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Black Diamonds - the Collier's Daily Life (1904)

The only two surviving scenes from an amazing Edwardian film about the work of Britain's coalminers.

Non-Fiction 1904 3 mins Silent


This is one of Mitchell and Kenyon's most unusual projects, and one of the earliest surviving films suggesting the workings and working conditions of British industry, using constructed narrative 'documentary' technique. It predates by six years A Day in the Life of a Coal Miner, a film long recognised as a pioneer industrial documentary. A valuable discovery, though it's tragically incomplete.

These two items are the only surviving sections of an unusually ambitious film that stands apart from others in the Mitchell and Kenyon collection. Rare and fascinating footage in itself, it's even more intriguing when we realise what's missing. In a 1904 issue of trade journal The Era, the Urban Trading Company (a key early film distributor) advertised an M&K production titled "BLACK DIAMONDS, OR, THE COLLIER'S DAILY LIFE IN EIGHTEEN SCENES." They helpfully listed all eighteen. These are probably the two named in the ad 'Hauling the Tubs' and 'Pit Brow Girls Sorting' (the first shows men and boys shifting coal tubs, the second women sorting coal). How heartrending that the remainder - including underground footage (probably artificial: lighting for real underground filming would be all-but impossible in 1904) and a dramatised accident - haven't survived! The first sequence was in poor condition, but both are precious records of a major industry and way of life, even if staged (the project was probably based at a disused Staffs mine: it's more likely that the well-dressed fellow supervising the men worked for Messrs M&K than for any coal company). Variants of the same story would be told in greater depth by later generations of filmmaker, who would unconsciously echo this film's final shot, picturing the pithead winding gear from a dramatic low angle. It's interesting that the distributor was the company headed up by Charles Urban, whose later Kineto company would produce the seminal A Day in the Life of a Coal Miner in 1910. It seems very unlikely that Kineto were unaware of Black Diamonds.