinematic structure owes a debt to recent experimental video essays: the show-and-tell aesthetics of artists like Steve Reinke, Matt McCormick, or Elisabeth Subrin. What the pining sense of loss and fallen-ness says about contemporary attitudes toward social change poses a greater question in itself.


While Injury draws parallels between then and now (corporate and government collusion in war, resulting in free-floating McCarthyism), it's the gap between past and present political realities that swells the void of somber sadness. Today, global markets make local action less effective. The actual American working class largely resides in China, Mexico, India, and elsewhere. The sordid histories of post-WWI socialist states need no mention. In a sense, Injury pines for a simplified version of the past it critiques: an unambiguous time, with evil villains and heroic martyrs, before the events of the 20th century shattered the retroactively innocent ideals of socialist revolution.” (Ed Halter, Village Voice)

 


Admission: $7.00-10.00 sliding scale