The River (1938)
The River is a 1938 short documentary film which shows the importance of the Mississippi River to the United States, and how farming and timber practices had caused topsoil to be swept down the river and into the Gulf of Mexico, leading to catastrophic floods and impoverishing farmers. It ends by briefly describing how the Tennessee Valley Authority project was beginning to reverse these problems.
It was written and directed by Pare Lorentz.
Why It Rocks
- The short is filled with artistic and persuasive scenes intended to further the Roosevelt administration's policies.
- There's also the free-verse poetic script to match the symbolic visuals.
- A couple of shots of tributaries, for example, represent the script’s roll call of all of the Mississippi River’s tributaries.
- The flood sequence in particular, roughly half-way into the film is a great touch. It starts with a few single drops of water, accompanied by the steady beat of a kettle drum. In amazing parallel structure, the drops of water build to a visual climax of catastrophic flooding, with the river in full destructive fury, accompanied by a soundtrack that at its zenith is a cacophony of chaos, grounded in music, sound effects and sense of urgency from the narrator.
- The brief documentary realistically and accurately showed the devastation from the river's flood and its aftermath effects caused by irresponsible farming and timber practices that caused massive erosion and pushed nearby residents to the brink of poverty.
- Creative and visually clever score composed by Virgil Thomson.
- The ending has Lorentz present the viewers to the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) as savior with its use of dams to prevent flooding and its advocacy for less damaging farming techniques.
- The content can be a bit repetitive at times.