'Trust in the Lord and sleep in the streets': just one of the iconoclastic maxims coined by the Industrial Workers of the World ('The Wobblies') in song and agitation, and given new voice in this documentary. In the currently depressing US political situation, any recovery of that continent's militant, socialist tradition is welcome; especially the first two decades of this century, when the Wobblies tried to organise the whole booming, unskilled working class into one industrial union. Guided by the memories of several old World War I activists on film, this is a fascinating and often moving compilation of newsreel, photographs, and those amazing songs. But given its classic US documentary strategy, based primarily on 'personal testament', there are weaknesses. In particular, the film is unable to transcend the naive syndicalist politics of the IWW itself. As a film it has no critical distance on its chosen subject, so the movement is presented in celluloid aspic, with no past and, more importantly, no legacy. And the shooting style, characterised by the endemic docu-makers' disease of zoomitis, only serves to park the film more firmly in the labour movement museum. Despite this, one still emerges stunned and angry, admiring and amused. The World War I failed, the film half-fails, but both are still more than worthy of our attention.
Stewart Bird, Deborah Shaffer