King Anthracite: The Rock Man
by Dan Leopard — St. Mary’s College of California
June 14, 2007 – 03:01
King Anthracite: The Rock Man Stashu Kybartas 1990 Shot and edited in a rough hewn style – a brutish examination of oral history, propaganda film, and racist scholarship – King Anthracite takes as its subject the unforgivable losses that ensue from hard coal mining in Eastern Pennsylvania. Calling to mind Barbara Kopple’s labor documentary Harlan County USA, Stashu Kybartas’s video sustains a vision of home and heartbreak through a more primal documentary impulse than Kopple’s – to follow the life and death of coal miners as told by their children and neighbors. The minimalist form Kybartas uses suits well his simple collection of documentary materials – talking heads intercut with coal mining company films overlaid with quotations from an early 20th century dissertation on the lack of suitability of the “sclavs” for civilization and civility (essentially rationalizing the use of the local population as mules for the coal interests). Against the life stories relating the losses of fathers who were miners, Kybartas summons forth the loss that shapes the tape – the death of his grandfather, the rock man, from “white lung” disease at age 35. Not as widely viewed as Kybartas’s first video, Danny, King Anthracite deserves to be reexamined as an important work focusing on the intersection of lived experience and regional labor history.