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City of Steel

average rating is 3 out of 5


Patrick Foley


Posted on:

Dec 17, 2022

Film Reviews
City of Steel
Directed by:
Bruce Spiegel
Written by:
Bruce Spiegel
Bruce Spiegel

City of Steel is an old-school, heartfelt documentary from director Bruce Spiegel about the steel-working industry of his native Pittsburgh, and how the slow destruction of the union movement allowed its collapse. Rather fitting, given our own current political climate…


Spiegel uses a mixture of archive and interview footage to cover the history of Pittsburgh’s steelworks, and the men and women who risked life and limb to keep them running. The documentary covers the industry from its genesis in the region, through to the industrial boom and battles between the workers and huge corporate bosses, to the industry’s collapse in the Reagan years. Spiegel’s own life in the area is interspersed with the historical story, as the importance of heavy industry to Pittsburgh residents is highlighted.


Much like the industry it documents, there is a sense that they don’t make documentaries like City of Steel anymore. Slower and more considered than many contemporary works, Bruce Spiegel uses a PBS-style approach to his story of steel – meticulously profiling the key figures and places who played a role in making Pittsburgh the heart of American industry – and those who pulled that heart out over many years. The interspersal of the city with his own life adds a personal touch, and the contributions from former workers and their families contribute immensely to the sense of pride built in the industry from those who ran it.


Spiegel’s own life story does distract somewhat from the historical accounting of the battles between the business and the unions – which are brilliantly covered and engagingly interpreted even for those with no knowledge of the subject. There is worth in Spiegel’s story, and it creates an empathetic bond between the audience and him as a narrator and guide through the film. However his tale too often feels disjointed and separate from the topic, and may lead to some confusion why so much time is spent away from the film’s advertised focus.


Production on the documentary does feel somewhat rough, with interview footage occasionally failing to match the standards of the archival footage in clarity. The audio of these interviews also doesn’t match Spiegel’s calming and crisp narration. These are largely forgivable imperfections, and actually feel somewhat appropriate for a documentary covering a time past. The identification and choices of archival footage however is a hugely impressive undertaking, with rare and obscure footage helping to truly colour the historical period stretching from the 1800s to the present day.


Audiences will click instantly with the passion emanating from City of Steel. Much like an old Pittsburgh steel-mill, it is clunky and creaky in parts, but reliably gets the job done, with old-school, sensible storytelling.

About the Film Critic
Patrick Foley
Patrick Foley
Digital / DVD Release, Indie Feature Film, Documentary
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