Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Plow That Broke the Plains (1936)

An artifact from a time when documentarians were as concerned with formal experimentation as they were with making a point, THE PLOW THAT BROKE THE PLAINS (1936) was produced by the Resettlement Administration to examine conditions that led to the Dust Bowl in the Great Plains, and simultaneously functions as a visual poem contrasting a pastoral ideal with encroaching modernity.

There is one moment in particular that stands out: a shot of an old farmhouse, set against a stark sky, situated on a dusty plain with sparse vegetation, with a broken wagon wheel in the foreground. With an apparent simplicity belying its careful composition, and the sparse but evocative selection of representative objects, it's a kind of cinematic equivalent to William Carlos Williams' "The Red Wheelbarrow".

Written and Directed by Pare Lorentz; photographed by Leo Hurwitz, Paul Strand, Ralph Steiner and Paul Ivano; narrated by Thomas Chalmers. The film is in the public domain and is available for viewing at the Internet Archive.

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