Matewan (1987)

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Released 30-May-2005

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1987
Running Time 127:01
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By John Sayles
Cinecom Ent Group
Umbrella Entertainment
Starring Chris Cooper
James Earl Jones
Mary McDonnell
Will Oldham
David Strathairn
Ken Jenkins
Gordon Clapp
Kevin Tighe
John Sayles
Bob Gunton
Josh Mostel
Nancy Mette
Jace Alexander
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $24.95 Music Mason Daring

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.75:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    In the late eighteen hundreds, decades of oppressive and dangerous working conditions in the West Virginian coal mines led to the introduction of unionism by the miners. This in turn resulted in the fight by the mine owners to keep the union out of their mines at all costs.

    Corruption ruled as mine operators sought favour and support from the relevant influential bodies. The only strength available to the average miner was their strength in numbers. As the companies tried to introduce scab labour and brought in armed men to police the general business of the mines, an inevitable conflict confronted both parties. Matewan is based on the true events of 1920 in the West Virginian town of the same name.

    Respected independent filmmaker John Sayles has taken this important piece of American history and made a film that is regarded by many as a masterpiece. Sayles wrote, directed and played the small role of the preacher in the film.

    Matewan opens with the The Stone Mountain Coal Company lowering the tonnage rate paid to the miners. This brings about a general strike at the mine and the arrival of union leader, Joe Kenehan (Chris Cooper in his debut film role). The purpose of his arrival in Matewan is to rally the miners around the common cause and achieve a better life for themselves and their families. Joe is a pacifist and tries to be the calming and sensible influence over a more direct and violent approach, favoured by some miners.

    Joe takes a room in the local boarding house run by Elma Radnor (Mary McDonnell) and her young son, Danny (Will Oldham). Danny also works in the coalmine and preaches his union message at the church, in cleverly disguised sermons. The mine company actually owns Elma's establishment, along with most of the housing and accommodation in town. This causes problems for the miners when their strike action results in the company evicting families from these houses.

    The company soon brings in black miners, lead by Few Clothes Johnson (James Earl Jones) and also Italian immigrants as scab labour. However, this plan backfires when these workers are convinced to join with the union and become a united force against the company.

    Events become even more volatile when two company thugs, Hickey (Kevin Tighe) and Griggs (Gordon Clapp), arrive in town to rough up the miners and their families. They also manage to infiltrate the inner sanctum of their union by planting a mole amongst the miners. The intention of this is to destroy their operations and the group's morale, from the inside. The tension and apprehension of the stand-off breaks down any chance of a peaceful resolution.

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Transfer Quality


    The video transfer of Matewan is reasonably good.

    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.75:1 and is 16x9 enhanced. The original aspect ratio for Matewan is 1.85:1.

    Haskell Wexler's Academy Award nominated cinematography gives the film a warm, dream-like softness. However, blacks and shadows were inconsistent and varied in quality throughout the film. At times, blacks displayed some low level noise, while shadow detail was occasionally murky and undefined. It's a real shame the blacks and shadows don't quite make the grade on this DVD.

    Colours were superb and give this film immense presence and authenticity. Matewan displays a subtle, dusty palette using earthy tones, which suits the general atmosphere of the film very well.

    There were no MPEG artefacts evident in the transfer. Film-to-video artefacts were well controlled, apart from the occasional example of low level noise. Reel change markings were obvious at approximate twenty minute intervals, beginning at 18:19.Film artefacts in general were present, but weren't a significant issue.

    There are no subtitles available on this DVD.

    This is a single sided, single layer disc, so there is no layer change.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    The audio transfer, although basic, was quite impressive.

    There is one audio track on this DVD - English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s).

    The dialogue quality is excellent. I had no problems hearing and comprehending the dialogue, even with the variations in character accents. Audio sync was not an issue with this transfer.

    The original music score by Mason Daring is a brilliant association of music and image. Many of his songs as used in the score sounded very much like traditional songs. Hazel Dickens' powerful voice adds raw emotion to the rich lyrics of songs like Gathering Storm and Fire In The Hole. The lyrics for the latter song were actually written by John Sayles. The use of traditional instruments such as the harmonica and fiddle also enhanced this wonderful score.

    The surround channels were not used.

    The subwoofer was quite active, adding emphasis to bass effects, such as gunshots and explosions.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    Unfortunately, there are no extras on this DVD.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The R1 version of Matewan contains a few minor additions to this R4 version.

    The R1 version misses out on a PAL transfer.

    The R4 version misses out on:

    The Region 1 version wins by a narrow margin.


   Matewan is the compassionate and enthralling  story of the struggle to unionize an oppressive coal mine in Matewan, West Virginia in the early nineteen hundreds. The performances of the entire cast are simply first class, as is the wonderful illusory cinematography.

    The video transfer is reasonable.

    The audio transfer is, surprisingly, very good.

    The absence of any extras is a huge disappointment. A film of this calibre deserves much better on DVD.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Steve Crawford (Tip toe through my bio)
Tuesday, June 28, 2005
Review Equipment
DVDJVC XV-N412, using Component output
DisplayHitachi 106cm Plasma Display 42PD5000MA (1024x1024). This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080i.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationPanasonic SA-HE70 80W Dolby Digital and DTS
SpeakersFronts: Jensen SPX7 Rears: Jensen SPX4 Centre: Jensen SPX13 Subwoofer: Jensen SPX17

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
Beware of the R1 P&S Version - RichardP
Matewan R1 wins? - Jace