“Men of the Deeps” doesn’t reach the depths that its subjects, Cape Breton coal miners, have as part of a way of life that is disappearing. Title refers to an active chorus of coal diggers that tours and performs even as the mines that spawned the chorus fold. Musical segs don’t quite resonate, but material is unique enough to be dug by arts-oriented pubcasters.
As a performing unit, the Men of the Deeps has traveled far, always singing in cover-alls and lamp-lit hardhats. And that’s as close as most of the chorus members get to the underworld, now that this longstanding way of life is just about extinct in North America. Well recorded chats with miners and their wives reveal a camaraderie that borders on the obsessive and shows how music has kept this spirit alive. Performance snippets are too short, however, to convey the chorus’ actual quality, and the tunes aren’t always that striking. Helmer John Walker has a tendency to juice up his images with shock-zooms and lighting flares to create drama that could be better, more simply conveyed by dark lines in weary faces.