Time to bring it all together: YouTube Monday, This Day in History, celebrating the New Deal, and probably some other things I can’t think of right now. How, you ask, will Ari pull off this masterful feat of EotAW synergy? By embedding a short for The Plow That Broke the Plains (see above) coupled with a quick discussion of the Dust Bowl’s nadir, Black Sunday, which happened on this day in 1935. I’m just that good, people; you’d better get used to it. Okay, I know, it wasn’t exactly a masterstroke. So how about an “A” for effort?
Don Worster, whose Dust Bowl remains, more than a quarter century later, a great book, writes that on April 14, 1935, “dawn came clear and rosy all across the plains.” By midday, though, the temperature had dropped close to 50 degrees. Birds seemed nervous, “as though fleeing from some unseen enemy.” Then, on the northern horizon there appeared a dark cloud, advancing slowly. For hours, the dust swirled so thick that people couldn’t see their hands in front of their faces. Black Sunday marked the last of the year’s storms, but the damage already was done: an epidemic, as respiratory infections afflicted people who “spat up clods of dirt” throughout the region; an economic catastrophe, as cattle and other livestock died off; and a social crisis, as depression descended on the Dust Bowl states.
All of which is a longwinded (forgive me) way of saying that if you haven’t seen Pare Lorentz’s The Plow that Broke the Plains, you really should. I’m trying to think if it’s my favorite documentary ever. Hmmm. My gut says yes. But that could be hunger talking; I haven’t eaten anything yet today. Regardless, Lorentz’s film, the first half of which you can see here, is wonderful: a poetic script that turns on repeated phrasing; Virgil Thomson’s modern score, a masterpiece of Americana that nods to folk music and spirituals; and haunting cinematography, the work of Paul Strand, Leo Hurwitz, Paul Ivano, and Ralph Steiner. And just who was able to assemble that much talent in one place at one time, you ask? The federal government, that’s who, specifically Rexford Tugwell’s Resettlement Administration, which the Roosevelt administration later folded into the Farm Security Administration.