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High Row (1974)

Courtesy of Amber Films

Main image of High Row (1974)
16mm, colour, 33 mins
DirectorMurray Martin
Production CompanyAmber Films
SponsorNorthern Arts
ProducerJ. Melvin
ScriptMurray Martin
 E. Northey
PhotographyGraham Denman
 Peter Roberts

A day in the life of the Alston mine, Cumbria.

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High Row was Amber's third film. Continuing the emphasis on documenting working life established in Maybe (1969), on the North Shields Ferry, and Launch (1973), on the Wallsend shipyards, High Row presents a working day in the life of seven miners at the small Alston drift mine.

With no narration and little dialogue, the film takes on the form of a prose poem, detailing not only the labour of the mine, but also the relationship of the miners to the earth in which they work and the landscape in which the mine incongruously sits (in a manner reminiscent of the juxtaposition of industry and landscape in Ken Loach's Kes (1969)).

Much of the camerawork, the framing and camera angles, is also curiously akin to that of a John Ford Western - the framing of the miners in doorways, tunnels and rock cavities, the camera looking up at one of the miners leaning on a fence, casting a glance over the countryside. While it is probably fanciful to see any direct parallel between the miners' relationship to their working environment and that of Ford's cowboys to the landscape of the West and Monument Valley, the film does foreground the organic nature of the work of the mine, implicitly opposed to more industrialised, mechanised and alienated forms of labour.

While this quality has led to charges of romanticism, the original script, as Murray Martin has stated, was "much harsher... but when we showed it to the workers they said, 'If you think that you wouldn't work down the mine.' So, we let the men direct the vision. They didn't see it as romantic." And allowing people to represent themselves in their own terms, rather than imposing a vision from outside, has always been at the heart of Amber's approach.

Martin Hunt

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Amber Collective (1969-)
Amber Films