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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

THE RIVER (1937) / THE PLOW THAT BROKE THE PLAINS (1936)

These two Pare Lorentz documentaries are the cinematic equivalents of those iconic Depression Era photos by government sponsored photogs like Walker Evans. Simple, powerful and often quite beautiful images of the destructive force of Nature & Man, the film's effectiveness has largely been overtaken by later efforts that have gone beyond these early studies. What keeps these films indelible are Virgil Thompson’s uncluttered background scores which are all the stronger for their lack of embellishment & studied simplicity. The classical music company NAXOS has issued thrillingly restored prints of these small treasures with newly recorded soundtracks & narration. Since all the footage was shot without sound, the obvious improvement in recording techniques should make the old original tracks, with their overloading & distortion, expendable. But the new recording comes off as tame & homogenized, crucially missing the vivid musical personalities heard on the crumbling old tracks.

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