The Wobblies / Sister Rose's Passion

The Wobblies / Sister Rose's Passion

B-

The Wobblies

B+

Sister Rose's Passion

The Wobblies aspires to a perfect fusion of style and subject. Stewart Bird and Deborah Shaffer's heartfelt 1979 celebration of the Industrial Workers Of The World—an integrated, inter-gender, international union that flourished, before a violent government crackdown—wears its rough-hewn earnestness as proudly as the Wobblies (as IWW members were nicknamed) sported their membership cards. Refuting the notion that history is written by the winners, The Wobblies documents labor history from the perspective of the union diehard getting his face smashed in by cops during a riot.

The IWW began in the early 20th century as an ambitious attempt to unite international workers under one catchall, militant union. The group represented a utopian dream that spread from hobo jungles to slaughterhouses to anywhere workers felt exploited. Bird and Shaffer use archival footage, photographs, newspapers, and songs to tell the IWW's story. But mainly, they allow ancient IWW members to give an oral history through their own experiences. The filmmakers deliberately avoid polished academic talking-heads in favor of working men and women whose deeply lined faces say as much about the hard lives of unskilled workers as their sometimes rambling recollections do. Truth be told, the film could benefit from historians putting the union's struggles into a sharper historical context, but there's something noble about the film's insistence on telling a working-class story through working-class voices. And The Wobblies benefits from fascinating early anti-union animated shorts and a steady progression of union songs that convey laborers' hopes and aspirations with tuneful ditties that are all the more powerful for their forceful simplicity.

Sister Rose's Passion documents another idealist who toiled tirelessly to make the world a more just place. A 2005 Oscar nominee for Best Documentary Short, the film chronicles the life of Sister Rose Thering, an elderly nun who devoted her life to fighting anti-Semitism in the Catholic Church. Thering's logic was simple: If Catholics are called upon to love Jesus, and Jesus was a Jew, then why shouldn't Catholics love Jews as well? But sometimes the simplest of ideas can have historic consequences. Like The Wobblies, Passion treats truth as a blunt instrument of tremendous power.

Key features: Bonus interviews and IWW songs on Wobblies; interviews and outtakes on Passion.

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