Roger & Me & who else?
April 4, 2013 1:14 PM   Subscribe

What are the best movies about class struggles?

I'm looking for the best films that depict class struggle.
To narrow down that huge category, I'm looking for films in which economic issues are the subject of the film. Nonfiction/documentaries are preferred, as are North American films (though if you're enthusiastic about a fiction film from elsewhere, by all means tell me about it)! I'm thinking of films like Roger & Me, or Strike.
Big bonus points for films that include violence by/against animals (not for my pleasure!! For my interest in the intersections between class-based and species-based violence).
posted by Edna Million to Media & Arts (50 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Battleship Potemkin is perhaps a canonical example, even if it is a work of propaganda.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:18 PM on April 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Oh, and I am aware of this question--it's a good start, but I think it was more focused on entertainment value than I am (in the sense that there were lots of comedies mentioned etc.).
posted by Edna Million at 1:19 PM on April 4, 2013

I just saw Queen of Versailles over Christmas and I think that one aspect of the complex documentary is an examination of class, wealth, and lifestyle expectations in the US.
posted by muddgirl at 1:21 PM on April 4, 2013 [9 favorites]

Maybe Pets Or Meat, Michael Moore's sequel to Roger and Me - it was made for PBS, and was a sort of return-to revisit of some of the same people he'd spoken to.

That also includes some "violence against animals" as well - he takes the title from the headline of an classified ad one Flint resident took out when she was trying to sell rabbits to make money.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:23 PM on April 4, 2013

The Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago is currently running a series that includes many films about this kind of thing. You might also be interested in some of the documentaries produced by Kartemquin Films.
posted by bubukaba at 1:29 PM on April 4, 2013

Ken Loach's Kes is fictional, and UK-based, but essential.
posted by EXISTENZ IS PAUSED at 1:30 PM on April 4, 2013 [4 favorites]

Seconding Kes, also Harlan County U.S.A..
posted by like_a_friend at 1:32 PM on April 4, 2013 [4 favorites]

If you have not watched Pom Poko (also known as Heisei-Era Raccoon Dog War, apparently), you totally should. It is the best cartoon movie about tanuki and social justice that there is, and I really admire the way it lays out a lot of stuff. It's beautiful, funny and sad.

Other class struggle movies I can think of: most things by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, particularly Fox And His Friends (working class gay guy comes into money, is cheated and abandoned by rich lover and lover's family - it is so wrenching you would not believe it) and maybe Ali: Fear Eats The Soul.

Mike Leigh is famous as a filmmaker of Stuff About Class. So is Ken Loach. You might consider Bread and Roses or The Navigators.

People always used to show Matewan at left events in the nineties and I got so sick of it.

Also maybe Las Olvidados or The Bicycle Thief.

Or My Beautiful Laundrette, or London Kills Me, or Dirty Pretty Things (which last is frankly a little polemtical and sentimental, but has some good performances.)
posted by Frowner at 1:33 PM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh, I am careless - I did not see that it was supposed to be nonfiction.

The Loach ones are nonfiction, as is Matewan. There's also a documentary called Detroit: I Do Mind Dying, drawn from the book of the same name.
posted by Frowner at 1:37 PM on April 4, 2013

"Remains of the Day" has some themes about what it's like to be a butler, and how someone of that class should have no "important" thoughts of their own.

(OP didn't completely rule out fiction.)
posted by Melismata at 1:38 PM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Harlan County USA and Matewan are my watchable goto movies. Matewan is fiction, though based on a true series of events. Brother's Keeper isn't about class struggle but there are class issues involved in the general conflict of the movie and it's very very watchable. The directors also did Paradise Lost that has that aspect to it. There is a social justice film festival here that has movies along those lines, although usually they have a central theme that isn't just class struggle but class struggle is the backdrop for the specific conflict. So I'd also suggest Razing Appalachia, Children of the Silver Mountain (about Bolivia), Frontline's Sex Slaves (a lot of their things have a class struggle component) and The Forest for the Trees about Judi Bari.
posted by jessamyn at 1:56 PM on April 4, 2013

The Milagro Beanfield War (also an excellent novel).
posted by colin_l at 1:57 PM on April 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

The Canadian Labour International Film Festival is a good resource. This is the 2012 film list, there are lists from 2010 and 2011 on the site, too.
posted by looli at 1:59 PM on April 4, 2013

This might not be exactly what you're looking for, but Morgan Spurlock's 30 Days documentary series comes to mind. It documents people doing various things that are way out of their experience for 30 days, such as an evangelical Christian living with a religious Muslim family. There's an episode where Morgan and his girlfriend live on minimum wage and have minimum wage jobs for 30 days.
posted by chickenmagazine at 2:00 PM on April 4, 2013

Loosely construed, Bicycle Thieves, and such sorts of films, are some of the best depictions possible.
posted by SollosQ at 2:02 PM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

"Norma Rae" is about that, but it isn't a documentary.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:06 PM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Winter's Bone
posted by ifjuly at 2:16 PM on April 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

Machuca is set in Chile in 1973, before the (CIA-supported) coup that overthrew democratically elected, socialist President Salvador Allende. The movie thematizes class struggle in a friendship between two boys of different social classes. Although the friendship itself is fictional, the account of the mood in the country months before the coup was, according to contemporary witnesses on both sides, very realistic.
posted by ipsative at 2:23 PM on April 4, 2013

It's not a documentary. It's more than three hours long. But O Lucky Man is well worth your time. The un-simple story of a simple, ambitious coffee salesman with big dreams (and ultimately greater nightmares awaiting him) ...

because nobody does class struggle like the Brits.
posted by philip-random at 2:32 PM on April 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

Salt of the Earth is about class issues. It's not a documentary, but it is a very close dramatization of real events.

Women of Steel is very narrowly focused on women in a particular industry, but highlights some important class issues in the feminist movement.

The Up Series started out VERY focused on class issues. Later installments are more nuanced.

People Like Us contains some nice illustrations of how social class impacts the lives of every day Americans.
posted by OrangeDisk at 2:36 PM on April 4, 2013

It's subtle, but I'd argue for Salesman.
posted by thetortoise at 2:36 PM on April 4, 2013

It's fiction, but maybe Wendy & Lucy?
posted by Johnny Assay at 2:37 PM on April 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

Salt of the Earth (1954) is an important classic in the labor struggle genre. It's a fictionalized version of an actual event.

(wikipedia films about the labor movement and documentary films about the labor movement pages)
posted by drlith at 2:39 PM on April 4, 2013

Life and Debt is about the shell games at play in World Bank bailouts to poorer countries. It's pretty eye opening.
posted by bonobothegreat at 3:03 PM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

It feels like this is my answer to every question vaguely in this vein, but if you're willing to accept not North America and not documtary (but, hey, they're in English), it seems like Billy Elliot, The Full Monty and Brassed Off are all relevant to a certain degree.

There's a film version of The Cheviot, the Stag, and the Black Black Oil available on YouTube.

The aforementioned Harlan County USA is really good.
posted by hoyland at 3:16 PM on April 4, 2013

Newsies is about unionizing.
posted by spunweb at 3:22 PM on April 4, 2013

Detropia is a 2012 documentary about the decline of Detroit, similar to 'Roger and Me'.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 3:28 PM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Passport to Pimlico
posted by brujita at 3:39 PM on April 4, 2013

It's not a documentary. It's more than three hours long. But O Lucky Man is well worth your time. The un-simple story of a simple, ambitious coffee salesman with big dreams (and ultimately greater nightmares awaiting him) ...

because nobody does class struggle like the Brits.

Oh my crap! Phillip, you're amazing! I've been wanting to see this again for years! I can't believe it's on youtube, in good quality no less! Thank you!
posted by stenseng at 3:42 PM on April 4, 2013

Eep - meant to add that Newsies is based on the Newsboys Strike of 1899... there's some good visuals of children's rights as workers in it too.
posted by spunweb at 3:58 PM on April 4, 2013

24 Days In Brooks--you can watch it for free on the NFB website, but it's also available for purchase (download or DVD).

It's about the first-ever strike at the Lakeside Packers slaughterhouse in Brooks, Alberta. Lakeside (and its parent companies, first Tyson Foods, then XL Foods) has long had a reputation for bad labour practices in general, and the worst jobs at the slaughterhouse tend to be occupied by the large numbers of recent immigrants and refugees who have moved to Brooks for a better life.

From filmmaker Dana Inkster's description:
In a decade, tiny Brooks, Alberta has been transformed from a socially conservative, primarily Caucasian town to one of the most diverse places in Canada. Hijabs have become commonplace, downtown bars feature calypso and residents speak 90 different languages. Immigrants and refugees have flocked here to work at Lakeside Packers - one of the world's largest slaughterhouses. Centring on the 24 days of the first-ever strike at Lakeside, this film is a nuanced portrait of people working together and adapting to change. They are people like Peter Jany Khwai, who escaped war in Sudan, wears an African shirt and a cowboy hat, and affirms his Canadian identity as well as his determination to fight for his rights. Or Edil Hassan, a devout Muslim born in Somalia, who counts her hours of organizing and picketing among her proudest moments. As 24 Days in Brooks shows, people from widely different backgrounds can work together for respect, dignity, and change - even though getting there is not easy.

posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 4:17 PM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

A lot of well deserved love for Sayles' Matewan up above but don't overlook Sunshine State, in my opinion it's his most prescient and layered movie.
posted by any major dude at 5:00 PM on April 4, 2013

You might be interested in The Molly Maguires, a film about Irish-American miners fighting against exploitation by management.
posted by Bokmakierie at 5:16 PM on April 4, 2013

Made In Dagenham about women working in a auto assembly plant in England organizing in the 50's.
posted by syncope at 5:32 PM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Baraka, Samsara and the Qatsi trilogy have many images of poverty and its roots. And a touch of animal cruelty. Very distressing scenes with chickens and a donkey.

Also, Workingman's Death.
posted by nevan at 5:34 PM on April 4, 2013

Well, to meet both your requests, there's Animal Farm. For other films, there's Wall Street, Precious, or American Psycho. For documentaries, People Like Us. American Movie or Dancing Outlaw indirectly deal with class.
posted by Ms. Toad at 5:41 PM on April 4, 2013

I was just about to recommend Made in Dagenham for exploring class issues (and sexism) within the broader labeled working class in 1968. I just got back from a screening of "we are Wisconsin" tonight.
posted by saucysault at 5:43 PM on April 4, 2013

posted by carmicha at 6:27 PM on April 4, 2013

Here's a much more thorough description of Dadetown from the NYT.
posted by carmicha at 6:34 PM on April 4, 2013

You might also be interested in some of the documentaries produced by Kartemquin Films.

...specifically, As Goes Janesville, which can be rented on YouTube as of March. This is the film that had impact both on the recall campaign against Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and the nomination of Paul Ryan as the GOP Vice Presidential candidate, with the classic appearance by one of the wealthiest women in the world, Diane Hendricks, asking "Any chance we'll ever get to be a completely red state and work on these unions?" (If there's to be a "let them eat cake" for the 21st century, that has to be a candidate.) Most of the film follows the re-employment paths of three women from the closed GM plant, but there's a number of interviews with local politicos and money players about what should be done.
posted by dhartung at 7:08 PM on April 4, 2013

Response by poster: Awesome, everyone, thanks! Looking forward to watching a whole bunch of these!
posted by Edna Million at 7:15 PM on April 4, 2013

Charles Burnett touches on class struggle in Killer of Sheep
posted by BAKERSFIELD! at 8:34 PM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Bernardo Bertolucci's epic film 1900 (Novocento).

Traces the lives of two sons born on the same day at the debut of the 20th century. One, Alfredo (Robert de Niro) is the son of the landowner; the other, Olmo (Gerard Depardieu), is the illegitimate son of a peasant. Both boys play together until puberty kicks in and their different class positions begin to sculpt their lives. The films traces their and Italy's history through the First World War; the rise of fascism and its associated violence against members of the working class; the Second World War;, and the post-war accommodations of left and right. Awesome movie.
posted by Mister Bijou at 9:07 PM on April 4, 2013

I'd second Brassed Off. It's like the ur-text for The Full Monty, Billy Elliot and several other British films that deal with class issues. It has a harder edge than the films that followed.

Just in general, and in keeping with your preference for documentaries, Stuart Christie's online film archive has loads of interest (but it doesn't seem to be working for me at the moment).

There's also Libcom's archive on vimeo. Loads of videos from a class struggle perspective.
posted by spectrevsrector at 1:17 AM on April 5, 2013

I like The Take, about a group of workers in Argentina who reclaim a closed auto parts factory as a workers' collective. Show it with the previously mentioned Life and Debt for a good "fuck the IMF" double feature.

Looks like you can watch the whole thing online here.
posted by ActionPopulated at 5:50 AM on April 5, 2013

Park Avenue: Money, Power & the American Dream which focuses on the highest concentration of billionaires in the US being less than 5 miles away from the poorest congressional district.
posted by WeekendJen at 9:37 AM on April 5, 2013

Brick City.
posted by St. Sorryass at 10:42 AM on April 5, 2013

There's also Ploughman's Lunch -- Britain in the Thatcher 80s, an ambitious journalist who finds himself increasingly at odds with his working class past.

Again, nobody does it like the Brits ...

Link is to the trailer, but you'll also find side-links to the whole movie.
posted by philip-random at 11:10 AM on April 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I just watched Girl Model yesterday which is about how modeling scouts prey on Russian girls, many of them from lower-class backgrounds.
posted by jabes at 2:14 PM on April 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:34 AM on April 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

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