Segments in this Video

Power and the Land (01:07)


In 1939, the American countryside was largely in the dark. These scenes of the Parkinsons on their Ohio farm were taken for the United States Film Service film "Power and the Land."

Rural Darkness (01:13)

In predawn darkness on an Ohio farm, Bill Parkinson and his sons go to milk the cows, using a kerosene lantern. His daughter cleans and refills the kerosene lamps.

Reading by Kerosene Lamp (01:14)

In 1935, 90% of America's farms lacked electricity. By time kids were done with chores, it was dark, and they had to read by kerosene lamp.

Washing Clothes Before Electricity (01:39)

The farmer's wife heats water by fire and hand scrubs clothes in a washtub. They used iron heated on the stove.

Lack of Indoor Plumbing (01:29)

Without electricity to power a pump, most farm families lacked indoor plumbing and had to haul water. They used an outhouse and had one bath per week. Typhoid was rampant.

Desire for Electricity (00:53)

Lack of electricity caused farmers a sense of inferiority about their way of life.

Rural Electrification Administration (01:28)

The REA, part of the New Deal effort to help people where there was no incentive for business to do so, lent to farmers' electric cooperatives. To persuade independent-minded farmers to sign up, it had a film produced.

Pare Lorentz (02:16)

Pare Lorentz produced documentaries for the Roosevelt administration. "The Plow that Broke the Planes" promoted the effort to resettle farmers; "The River" was another hit. He sought to showcase REA as a New Deal success.

Lorentz and Ivens (01:40)

Pare Lorentz created the script for "Power and the Land," showing life on with and without electricity. He got Joris Ivens to complete the project.

Joris Ivens (02:43)

Ivens, a pioneer documentary filmmaker, sought realistic portrayal of daily life. He briefly became a Communist and sought to make films for Russia, but censorship disillusioned him and he came to America.

Choosing Farm Family (02:45)

Ivens searched for a scenic location and farmers with the right personality and outlook for the film about rural, and settled on the Parkinsons, who came across as representative farmers while being open to the future.

Frank Parkinson (02:07)

Frank, the youngest of five Parkinson kids, had a mischievous look and was a favorite with the film crew. His son talks about Frank's recollections of the filmmaking process. Ruth's daughter talks about her country girl's childhood.

Adjustment to Acting (03:32)

The Parkinsons adjusted to the need to stay in character for repeated takes of scenes of everyday life. Ivens' ideal was a documentary with non-actors. See Parkinson react to a note that the dairy has rejected his milk as sour.

Ivens Relationship with Parkinsons (01:18)

Rumor spread among neighbors that Parkinson was getting ripped off doing the film at $5 per day; Ivens soothed him and they became friends. Ivens put a Christmas letter from Hazel in his memoirs.

First Hand Accounts of Film Making (01:43)

The Parkinson family is now all dead. Friends of the children who were present during some of the filming talk about their recollections.

Symbolic Meaning (03:17)

The dinner scenes have spiritual and artistic meaning as a family finds happiness in each other. Ivens identified with youngest son Bip and used his playing around a ruined tree as symbolism for WWII Europe.

Fire Scene and Tensions Over Film (03:53)

Ivens had a barn fire set to orchestrate a communal solidarity scene. Lorentz though he was forcing ideology onto the film; he photographer Ornitz with Floyd Crosby, who could be a counterweight to Ivens.

Cutting (01:50)

An editor who helped Ivens cut footage talks about her work with him.

Stephen Vincent Benet and Douglas Moore (01:10)

Stephen Vincent Benet wrote a narrative designed to appeal to plain-speaking country folk. Douglas Moore wrote the music score. Their collaboration gave an American flavor to the "Power and the Land."

Parkinsons Already Had Electricity (03:21)

The Parkinsons already had electricity before the film was made. They played the role of being without electricity, and of seeing it for the first time. Filmmakers brought in electrical equipment they did not have, which they got to keep.

Clairesville Premier (00:45)

"Power and the Land" premiered in St. Clairesville, Ohio, near where the Parkinsons lived, the smallest U.S. city ever to host a film premier.

Arduous Life (01:25)

"The Power and the Land" script showed farm life from dawn until dusk. Without electricity, Mrs. Parkinson had to heat water by fire in the heat of summer. The narrator explains that it is not profitable for power companies to electrify farms.

Agricultural Communitarianism and REA (01:02)

The film depicts REA as an extension of farmers' neighborly cooperation. Gathered farmers discuss electrification. Power companies won't come, but "there's a new kind of power- government power."

Benefits of Electricity (02:02)

"The Power and the Land" concludes with an advertisement for the benefits of electricity on the farm.

Feelings About Electric Stove (01:23)

"The Power and the Land" shows Mrs. Parkinson happy with her electric stove, but in fact she never trusted the electric stove and kept her coal stove. The film may be the only film record we have of pre-electrification farm life.

Ivens and Lorentz's Stamp (02:27)

Ivens made the film about more than electricity, showcasing community solidarity. The artistic decisions were Ivens's, but the concept, showing a day in farm life before and after electricity, was Lorentz's.

Message of Film (02:24)

"The Power and the Land" is a blatant promotional advertisement and creates the false impression that electrified farms immediately had all the electrical appliances. It shows American pastoral life and industrial progress united.

Legacy of "The Power and the Land" (02:09)

The Parkinson family has long taken pride in "The Power and the Land," descendants say. It helped persuade American farmers to join electric cooperatives.

Sponsors & Credits: Power for The Parkinsons: The Making of a Classic American Film-Electrification Comes to the Farm (01:37)

Sponsors & Credits: Power for The Parkinsons: The making of a Classic American Film- Electrification Comes to the Farm

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Power for The Parkinsons: The Making of a Classic American Film—Electrification Comes to the Farm

Part of the Series : Electrification Comes to the Farm
DVD (Chaptered) Price: $169.95
DVD + 3-Year Streaming Price: $254.93
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Due to the high cost of bringing service to rural areas, in 1935 most farms in America still did not have electricity. The Rural Electrification Administration was formed to offer low-interest loans for the purchase of power, and to publicize the offer, the agency hired renown filmmaker Joris Ivens to create a documentary for national distribution. Cinematographer Floyd Crosby (High Noon) shot much of the footage and Walter Cronkite narrated a script written by Stephen Vincent Benét. Debuting in 1940, Power and the Land featured the real-life Parkinson family at their daily chores before and after modernization, and was a piece of quintessential, pro-progress Americana. But what was it like for the farming family to work with a professional film crew? And how did Mrs. Parkinson really feel about giving up her coal-burning stove? This program examines the making of Power and the Land, weaving together a history of filmmaking with a study of sociological issues that arose during an era of critical transition in American history. A part of the series Electrification Comes to the Farm. (57 minutes)

Length: 57 minutes

Item#: BVL53084

ISBN: 978-0-81608-806-5

Copyright date: ©2008

Closed Captioned

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