Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Vol 35 no. 18. 27th July 1972
"The Ballad of Joe Hill"
"The Ballad of Joe Hill"
This is a film that Alf Allan should see. The guff sheet that is used for advertising purposes for the film states that, "Joe Hill championed the right to demonstrate and protest against social injustices." This is however just a slightly simplistic way to describe the role that Joseph Hillstrom played in America's radical history. A leader of the l.W.W. (Wobblies) movement Hill was. framed and then executed by the state of Utah at the height of his influence in the early labour movement.
Really Hill was basically a very ordinary man. He was however gifted with a remarkable ability to speak to people, plus immense courage and belief in the cause for which he fought. He was also a man who rather helped to bring about his own downfall by adopting a policy of refusing to give the name of the woman who would provide his alibi for the frame up which killed him. This rather pathetic sense of honour cost Hill his life, and made him a martyr to the cause, far more useful in death than in life.
"You will eat bye and bye
In that glorious land way up high
Live on hay
Work and pray,
You'll get pie in the sky when you die. "
Joe Hill was a revolutionary whose revolution failed. The Wobblies lost the war but thanks to Joe Hill they had all the best songs. Hill campaigned on soap boxes and on the job site; on the soap boxes his oratory gave way to his music. One of the most engaging moments of the film is when Hill sets up in opposition to the Salvation Army, it was here that Pie in the Sky was written. The warmth of this man is matched only by the chilliness of his reception by the general public.
The Wobblies were not a popular force in the U.S. at this stage. The American people were very probably in support of the actions taken by the state of Utah. Joe Hill and his fellows were under constant attack from the ordinary people who then were asked to listen to and support the Wobblies.
At no stage in this movie was the role of Hill romanticised or his influence exaggerated. Nor is the poverty of the period exaggerated for it is true to say that the United States was suffering from a worse tyranny of capital at that stage than was the greater part of Europe.
It is difficult to describe this movie in terms other than political. The art of cinema is well contained in the piece, but it is somewhat irrelevant. The medium is sufficient, the subject is both topical and fascinating, the treatment is brilliant and the result is one of the finest movies I have seen. (Political bias)
Those who say that the work of the Trade Union or Radical Movements is largely finished should see this movie for it shows the issues to be fairly constant........ freedom to protest and object and the right to share all the product of all the labour equally. The empty bellies make the issue more poignant but the issue remains with us today. As does the answer.
"There is power, there is power
In a band of working men
When they stand hand in hand."
Another message is paramount ... "Dont forget when you're smashing the state, keep a smile on your lips and a song in your heart.
— Alick Shaw