American Dream

 (37)7.81 h 38 min199013+
A documentary film, which captures working men and women making tough choices about survival during a time of economic crisis in the American Midwest.
Barbara Kopple
Jesse JacksonRay Rogers
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Arthur CohnBarbara Kopple
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4.2 out of 5 stars

37 global ratings

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  2. 13% of reviews have 4 stars
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T. T. TaylorReviewed in the United States on September 17, 2008
5.0 out of 5 stars
American Nightmare for struggling workers
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Since FDR implemented the New Deal, it has been eroded year after year by the power of increasingly ruthless corporate profiteering and competition. Labor Unions have been under attack, largely by Republican administrations and policies, and the attitude of big business is less and less caring and humanitarian. In the face of job loss or massive wage cuts, one union fought back. But between such unequal bargaining partners, the union workers' only power was in their willingness to stand together and persevere.

This film follows one incident where a union group fought back against unfair treatment - and ultimately lost the battle. But the struggle goes on to have a life where hard work is fairly rewarded and families can keep up with the rising cost of living - let alone get ahead and prosper.

Barbara Kopple has somehow managed to capture an intimate portrait of the people involved in this incident. Her film takes us into the meetings, the conversations, and the interviews of the characters involved. We get an understanding of the dynamics and strategies, the positions and attitudes of both sides and the personal conflicts and pressures that face
workers who seek to take a stand against employer give backs and job cuts.
It is not a pretty picture or one with a rosy ending. Hopes and dreams get crushed; desperation, despair, and disunity challenge the union workers despite their efforts to stand together.

Without commentary, the film simply observes and records the history. The facts speak for themselves, and Ms. Kopple has done a fine job of covering the stories behind the headlines. It is a very good documentary of a sad situation.
4 people found this helpful
Andrew WilliamsReviewed in the United States on September 21, 2016
5.0 out of 5 stars
Careful - Could happen again!
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I believe this is one of the finest documentary films about how a community was torn apart by miscalculations for the Local Union and a company that used it's power to smash the workers. In hine site the local union mislead the rank that was making GOOD money to give it up because the local union thought it could break a company that has millions to fight. In the end it was a shame that so many lost EVERYTHING including family.
2 people found this helpful
Sal MagnumReviewed in the United States on December 9, 2007
5.0 out of 5 stars
Snuffing the Dream
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<WARNING> This review intended for those who have already seen this film, or have no intentions of watching such "filth". Enjoy.

Having seen Barbara Kopple's previous union documentary "Harlan County, U.S.A., I was anxious to see if this film could measure up to lofty expectation. "Could it possibly be as good, as heart-felt, stir the emotions within?" Quite simply, "Yes."
Being the type of individual accursed with sentient vision into history and its' intricate, often mis-interpreted nuances and intricasies, the thought struck me, rather a continuation of a thought which I had been nursing in me gulliver for many a moon, finding its' bearings and growing to fruition as I "viddied this cinny". I will recite it as it was recited to me, from my inner conscious to the frontal lobes;
"It became apparent that the ideals of the 60's became the bitterness of the 70's and had turned to cold despair by the 80's. In the 90's, apparently some got a slice and were silenced, but by the otts we were whipped back by the droves, back to shovelling shet in front of the poorhouse. They had skull-fahked us into believing that that was all we deserved. They had done all they could for us, and we, like spiteful children, threw it in their faces. The gall!"
The film opens to scenes depicting the grisly business of butcherin' hogs and packaging po'k.
We hear news clips of Reagan's hardline approach. Undoubtedly a chief goal of the elite to infiltrate and subvert the unions. Turn them against themselves, as has happened so completely to the anti-war movements of today.
But I ask you, how can the whole feckin' country be wrong about what it wants if this is trully a government by and for the people?? Ahhh...the plot thickens.
One revealing scene shows the union members going door to door passing out literature detailling their grievances and concerns with Hormel, the firm of question. Here is the transcript of what happened when two of the workers visited a Hormel executive's palatial estate asking to talk to him, but instead, getting an earful from thee ol' missus;
"Aren't you guys happy working at the Hormel plant?" she chides.
"Under the current conditions, no. We were happy when we were making $10.69 an hour and they treated us decent." comes the simple, straight-forward reply.
"Why do you stay?-"
"We don't have all the money in the world like you-"
"Why do you stay at a place you're not happy? You know,nobody should stay. Get another job. There are so many ppl who would just love to have your job at $8.75 an hour with all those nice benefits. You know, when we were your age, we weren't even making what you are."
"Then give us a fair shake, like you got a fair shake." Door slams. You wonder if that ol' bag had ever heard of inflation.
Next we are shown a picture of the company CEO, a snide-looking, blue-blood brute, almost snickering into the camera lens with his arrogance, a fine stout beast, complete with the thick, fatty neck of the swine, and the beady, prying eyes of a bird of prey.
Figures were shown of the company's $29.4 million in profits for '84, which coincided with a plant-wide wage decrease from $10.69 to $8.25 and a 30% deduction in benefits. The reason: "claiming the need to remain competitive". Errrroooahh?? (Like Tim the Toolman Taylor, that's right Tim.)
Charles Nyberg was the cruel, repugnant beast performing chief counsel duties for mighty Hormel. It came to light early on that he had enjoyed torturing small animals as a child, and as he grew, so did his blood-lust and his rejoicing in the suffering of those weaker and inferior beings he fondly envisioned squashing like so many bugs.
Rich Knowlton, president, said, (and I quote) "I HOPE that they (the union members) have enough of the vision that I think that I must have for the welfare of the long-term future of the company, you know, that would say, 'We can do no more.'" 'Do no more than to take away', to paraphrase.
Uhhhh...yer logic is impeccable, by the way, where is your earning statements, sir? Are your wages being cut too? Ah, didn't think so. They actually went up, you say? So you mean to tell me, you want me to buy your crock of melded shet? Nah, can't say as I'm interested.
Then we are presented with the two duelling sides within the union itself. There is the tired and beaten Louie Anderson, director of the meat packing division of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, headquartered in Washington, DC. This poor mutt has clearly had his arse handed to him one too many times in a hat, and yearns to play it cautious and jump on the first meager deal the corporate heads are willing to dole out. A pragmatist and a realist, who unfortunately tells the workers the unpopular truth. The understanding that the company has all the power, so 'we might as well go along, or go hungry.'
Then there is Jim Guyette, president of the local P-9. He has instigated a full-scale worker's revolt against Hormel and its' minions, going about it old school, like 1921 Appalachian style, without all the guns and the killing, but with that same grassroots fervor that must be the backbone of any idealist struggle with any chance of success. He calls in a fiery union strategist, Ray Rogers, that further kindles the fire and sets the machine in motion that puts opposite sides on an unyeilding collision course.
Sure, they were ideal-centered goals, but shet, when you stop dreamin' you might as well be dead, and these poor folks weren't ready to go down without a fight.
Rogers' campaign was an effort to try and kick Hormel in the yarbles by goin' after the bank which financed them. But this strategy only caused to enrage the beast, and you could see immediately that the bourgeoisie was intent on digging in with both heels, willing to concede nothing to this motley crew of brash trashmouths. They would fight the scum to the bitter end, come hell or high water, even if their scrawny twig and bits were scortched down to the stump by a flame thrower.
The question was, "How much clout did the unions really have?"
Initially, it was hard for me to decipher which was the government-paid, infiltraitor/disrupter/weasel, (Ray Rogers or Louie Anderson) but by the end it was pretty clear that neither was a hired minion, this was just a case of the devisiveness of the human spirit in regards to the route taken towards mutual aims and goals.
There was the usual small gaggle among the workers consisting of sexually frustrated men who boo-hooed the upstart rebels like bitter old Republicans. Yet, I would argue that the mob should've let them voice their opinions, as they had useful insight into sides of the arguement hitherto unexplored.
After losing the battle of wills with the strong minded locals of Austin, MN, Louie Anderson reappears, revitalized. One can almost envision him being told by the union heads, "Don't lose these beasts. Forget that sorry song of pragmatic realism. What they respond to is a little zealous ideaology. Get in there and give 'em hell, boy." And there he was, looking ounce for ounce like the sagging-skinsuit-turned-firebrand that was Al Gore after the 2000 electoral shannanigans. Wagging his finger and barking like a rabid wolf. Anderson closed his fiery sermon with one of my all-time favorite catch-phrases, one which my old man was typically fond of,"<somethin', somethin'...> pure, unadulterated bullshet!"
He fired the crowd into a frenzy, only to later catch the backlash full in the nuts.
At the nationwide union counsel meeting, none of the bigwigs are willing to support the good ppl of Austin in their noble aims. The consensus is that it is a futile effort, and that they should settle for the company's demands as opposed to being jobless in such desperate times.
Back in Austin, the angry mob turns on the parent union. In the choice words of one disgruntled P-9er, "Piss on 'em, let 'em go."
The anger which is kindling ever brighter deep within their souls, finds release, as many voice their angst at Louie, the poor schlupp.
It is hard to sympathize with Anderson, even though one realizes that his is the voice of cruel reality, the harsh truth hidden in the sordid games beasts often play. He is the typical kind of pussie who is quite capable of talking tough shet to the help, but folds like a three-legged chair whenever the massah is around.
Meanwhile, despite all the rhetoric, Hormel is still turnin' out spam.
There are the poignant moments of awful realization that the company doesn't give one shet. It was a battle of bigger balls now, and the company had the greasy steel that comes from controlling the purse strings.
"No, we're not going to give more." said the sold-soul corporate Joe, commenting on how not KEEPING the wages at their current rate, but lowering them by more than a fourth, while simultaneously cutting benefits by an even greater amount, after a banner year of profits, was the right and necessary thing to do.
"The Union members will have their jobs until they have been permanently replaced." the cold "concession" of cruel, unyeilding beasts.
The "realist" faction among the workers were now all willing to bend over and take one for the team. (Only to regret too late, in old age as they collected their severance pay no doubt, that they had made a terrible mistake.)
One of the scabs, an office secretary, voiced a very poignant question, as to why she should be let through the picket line, "I don't want to discuss morals here. But is what the company's doing LEGAL?" "You bet", "of course!", and "why wouldn't it be?", are three quick answers that come to mind. After all, we don't want to become enamored in the "right" and "wrong" of a situation where the fates of so many are at stake, but rather the "legality" of of it. As none in power have ever engineered the laws in their favor. <sarcastic snicker>
Finally the National Guard is called out, to protect the few entitled tyrants from the non-violent picketing of the community. As always, our governments priorities are impeccable.
"When will the realization come to those folks (the veterans-turned-scabs) that our fight is indeed their fight." the lamentations of a disillusioned idealist.
We see the heart-wrenching decision by these veterans-turned-scabs to break the lines, as one poor ol' boy sobbed, "Some of us take real pride in providing for our families. We just want to work! Wife's got a job, kids are at school and I'm left at home to play with the cat!"
I was moved, for a second, until I realized he was just being a weak cuhnt, like the corpses they found with bullet holes in the backs of their skulls around the wreck of the Titanic, things aren't always as chivalrous as history would make them appear. Some of the rats will always try to save their own hides and flee a sinking ship.
Meanwhile, the gutless national union leadership had brought on "The Magician". A type-A weasel, advocating concessions, and promising that if this failed, "I'll settle it myself." When pressed for details and specifics, he reiterated his point and vanished abruptly. Hmmm...
A new contract is unveiled shortly there-after, and lo and behold!Surprise, surprise, no lines of provision for those who had faithfully honored the picket line. These unfortunates are put on a waiting list, while new hires filled their spots.
"...we had better pull together, or by God, they'll bury us!"
One apt observation on the state of the working man at the height of "trickle-down economics". (herc, herc, cuz it like trickles down man... and if you suck real hard, and yur really, really thirsty, you can sometimes get a droplet once in awhile, hic hic.)
At the end, it is revealed that less than 20% of those put on the waiting list for their insubordination were called back to work.
And there you have it.

There is another short film included in the extras for this dvd. I will only say this; that it is without question the most moving and heart-breaking film I have ever seen. It is fully worth the price of the dvd on its' own.
A reviewer with my crude, and often crass sensibilities, would do well to comment no more upon it, lest I tarnish its' beauty and purity.
5 people found this helpful
Heidi GoodnatureReviewed in the United States on November 2, 2018
2.0 out of 5 stars
Can't clear Region Code
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I am from Austin and was actually the Sheriff's kid during all of this absolute nightmare of a strike. I have watched this Documentary before and it is AMAZING - that being said if you are in the U.S this is a Region 2 DVD is it is basically impossible to watch this movie on any type of media because of the region code. I am very disappointed I won't be able to watch it and show others.
2 people found this helpful
JASON M. JOHNSTONReviewed in the United States on October 4, 2020
5.0 out of 5 stars
American Dream dvd was in mint condition
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The American Dream dvd was in mint condition as advertised, and I received it on time. The dvd also played without any problems.
MyReviewsReviewed in the United States on December 11, 2016
4.0 out of 5 stars
Good overall
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Not as adventurous as Ms. Kopple's first documentary, Harlan County USA, but still good.
DONNAReviewed in the United States on May 1, 2016
5.0 out of 5 stars
Five Stars
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Daniel CastellanosReviewed in the United States on April 26, 2021
1.0 out of 5 stars
Didnt work
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VHS didnt work :(
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