The Plow That Broke the Plains
The Plow That Broke the Plains is included here because of the people who photographed it. The creative leadership of NYKino, Leo Hurwitz and Ralph Steiner, evolved to become the core of Frontier Films as the two were joined by the great still photographer, Paul Strand. The three directed the photography of the lion’s share of Plow… Made for under $20,000 from the government and from Pare Lorentz’s own pocket, this film transformed U.S. government film production.
Lorentz enlisted Hurwitz, Strand, and Steiner, who contributed images to rival the Farm Security Administration photographs of Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, and others. The photography forms the powerful kernel of the film. With composer Virgil Thomson, Lorentz created a kind of film ballad, combining narrative verse with an independent, contrapuntal score. The film’s subject, the tragedy of the Dust Bowl – productive land lost through ruinous management for short-term gain – is reviewed while subtly and poetically advertising the conservation policies of the New Deal’s farm program. The photography in this film foreshadows the extraordinary work in Strand and Hurwitz’s later film, Native Land.
After filming the heroic images of the Plains and Southwest, Hurwitz, Strand and Steiner left the production due to artistic and political differences with Lorentz. The last 25% of the film, the California footage, was shot by a West Coast crew and suffers from a certain mediocrity of vision.
THE PLOW THAT BROKE THE PLAINS
A U.S. DOCUMENTARY FILM
by PARE LORENTZ – RESETTLEMENT ADMINISTRATION
WESTERN ELECTRIC NOISELESS RECORDING
RECORDING BY EASTERN SERVICE STUDIOS, NEW YORK, N.Y.
WRITTEN and DIRECTED
LEO T. HURWITZ
Composed by VIRGIL THOMSON
Conductor ALEXANDER SMALLENS
Narrator THOMAS CHALMERS
Research Editor JOHN FRANKLIN ARTER, jr.
Film Editor LEO ZOCHLING
Sound Technician JOSEPH KANE