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Short Takes on Film
Ben Nyce | Via Latina

 

Salt of the Earth. Photo Sebastiao Salgado.
Click on image to enlarge.

Perhaps you remember having seen a photograph of Brazilian miners. The black and white image shows a giant open pit gold mine. In deep focus we see hundreds of miners working the terraces. In the foreground a young miner stands resting against a post. He’s tired and dispirited, looking down at the ground. To his right a column of men descend into the pit while to their right another column climbs upward on wooden ladders carrying sacks of earth on their backs. They are all covered with earth and soaked with sweat.

This arresting image was taken by Sebastiao Salgado, the Brazilian photographer who is the subject of Wim Wenders documentary “Salt of the Earth.” The film has been running at Landmark La Jolla Village and was nominated for an academy award for best documentary. It’s an unforgettable experience.

To return to the miners for a moment, we learn from Salgado’s commentary that far from being slaves they are a mixed lot. Some are very poor but there are students, business men, gamblers among them – all hoping that his bag of earth might contain a nugget. It’s an antlike swarm of humanity, an image straight out of the swarming canvases of Bruegel (The Procession to Calvary).

Salgado’s photographs reveal him as a witness to some of the most recent horrors of our time: the massacres of the Hutus by the Tutsis in Rwanda, the starvation and exodus of thousands in the African Sahel, the epidemic of cholera in Ethiopia. His photos are vivid and full of suffering but somehow not off-putting. We are drawn into the drama of man’s survival as well as his cruelty. The photos show nature’s dramatic lighting effects. His portraits present the faces of endurance as well as impending death.

Salgado tells us that his final visit to Rwanda left him burnt out. He returned to the family cattle ranch in Brazil, then devastated by overgrazing and drought, and gradually nurtures it back to the beginnings of a lush rain forest. After so many absences, his wife helped him to recover as together they restored the land.

John Huston’s “Treasure of the Sierra Madre”
Click on image to enlarge.

For home viewing John Huston’s “Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” another film with miners. To pick out a few gems: Bogart’s slow turn in the revolving barber’s chair after he is restored from vagabondage by virtue of a haircut; the brutal fight in a bar between Bogart and the conman who tries to cheat him and his partner; Bogart’s first sighting of the bandit’s Gold Hat as reflected in the water of a ditch; Gold Hat’s plea to retrieve his hat before his execution by firing squad. And finally Walter Huston’s unforgettable laughter after he discovers the gold has been blown away – one of the great moments in all films.

Nyce taught literature and film at USD and authored “Satyajit Ray” and “Scorcese Up Close.”


 

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