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October Sky (Joe Johnston, 1999)

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Joined: 15 Aug 2006
Posts: 837
Location: Yaoundé

PostPosted: Sat Jan 10, 2009 4:56 pm    Post subject: October Sky (Joe Johnston, 1999) Reply with quote

In a more bizarre moment, I bought a [pirated] DVD in Istanbul lately of film that takes place in Coalwood, West Virginia. The town is far from Spelter, where Asturians first settled in the state in the early 20th century. But it must still resonate at some level among some of you because of the coal mining tradition in both places.

October Sky reminded me of a comment Xose made once about the engrained working class attitude in West Virginia and Asturias that cuts people’s dreams short. We are what we are and it’s no use rebelling.

It’s a life attitude I’ve seen in Asturias too, where aspiring to something better can often be looked down on as lofty or uppity—especially if your family is poor and working class. Coalwood here could be Llangreu or Blimea or Xedre (Gedrez, in Spanish), up in Cangas del Narcea.

October Sky is a little schmaltzy, but it’s also shameless in its belief that people should not limit themselves. We are here to aspire to bigger and better things, not to stay put and go down into the coal pits like our fathers did and die of black lung disease.

The film by Joe Johnson tells the story of 4 high school students who, encouraged by their high school teacher (Miss Riley), figure out how to launch amateur rockets. After many let-downs, including stints in the coal mines for one of them, they win the national science prize.

Some of the dialogue in the film was great. At one point, Miss Riley gives Homer Hickham (one of the four students) a book for his 18th birthday, ‘Principles of Guided Missile Design’. The high school principal, Mr Turner, challenges her and says:

“Miss Riley, our job is to give these kids an education, not false hopes.”
“False hopes? Do you want me to sit quiet? Let them breathe coal dust the rest of their lives?”
“Miss Riley, once in a while a lucky one will get on a football scholarship. The rest of them work in the mines.”
“How about I believe in the unlucky ones? I have to, Mr Turner, or I’d go out of my mind.”

Later in the film, the trade union calls for a strike. The coal-mining father calls them 'miserable union rats' and has this to say:

"If the mine doesn't produce, then the town dies. Do you think the union gives a damn about that? They're nothing but a greedy bunch of sons of bitches..."

Here’s the trailer. Try to get an [unpirated] version of the DVD. The film was released in 2000…


Last edited by is on Mon Feb 16, 2009 1:22 pm; edited 2 times in total
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Joined: 24 Feb 2003
Posts: 1734
Location: Connecticut and Massachusetts

PostPosted: Sat Jan 10, 2009 5:47 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks for the film recommendation, Is, it sou nds well worth watchng.

I don't think that attitude you desribed as occurring in the fil happened in my family, however. I knew early in life that both my grandfathers worked very hard at dirty and physically dangerous labor. The Asturian one in the zinc smelter and other hot factories, the Slovak one in the coal mines of central Pennsylvania (after his father was murdered when he was 11 or 12 and he had to start working in the, mines to support his family). My Asturian grandfather had six sons who survived childhood. One was a factory worker, one a butcher, one a firefighter and TV technician (my dad). one a skilled sheet metal worker. The two youngest both with university degrees, were an FBI agent and a business executive.

In contrast, I've had a easy life, with multiple academic scholarships, NSF and NEH fellowships (yes, I work in the humanities as well as the sciences just because I find it fun), grants from other agencies, etc., and I've worked only in academia. A fun job, really, and one that I still enjoy. But I know where I came from and what others sacrificed to help me get to where I am today.
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Barbara Alonso Novellino

Joined: 22 Oct 2003
Posts: 324
Location: Long Island, New York

PostPosted: Sat Jan 10, 2009 6:39 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I never saw the film but it looks interesting.

In my family my Dad Julio Garcia Alonso came from Spain as a baby in 1906. They settled in Grasselli and my Grandfather worked in the Smelter. When my Dad was 12 years old he worked as a tubero boy with his Father. The work was on open furnaces. If you were unable to perspire freely and quickly you had to leave work as you could not stand the heat. The furnaces had right and left chargers. If you were on the right than your right cheek was red from being in front of the heat the same for the left. You could look at his cheek to see what side he worked on.

At a very young age my Dad decided that this WAS NOT FOR HIM. So, when he was old enough he educated himself at Bliss Electrical School in Tacoma Park Maryland and became an Electrical Engineer. After he graduated he got a job with Con Edison and moved to New York.

As he says...that was the best move I ever made. He married Angeline Montes from Moundsville...her father and brothers worked the Smelter too, but they never left Moundsville. After they were married she also moved to New York. Her sister Josephine Montes married an American Diplomat and she moved to England. It seems in her family the woman got out but the men didn't.

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