Pare Lorentz And the plow that broke the plains

A more critical view of society was taken by Pare Lorentz in The Plow That Broke the Plains (1936), a film sponsored by the Resettlement Administration of the U.S. government. Lorentz looked at the impact of the Depression on the agricultural sector. The land and the people both suffered from natural as well as human-made disasters. The purposive message of the film is that government must become actively involved in recovery programs to manage these natural resources. Only through government intervention can this sort of suffering be alleviated.

To give his message impact, Lorentz relied on the photojournalist imagery made famous by Walker Evans and others during the Depression. In terms of the visual editing, the film is imitative of Eisenstein, but the sequences aren't staged as thoroughly as Eisenstein's were. Consequently, the sequences as a whole don't have the power of Eisenstein's films. They resemble more closely the work of Dovzhenko in which the individual shots have a power of their own (Figures 3.7 and 3.8).

It is the narration and the music by Virgil Thomson that pull the ideas together. Lorentz has to rely on direct statement to present the solution to the government. In this sense, his work is not as mature propaganda as the later work of Frank Capra or the earlier work of Leni Riefenstahi. Lorentz was more successful in his second film, The River (1937). As Richard Meran

Figure 3.7 The Plow That Broke the Plains, 1936. Still provided by Moving Image and Sound Archives.
Figure 3.8 The Plow That Broke the Plains, 1936. Still provided by British Film Institute.

Barsam states about Lorentz, "While (his films) conform to the documentary problem-solution structure, these films rely on varying combinations of repetition, rhythm, and parallel structure, so that problems presented in the first part of the films are solved in the second part, but solved through such an artistic juxtaposition of image, sound, and motif that their unity and coherence of development set them distinctly apart."3

Film Making

Film Making

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