Perch of the Devil is about the hard rock miners of Butte, Montana, and the copper strike of 1959. Harvey Richards traveled to Butte, Montana in the 1959 when union organizers he knew agreed that making a film for the miner’s cause could help in the strike effort against Anaconda Copper.
Harvey Richards had recently refused to testify before the HUAC committee in 1957 and was under surveillance by the the FBI wherever he went. Nevertheless, he believed the film could be made and be useful in spite of government and company hostility towards dissent and union organization. He was followed around Butte, sometime by three police and FBI vehicles simultaneously. Neither Harvey nor the union organizers were intimidated by police tactics and the film was successfully completed in 1960 and used to support the last major strike in the copper mines.
Butte: Perch of the Devil
The strike was doomed because underground mining was doomed. Open pit mining replaced tunnel mining rapidly after 1960 (the Berkeley Pit opened in 1956), and with it, the underground miner’s union faded into history. Perch of the Devil offers viewers today a glimpse into the minds and conditions of life of hard rock miners who played an important role in the industrialization of the continent and our way of life. It was one of the first films that Harvey Richards made and it set the stage for other primary source documentaries giving voice to the common people, workers and the oppressed.
The film reviews the history of the Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers Local Union No. 1 and the many violent struggles in the mining camps of the western Rockies. There are interviews with miners, and with victims of silicosis, a fatal lung disease among miners. It also contains footage of mining operations a mile below the surface. See Butte Photo Galleries.
This strike was the swan song of under ground mining worker unions as open pit mining with mechanization on an immense scale began to dominate the mining industry, displacing deep tunnel miners who formed the core of union’s strength. The filming of Perch of the Devil came about amidst the anti-communist witch hunt of that era. Harvey told me stories of being followed by two or more FBI cars as he drove around Butte going from miner’s home to home. But having been a union organizer he was familiar with police tactics and managed to get the filming and interviewing done in spite of it.