Transcript: The Documentary: An Interview with Pare Lorentz 1 | Mar 22, 1989

Elwy Yost, in his sixties, appears in a studio. He is bald and wears a moustache and glasses. He sits in front of a sign simulating film tape that reads “Talking film.”
He holds some papers on his lap.
He wears a suit and tie.

He says THE DOCUMENTARY FILM,
“DOCUMENTS,” DESCRIBES
SOME PROCESS, SOME
ASPECT OF LIFE.
IT IS ONE OF THE
EARLIEST AND CERTAINLY
ONE OF THE PUREST
FORMS OF FILMMAKING.
WHEN YOU THINK OF THE
DOCUMENTARY FILM,
SUCH NAMES SPRING
IMMEDIATELY TO MIND
AS JOHN GRIERSON, FOUNDER OF
CANADA'S NATIONAL FILM BOARD;
ROBERT FLAHERTY, THE CREATOR
OF “NANOOK OF THE NORTH”;
F.W. MURNAU WHO MADE
“TABU”; AND FINALLY,
OUR GUEST ON THIS
OCCASION, PARE LORENTZ,
WHO GAVE US “THE PLOW
THAT BROKE THE PLAINS,”
“THE RIVER,” AND “THE FIGHT
FOR LIFE” - CERTAINLY THREE,
I THINK, OF THE FINEST
DOCUMENTARIES EVER MADE.
PARE LORENTZ WAS BORN IN
1905 IN WEST VIRGINIA,
AND SPENT MANY YEARS AS A FILM
CRITIC FOR SUCH MAGAZINES
AND NEWSPAPERS AS
THE NEW
YORK EVENING JOURNAL,
VANITY FAIR,
AND
McCALL'S.
IN 1935, HE WAS REQUESTED
TO SET UP A GOVERNMENT
FILM PROGRAM THAT WOULD
EFFECTIVELY HIGHLIGHT
THE PROBLEMS OF AMERICAN
AGRICULTURE.
THE RESULT WAS A PENETRATING
DOCUMENTARY ON THE EFFECTS
OF THE DUST BOWL ON
DEPRESSION FARMERS CALLED
“THE PLOW THAT BROKE
THE PLAINS.”
HE FOLLOWED THIS ONE YEAR
LATER WITH AN ELOQUENT FILM
ON THE TENNESSEE VALLEY
AUTHORITY CALLED “THE RIVER.”
AND STILL LATER, WITH A
DOCUDRAMA ON OBSTETRICS
IN A CHICAGO SLUM CALLED
“THE FIGHT FOR LIFE.”
HERE NOW IS THE MAN,
HIMSELF, PARE LORENTZ.
THE DOCUMENTARY
MAKER
TALKING FILM.

The angle of the screen opens to show Pare.
He sits opposite Elwy. He has short white hair and is clean-shaven. He wears glasses and a gray suit and tie.

Elwy asks ARE FILMS, PARE LORENTZ, AN
EFFECTIVE SOCIAL PLATFORM,
AND IF SO WHAT
MAKES THEM SO?
WHAT DO YOU THINK
ABOUT THAT?

Pare answers WELL, OF COURSE, IN A
GREAT WAY, IN THE PAST,

He points to the screen and says THIS EVIL LITTLE RED
EYE HAS TAKEN OVER
WORLD COMMUNICATION
TO A GREAT DEGREE.
I CAN'T SPEAK LEARNEDLY
OF RUSSIA OR CHINA,
BUT IN OUR COUNTRY,
AND CERTAINLY YOURS,
WE'RE ALMOST LIVING
WITH TELEVISION.
WE HAD A BIG BLACKOUT IN NEW
YORK CITY SOME YEARS AGO.
THE FIRST NEWS ITEM WAS,
NOT PEOPLE BEING RUN OVER
OR STUCK IN ELEVATORS, BUT
THEIR TELEVISION WAS OFF.
SO IF YOU ARE SPEAKING OF
MOTION PICTURES, TO ME,
WE CAN SPEAK IN
THE PAST TENSE.

Elwy smokes a pipe.

Pare continues WHEN I MADE MOTION PICTURES,
THERE WAS NO SUCH THING
AS TELEVISION IN AMERICA,
WHICH IS THE REASON
I WANTED TO MAKE
MOTION PICTURES.
YOU HAVE A MAN BY THE
NAME OF McLUHAN,
AND HE'S WRITTEN
A GREAT DEAL.
BUT AS MISTER TWAIN SAID, THE PUN
IS THE LOWEST FORM OF WIT, AND
I'M NOT FOND OF MISTER MCLUHAN'S
APPROACH WITH PUNS.
I FIND IT TOO BROAD
A QUESTION, ELWY.
THE FREE WILL OF GOING TO THE
THEATRE AND SEEING A MOVIE
IS WHY I WANTED TO MAKE
MOVIES GOOD ENOUGH SO PEOPLE
IN A MOVIE THEATRE WOULD
SEE SOMETHING OF AMERICA
THAT THEY WEREN'T GETTING
IN NEWSPAPERS OR IN
ANY OTHER FORM, COMMERCIAL
MOVIES, RADIO, ANYTHING ELSE.

Elwy asks SO IT DEPENDS HOW YOU
USE FILMS THEN, ISN'T IT?

Pare replies THAT IS CORRECT.
ONE LOOKS BACK
AT THE NEWSREEL.
YOU'RE TOO YOUNG, BUT-

He chuckles and says WAIT A MINUTE NOW!
I SAW THEM EVERY
SATURDAY AFTERNOON.

Pare smiles and continues WELL, THE CAMERAMEN WERE
REALLY A BRAVE LOT,
BUT AS FAR AS THE
PRODUCER WAS CONCERNED,
HIS WHOLE IDEA
WAS SPOT NEWS;
IF AN AIRPLANE
CRASHED, A FIRE,
THEN, OF COURSE, THE
ANNUAL BABY PARADE,
AND NIAGARA FALLS
FROZEN OVER -
FROZE OVER EVERY
WINTER, BUT THAT WAS IT.
SO THE IDEA THAT A PICTURE
COULD HAVE MEANING WITHOUT
THE ACTION HAVING BEEN
DONE THE DAY BEFORE,
NEVER WAS A PART OF
THE NEWSREEL THINKING.
IT WAS THE NEWSPAPER IDEA.
GET TO THE FIRE,
GET TO THE ACCIDENT.
THE RESULT IS, MANY OF THE
EXTRAORDINARY EVENTS
OF THE '30s, THE
TERRIBLE DEPRESSION,
THEY'RE SIMPLY NOT
RECORDED ON NEWSREEL.
STILL PICTURES, YES.

Elwy asks WHAT IS THE CHIEF QUALITY OF
CINEMA THAT MAKES MOVIES,
POTENTIALLY, SUCH
A GOOD PLATFORM,
AS YOU ARE INDICATING?
IS IT THE SIMULATION
OF REALITY?
IS THAT WHAT'S AT THE
HEART OF IT, PARE?

He answers WELL, ON FIRST MEETING, YOUR
RATHER PROFOUND QUESTIONS,
LET ME THINK A MINUTE.
WE'LL WASTE TIME.

Elwy says IT'S ALL RIGHT, YOU CAN BRING
THIS OUT AS WE TALK TODAY,
IF YOU WANT TO THINK
ABOUT THAT.
WE CAN GET BACK TO THAT.

He chuckles and says I CAN MAKE UP SOME, BUT I'M NOT
SURE YOU'LL LIKE WHAT I SAY.

Elwy asks LET ME GET TO SOMETHING
HERE VERY DIRECTLY.
COULD YOU DEFINE FOR ME - AND
I'VE READ MANY DEFINITIONS
IN MY LIFE, THE
DOCUMENTARY FILM.
WHAT IS YOUR
DEFINITION OF IT?

Pare says WELL, I'M GOING TO TAKE
SOME MORE OF YOUR TIME.

Elwy comments YES.

Pare continues PAGE 195 OF A BOOK THAT CAME
OUT A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO
OF MY MOVIE CRITICISM,
I SPOKE ABOUT-

Elwy asks 100 AND?

Pare smiles and says 195, I'M SURE.
SO MUCH PHILOSOPHY AND
DISCUSSION, JUST A LOT
OF THAT QUESTION, MORE OF THAT
AMONG DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKERS
THAN THERE ARE FILMS.
I DON'T HAVE ANY ARBITRARY
STATEMENT TO GIVE YOU.
I'VE SEEN A SIMPLE NUTS AND
BOLTS FILM THAT WAS
SO COMPREHENSIVE AND
EXACT, NOT TOO LONG,
AND IT'S NOT ACCURACY.
AND ON THE OTHER HAND, I,
MYSELF, TRY TO MAKE FILM
NOT TO TEACH, BUT TO
GIVE MORE OR LESS
AS A PIECE OF MUSIC.
THAT IS, YOU HAVE AN
IMPRESSION AND AN EMOTION.
THEN, IF YOU HAVE INTEREST,
YOU CAN READ THE BOOKS,
YOU CAN READ THE REPORTS,
OR HAVE SOME MORE IDEA
OF THE NATURE OF LAND,
THE NATURE OF PROBLEMS
THAN YOU DID BEFORE.
BUT THE THING IS, THE
FLEETING IMAGE, AND TO ME,
EXCEPT FOR SURGICAL
PICTURES, HOW TO TAKE A NUT,
BOLT, PUT THEM TOGETHER,
THAT TYPE OF TEACHING FILM,
BUT THE ACTUAL REPORTING, I
DON'T HAVE ANY SET FORMULA,
ANY SET DOCTRINE.

Elwy questions ANY SET DEFINITION
THOUGH?
WOULD YOU DESCRIBE
DOCUMENTARY AS THE RECORDING
OF SOME REAL
LIFE PHENOMENON?
WOULD THAT BE REASONABLE?

Pare says YOU KNOW, YOU'RE A NICE
FELLA, BUT IT REMINDS ME
OF AN OLD ENGLISH CHARACTER
ACTOR NAMED CYRIL MAUDE.
HE ALWAYS USED TO MAKE
FAREWELL TOURS, AND HE ALWAYS
GAVE CURTAIN SPEAKS
DURING HIS PLAYS.
AND HE ONCE WAS ASKED,
WHICH WOULD HE PREFER,
TO BE MARRIED TO THE MOST
FAITHFUL WIFE IN ALL ENGLAND,
OR TO HAVE THE MOST BEAUTIFUL
MISTRESS IN ALL ENGLAND?
AND HE SAID, HE'D RATHER
HAVE A PET CANARY.

They laugh.

Elwy answers RIGHT, YOU MAKE
YOUR POINT.
ON THE PHONE, WE WERE
CHATTING, YOU SAID, WELL,
I THOUGHT YOU SAID ONCE TO
ME, I DON'T REALLY MAKE
DOCUMENTARY FILMS, THEY'RE
INFORMATION FILMS.
AND THERE WAS SOMETHING THERE
THAT STRUCK ME AS CURIOUS, PARE.

Pare answers THAT WORD I USED
HAS STUCK.
THE BRITISH ARE VERY PETULANT
ABOUT ME BECAUSE SOME SAY
I DIDN'T MAKE
DOCUMENTARY FILMS.
SOME SAY I
SHOULDN'T USE MUSIC
BECAUSE THAT'S
TOO EMOTIONAL.
WHAT THE BRITISH ALWAYS -
THEY INVENTED THE LANGUAGE,
AND THEY ARE VERY PETULANT IF
YOU DON'T USE THEIR TERMINOLOGY.
WE WERE DOING THE SECOND WORLD
WAR, AND WE WERE PHOTOGRAPHING
A SUPPLY LINE OF FUEL WITH THE
COMING OF THE 29TH TO CHINA.
AND I WAS OUT ON THE
DOCKS OF CALCUTTA,
AND THEY HAD ONE OF THESE
KING JOHN COMPANY COLONELS
WITH THE MOUSTACHE
AND SHORTS AND STICK.
AND WE GOT TALKING ABOUT
THE NUMBER OF BARRELS
OF GASOLINE, AND NUMBER
OF GALLONS OF OIL
WE PROBABLY WOULD
NEED FOR 129.
HE SAID, WE CALLED THEM
CASKS AND WE CALL THEM TIN.
EASIER FOR CABLING,
DON'T YOU KNOW.

Elwy chuckles.

Pare continues SO THEY INVENTED
THE WORD.
THEY PUT IT ON ME.
NOTHING I COULD
DO ABOUT IT.

Elwy asks PARE, I'D LIKE TO KNOW THAT
IN CONCEIVING AND PLANNING,
NOT ONLY YOUR OWN FILMS,
BUT THE UNITED STATES FILM
SERVICE ITSELF, IF YOU WERE
INFLUENCED BY GRIERSON'S,
IN ENGLAND, EMPIRE MARKETING
BOARD AND GENERAL POST
OFFICE UNITS, AND GRIERSON'S
IDEAS ON THE DOCUMENTARY
A FILM OF IDEAS.
WERE YOU INFLUENCED MUCH, AND
IN WHAT WAYS IF YOU WERE?

Pare replies NO.
IN FACT, I DIDN'T EVEN KNOW
VERY MUCH ABOUT THEM.
YOU MUST REMEMBER I WAS A
PROFESSIONAL MOVIE CRITIC
ALL DURING A TIME; I
COULDN'T AFFORD TO WORK
AT GOVERNMENT WAGES; I
HAD TO WRITE CRITICISM.
I THINK YOU'LL FIND
SOME REVIEWS I DID
OF SOME OF THE
OUTSTANDING THINGS,
BUT I WAS INTERESTED IN TRYING
TO, NOT ONLY SHOW OUR LAND,
BUT TO USE THE WORDS AND
MUSIC OF OUR PEOPLE.
IF YOU WANT TO KNOW
WHAT INFLUENCES ME,
I START MY MOVIE CRITICISM
BOOK WITH “SUNRISE,”
THE FIRST SCORE ON FILM,
AND THEN WITH RENE CLAIR
WITH FULL LENGTH THAT
CATAPULTED MUSIC.
I WAS INTERESTED IN WHAT
EMOTION AND POWER YOU COULD
GET WITH TECHNIQUE.

He shakes his head and says NOT WITH SOMETHING CALLED
A DOCUMENTARY FILM.
IN FACT, I TRIED AND
TRIED IN THE FIRST YEARS
OF THE DEPRESSION TO INTEREST
FIRST CLASS MOVIE DIRECTORS
IN TRYING TO GET CAMERAS ON
VAST, BEYOND HILL AND VALLEY,
FACTORIES DOWN,
THE COAL CARS RUSTING,
AND THE UNEMPLOYED
IN DETROIT.
I KEPT YAKKING TO
THE MEN HOPING ONE WOULD
TAKE IT AS A THEME.
SO NOWHERE WAS IT EVEN ON MY
MIND, MY COUNTRY ON MY MIND.

Elwy says I WANT TO TALK A
LITTLE BIT NOW, SIR,
ABOUT “THE PLOW THAT
BROKE THE PLAINS” 1936.
FIRST QUESTION;
HOW DID PARE LORENTZ
BECOME A PRODUCER, WRITER,
EDITOR ON THAT PICTURE?

He answers WELL, I BACKED INTO IT.
I TOLD YOU I WOULD GET
A COPY OF THE BOOK.
WHEN MISTER ROOSEVELT WAS
ELECTED PRESIDENT IN 1932,
AND TOOK OFFICE IN MARCH 1933,
AND THE BANKS WERE CLOSED,
15 MILLION UNEMPLOYED,
YET WE HAD THIS DRAMATIC
EBULLIENCE AND HOPE, THE
REPEAL OF PROHIBITION,
PEOPLE WITH ALL KINDS OF
IDEAS SUDDENLY ARRIVING
AND YOUNGER PEOPLE -
SOME CRAZY IDEAS.
BUT I THOUGHT IT WAS SUCH
A DRAMATIC THING THAT
I WANT TO MAKE A NEWSREEL
JUST OF THOSE EVENTS,
AND TRIED TO RAISE
THE MONEY.
AND NEVER MADE A MOVIE, BUT
THE POINT WAS EVERYBODY SAID
YOU COULDN'T MAKE A MOVIE
FOR THE AMOUNT OF MONEY,
THAT'S IT.
SO I PUT TOGETHER WITH STILL
PICTURES A BOOK CALLED
“THE ROOSEVELT YEARS,”
WITH RUNNING CAPTIONS
SO YOU COULD RUN THROUGH
IT LIKE A MOVIE.
THEN, SMALL ACCURATE
TEXT OF FACTS.

Elwy comments I SEE.

Pare continues SO THIS BOOK WAS GRADED
VERY RESPECTFULLY
BY GOOD CONSERVATIVE
JOURNALISTS.
AND I WENT TO WASHINGTON WITH
THE BOOK TO SEE A FRIEND
WHO WORKED AS A SECRETARY,
AND WAS A PERSONAL FRIEND

He raises his brows and continues OF HENRY WELLS, SECRETARY
OF AGRICULTURE.
WHY DOESN'T THE GOVERNMENT
HAVE SOMEBODY TO PHOTOGRAPH
THE GREAT THINGS GOING ON?
SO THEY SAID, WE'RE AN
OLD-FASHIONED AGENCY,
AN OLD-FASHIONED BUREAU, BUT
WE HAVE A BRAND NEW AGENCY,
NOTHING, NOBODY'S THERE,
JUST REXFORD GUY TUGWELL,
THE ADMINISTRATOR, AND
WHY DON'T YOU GO SEE HIM?
WELL, BY GOOD FORTUNE, HIS
CHIEF INFORMATION OFFICER
WAS A MAN NAMED JOHN
FRANKLIN CARTER.
CARTER HAD BEEN IN THE FOREIGN
SERVICE STATE DEPARTMENT,
BUT HAD WRITTEN
FINE BOOKS ABOUT POLITICS.
AND HE ALSO HAD WRITTEN
GOOD MYSTERY BOOKS
UNDER THE PSEUDONYM
OF J. FRANKLIN.
AND HE HAD BEEN A POLITICAL
COLUMNIST FOR
VANITY FAIR
WHEN I WAS A MOVIE CRITIC.
HE WAS A MAN OF HIGH
SENSE AND SOPHISTICATION,
AND HE SAID IT'S
A GREAT IDEA.
SO I WAS HIRED TO
BE A CONSULTANT.
AND TO TELL HIM HOW TO
DO IT, AND WHOM TO HIRE.
BRIEFLY, NOBODY WOULD
WORK AT GOVERNMENT WAGES,
SO I HAD TO KEEP BACKING
INTO RESPONSIBILITY.

Elwy asks AND THESE RESPONSIBILITIES
INCLUDING PRODUCING IT
AND DIRECTING IT AND
SELLING IT AND EDITING IT.
BUT YOU DID THOSE.
WHAT WAS THE BUDGET, PARE,
ON THAT FIRST PICTURE?

Pare says WELL, I ASKED FOR 9 thousand dollars.
AND I THINK I ENDED UP
19 thousand 750 WITH AN ANSWER PRINT,
THAT IS COMPLETELY WITHIN.

Elwy asks COULD YOU DESCRIBE SOME
OF THE PROBLEMS, SIR,
WITH WILL HAYS, THE BELOVED
CENSOR OF AMERICA IN THOSE DAYS,
AND THE MATTER OF
GETTING STOCK FOOTAGE
FOR “THE PLOW THAT
BROKE THE PLAINS.”
YOU HAD SOME REAL
PROBLEMS.
JUST MAYBE A COUPLE
OF THEM.
NO, WE'D HAVE A
WHOLE SHOW ON THAT!
IF YOU COULD MAYBE
BOIL DOWN A COUPLE.

Pare smokes and replies WELL, VERY SIMPLE, YOU'RE
JUMPING TO THE END.
ALL RIGHT, BUT WE HAD A FELLA
IN THE INFORMATION OFFICE
WAS QUIETLY ON WILL
HAYS' PAYROLL.
AND WE DIDN'T KNOW THAT
UNTIL ONE OF THE SECRETARIES
HEARD HIM SPEAKING WITH
WILL HAYS' OFFICE.
SO WILL HAYS SENT WORD.
SEE, HE HAD BEEN POSTMASTER
GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES
UNDER WARREN G. HARDING.
HE'D BEEN ACCUSED OF
100 thousand dollars BRIBERY SCANDAL
THAT SENT THE SECRETARY
OF INTERIOR TO JAIL,
AND HARRY SINCLAIR TO JAIL
FOR TAMPERING WITH THE JURY.
BUT THE MONEY WAS IN A LITTLE
BLACK BAG THAT WILL HAYS
WAS CARRYING, AND HE
DIDN'T GET SENT TO JAIL,
BUT HE STILL WAS A MAN
OF DEVIOUS ABILITIES.
AND WHEN HE HEARD THAT I WAS
MAKING THIS MOTION PICTURE,
BECAUSE OF HIS POLITICAL
BELIEF, HE WAS THE MOST
POWERFUL MAN IN THE
INDUSTRY, THE HEAD OF
THE MOTION PICTURE
PRODUCERS' ASSOCIATION.
HE SENT WORD I SHOULDN'T
BE ALLOWED IN A STUDIO,
MUCH LESS TO DO
ANYTHING.
AND WHEN I BROKE DOWN IN
TEXAS - THE CAMERA CREW
WAS REBELLIOUS, AND THEY
WANTED TO DO IT THEIR WAY,
AND I WOULDN'T HAVE IT.
SO I CALLED KING
VIDOR IN HOLLYWOOD.
I'D ONLY MET KING
IN NEW YORK,
BUT WE HAD LIKED EACH OTHER,
AND HE WAS FROM TEXAS.
'COURSE HE STARTED
IN MOVIES IN 1910.

Elwy says GREAT FILMMAKER.

Pare nods and answers MORE THAN THAT.
EVERYTHING ABOUT
THE INDUSTRY.
SO I CALLED KING AND
SAID I'M IN TROUBLE.
HE SAID, WHERE ARE YOU?
I SAID, I'M IN TEXAS.
WHAT ARE YOU DOING?
I'M TRYING TO
MAKE A MOVIE.
I SAID THE DUST STORM
HAS ALREADY ARRIVED.
IT'S TOO LATE FOR
HARVESTING.
I NEED SOME MONEY.
I NEED A FILM EDITOR.
I NEED A CAMERAMAN.
I NEED STOCK FOOTAGE.
SO HE PROVIDED
ALL OF IT.
I WENT OUT TO CALIFORNIA,
AND WHAT HE DID WAS GET
THE BACKLOT HEADS AND ASKED
THEM ABOUT HARVESTING SEEDS.
AND WONDERFUL MAN, REALLY
THE TOP OF LOCATION MAN,
BIG BARREL CHESTED CHARACTER,
HE SAID THEY THOUGHT FOX
HAD SOME FILM THAT MURNAU HAD
DONE OF A BIG WHEAT PICTURE
THAT HAD NEVER
BEFORE PRODUCED.

Elwy says MURNAU, F.W.
“THE SUNRISE.”

Pare answers YES.
SO ONE CALLED THE OTHER,
AND LLOYD NOSLER
HAD BEEN IN HOLLYWOOD
ALMOST AS LONG AS KING,
AND HE WAS A NOTED
FILM EDITOR.
SO WE WENT OVER TO FOX,
WENT INTO THE BACKLOT.
EVERYBODY THOUGHT LLOYD
WAS WORKING THERE
WHEN I BROUGHT HIM.
AND THE WORKMEN WERE FINE.
SEE, THE PRODUCERS
HAD STARTED STUFFING
THE PAY ENVELOPES TO THE
BACKLOT MEN TO SAY,
IF YOU VOTE FOR ROOSEVELT
IN '36 WE'LL FIRE YOU.
THEY WERE PRETTY
OUTRAGED.
SO QUIETLY, THEY
SHOWED ME THIS FOOTAGE.
MADE A DUPLICATE
NEGATIVE.
WORK, PRINT,
GAVE IT TO ME.
SAID, GET OUT OF HERE,
WE NEVER HEARD OF YOU.
BUT THAT'S HOW I DID IT
WITH KING AND LLOYD.

Elwy says PARE LORENTZ, THE MAIN
THEME YOU WERE DRIVING
TO GET ACROSS IN “THE PLOW
THAT BROKE THE PLAINS,”
THE ESSENTIAL THING YOU
WERE TRYING TO SAY
IN THAT PICTURE?

Pare says I CAN ILLUSTRATE TO YOU
ONE, DUE TO ARTHUR MAYER,
WE OPENED IN THE
RIALTO THEATRE.
IT WAS A TWO FEATURE, HORROR
FEATURE-TYPE OF THEATRE,
RAN 'TIL FOUR
IN THE MORNING.
AND I WALKED IN AT
2 thirty IN THE MORNING,
AND TWO REAL TIRED OLD
LADIES OF THE STREET THERE.

He indicates a hat with his hand and says THEY HAD THEIR COCKEYED HATS
ON THAT GEORGE BELCHER
USED TO DRAW FOR BYSTANDER
IN A PASSING SHOW
IN A MAGAZINE IN ENGLAND.
AND AFTER ALL THE GREAT SOUND
EFFECTS, HERE COMES
THE PLOW WITH THE WOODWIND
STARTING A PROLOGUE.
AND THEY WOULD TALK.
THEY DID NOTHING
BUT TALK.
AND MY HEART SANK.
AND THEY TALKED AND
TALKED AND TALKED
'TIL THE DUST STORM.
THEN THEY STOPPED
TALKING.
THEN AFTERWARDS, WHEN
THE MOVIE WAS OVER,
ONE OF THEM TURNED TO
THE OTHER AND SAID,
WELL, I GUESS THEY SHOULDN'T
HAVE PLOWED THE PLAINS.

Elwy chuckles and says comments OH, THAT'S BEAUTIFUL.

He continues SO THAT'S WHAT I
TRIED TO GET OVER.
THAT'S WHAT HAPPENED.

Elwy says BEAUTIFUL.
BEAUTIFUL, BEAUTIFUL.

Pare continues I COULD GO INTO THE HISTORY
OF THE GREAT PLAINS, BUT-

Elwy comments NO, BUT YOU'VE CERTAINLY,
YOU CAUGHT, YOUR PICTURE,
THAT'S YOUR PICTURE.
WOULD YOU TELL US A LITTLE
BIT ABOUT THE EDITING OF IT
AND YOUR WORK THERE
WITH VIRGIL THOMSON,
ANOTHER ONE OF MY GREAT
IDOLS - AND HIS DEVELOPMENT
OF THE MUSICAL SCORE.
A LITTLE BIT
ABOUT THAT, SIR?

He rubs his hands and explains WELL, FIRST PLACE, THE SETS,
THEY CAUSED THE IDEA FOR
A PART BECAUSE I DIDN'T HAVE
FUNDS TO GO INTO PRACTICE,
REHEARSAL WITH AN
ORCHESTRA,
GIVEN THE PRICE
OF UNION WAGES.
BUT VIRGIL WAS A
GIFTED MAN.
I MET HIM WHEN HE HAD DONE
“FOUR SAINTS IN THREE ACTS.”
HE WAS A FINE MAN WITH
ORCHESTRATION AND WORDS.
THAT'S ONE.
TWO, WE WORKED TOGETHER
IN COLLABORATION.
HE SAID ONCE, BABY, ALL
COWBOY SONGS ARE ALIKE.
AND I SAID, WELL, I
DON'T AGREE WITH YOU.
THERE'S ONE I WANT YOU TO
HEAR THAT YOU DON'T KNOW
CALLED, “I'M LEAVING
OLD TEXAS NOW.”
HE WOULD DO A PIANO SKETCH

He sits upright and says FIRST PLACE, I DON'T
RECOMMEND THIS THE
WAY PEOPLE DO THINGS,
BUT I ALWAYS WORKED IN
SEQUENCES, NOT SCENES.
PRIOR TO EVEN GOING ANYWHERE
I PUT DOWN THREE MINUTES
AT TWO AND A HALF
MINUTES AND SAY,
THAT'S WHAT I THINK
THAT PART IS WORTH.
AND THEN IN EDITING, WITH
“FIGHT FOR LIFE,” “DUMBO.”
RAN AN HOUR AND TEN MINUTES,
WALT DISNEY'S MOVIE.
SO I FELT I'D TRY TO
GET IN AN HOUR AND TEN.
I THINK I GOT IN AN HOUR
AND TWELVE BEFORE ANYTHING.
SO IT WAS EASY WITH
VIRGIL BECAUSE MUSIC
IS STRUCTURALLY IN
MOVEMENTS.
SO WE WOULD WORK
ROUGHLY ON THE IDEA.
I WOULD HAVE A ROUGH
CUT OF A SEQUENCE.
HE WOULD BRING
A PIANO SKETCH.
WE'D MAKE AN
ACETATE RECORD.
SO I WOULD PLAY, AND IF
THE MUSIC SEEMED TO HAVE
POWER ENOUGH TO GO A
LITTLE LONGER, FINE.
IF THE MOVIE SEEMED
TO, I'D TELL VIRGIL,
A LITTLE MORE MUSIC.
SO IT GOT DOWN TO A ROUGH
CUT, THEN HE DID THE SCORE.
I MEAN, PRETTY
CLOSE TO FINAL CUT.
AND THEN ANOTHER THING I
DID, THAT I STILL WOULD DO.
THOMAS HARDY CHALMERS
IS A WONDERFUL FRIEND
IN A CLUB WE BELONGED
TO IN NEW YORK.

Elwy adds HE DID YOUR
VOICE, DIDN'T HE?
THE VOICEOVER.

Pare replies HE HAD SUNG WITH CARUSO AND
AMATI IN “THE IMMORTALS.”
HE HAD A TIMELY THING
HAPPEN TO HIS VOICE.
NOTHING REALLY BAD, AS FAR
AS OPERA WAS CONCERNED-

Elwy adds HE WAS OUT.

Pare says HE WAS OUT.
SO I WENT DOWN TO THE CLUB
ONE DAY AND SAID, TOM,
I HAVE A NARRATION,
AND FULL SCORE,
AND I WANT YOU TO
THINK ABOUT IT.
HE SAID, I HATE
NARRATORS.
I SAID, THAT'S
WHY I WANT YOU.
DON'T WANT THE BLAND
KNOW-IT-ALL TYPE OF VOICE.
I WOULDN'T LET TOM SEE THE
FILM BECAUSE HE HAS A 58-INCH
GREAT SINGER'S CHEST AND I
KNOW HE'D START SHOUTING
AND GIVE EMPHASIS WHERE I
HAD THAT ON THE SCORE.
SO I PLAYED THE SCORE, AND
VIRGIL HAD ORCHESTRATED
SO THAT WHEN THE VOICE WAS
COMING IN, IT WOULD BE
DOWN TO WOODWINDS OR
VIOLINS OR WOODWINDS.
SO TOM NEVER SAW, EITHER
“THE PLOW” OR “THE RIVER.”
UNTIL IT WAS FINISHED.
HE HEARD THE MUSIC.

Elwy says UTTERLY FASCINATING.

Pare continues WELL, IT GAVE
ME CONTROL.
ONCE I WAS IN THE
RERECORDING ROOM,
I HAD THE WORDS IN ONE HAND,
I HAD FILM IN THE OTHER HAND,
I HAD THE MUSIC
IN THE OTHER.

Elwy says SPEAKING FROM MY POINT OF
VIEW PURELY HERE, SIR,
I ALWAYS FOUND BOTH IN “THE
PLOW” AND “THE RIVER,”
A TREMENDOUS FUSION BETWEEN
THE SOUNDS AND THE MUSIC
AND THE PICTURE.
THEY WERE MARRIED.
WOULD YOU RELATE
YOUR MAIN PROBLEM -
AND YOU'VE ALREADY
DONE A BIT OF THIS
THROUGH OUR DISCUSSION
ON WILL HAYS,
BUT THE MAIN PROBLEM
IN GETTING YOUR FILM
DISTRIBUTED IN '36,
AND PARTICULARLY HERE,
HOW YOU GOT AROUND
THAT PROBLEM?

Pare says WELL, I DIDN'T GET
AROUND IT AT ALL.
FROM THE BEGINNING, BEING
A PROFESSIONAL JOURNALIST,
I PUT MY FAITH IN
HONEST WRITING MEN.
I ALWAYS HAD A PRIVATE
PREVIEW FOR 15 PEOPLE,
FOR ANYBODY.
I NEVER LET ANYBODY
FROM THE GOVERNMENT
LOOK AT THE RUSHES.
I DID HAVE THAT INDEPENDENCE
BECAUSE THERE WERE NOT MANY
OF US WORKING AT GOVERNMENT
WAGES AT THE BEGINNING
OF THE NEW DEAL.
AND THEY TRUSTED ME
TO KNOW PROFESSIONALS.
BUT I WOULDN'T LET
THEM MONKEY AROUND,
SEE THIS OR THAT
AT ALL, EVER.
SO FIRST TO GET THE OPINION
OF MEN I RESPECTED,
BE IT A LAWYER, AN EDITOR, A
STOCKBROKER, VARIOUS TYPE.
NOT ALL DEMOCRATS,
EITHER.
BUT I TRUSTED THEIR
WORLDLINESS AND LIKE
OF GOOD MUSIC AND
GOOD BOOKS.
THAT WAS THE FIRST GROUP;
I SHOWED EVERYTHING
ALWAYS FIRST TO THOSE.

Elwy smiles and comments SO YOU LUGGED IT AROUND
YOURSELF AND SHOWED IT.

Pare says WELL, IT WAS IN THEATRE.
BUT THEN, GIVEN THAT,
WITH “THE PLOW,” WHEN THE
PRESIDENT SAW THE FILM
IN THE WHITE HOUSE,
HE SAID THAT QUESTION, WHAT
ARE YOU GOING TO DO WITH IT?
AND I SAID, WELL, FIRST
THING I'D LIKE TO DO
IS GO TO HOLLYWOOD AND
SHOW IT TO MOVIEMAKERS.
WE THINK IT'S GOOD, BUT
I WANT THE FINAL OPINION.
SO AGAIN, KING VIDOR
GOT LEWIS MILESTONE,
ROUBEN MAMOULIAN, ABOUT
A BAKER DOZEN OF MEN,
AND I SHOWED THEM THE FILM
AND THEY LAUGHED AT ME.
I WAS A LITTLE ANNOYED.
AND I SAID, WELL, YOU'RE
A MOVIE DIRECTOR.
THE GIRL ON THE RAILROAD
TRACK, THE LOG JAM HERE,
IT'S A DUST STORM,
BUT IT'S A MOVIE.
SO THEN, IRA SPERRY,
DICK ABBOTT
HAD FORMED THE MUSEUM OF
MODERN ART FILM LIBRARY.
JOHN HAY WHITNEY
PUT UP 150 thousand dollars,
NELSON ROCKEFELLER,
150 thousand dollars.
THEY FORMED THIS.
I HELPED THEM A LITTLE WITH
IDEAS ABOUT U.S. FILMS.
SO THEY SAID WHY DON'T WE
HAVE A BIG DOCUMENTARY FILM
EXHIBITION IN WASHINGTON,
AND WE WILL GET THE BRITISH
EMBASSY AND THE RUSSIAN
EMBASSY AND THE FRENCH EMBASSY,
AND YOU CAN HELP SELECT
FILMS YOU WANT TO GO,
AND THEN “THE PLOW.”
WILL COME LAST.
AND I SAID, IF MISTER WHITNEY
WOULD PAY FOR IT, FINE.
THE GOVERNMENT CAN'T.
SO WE RENTED A GRAND BALLROOM
IN THE MAYFLOWER HOTEL,
SENT OUT ENGRAVED INVITATIONS
TO CONGRESS, SUPREME COURT,
THE HEADS OF NEWS
BUREAUS, BLACK TIE,
AND THE EMBASSY HAD
ITS OWN GUESTS.

Elwy asks THAT WAS IN MAY,
WASN'T IT, OF '36.

Pare replies YEAH.
SO THE FIRST THING,
I HAD THE FIRST REEL
OF LENI RIEFENSTAHL,
POWER OF THE WILL.

Elwy adds OH, “TRIUMPH OF THE WILL.”
HOW MUCH “THE
TRIUMPH OF THE WILL”?

Pare nods and says THE FIRST REEL WHICH SHOWS
THE LABOUR BATTALION
DRILLING AND
SINGING, THE ZIEL
BELONGS TO US, YOU
KNOW, GREAT REEL.

Elwy says AND THE FACE OF BRITAIN.
I THINK A ROTHA, A PAUL
ROTHA DOCUMENTARY
WAS ON THAT NIGHT,
WASN'T IT?

Pare adds YES, AND A UKRAINIAN
HARVEST PICTURE,
AND “ELECTRIFICATION OF THE
PYRENEES,” FRENCH PICTURE.

Elwy says “MIDI.”
“COLOUR BOX,”
“HARVEST FESTIVAL,” “MIDI.”

Pare continues IT WAS RATHER
DRAMATIC IN EVERY WAY.
CONGRESSMAN MAVERICK,
WHO HAD BEEN WOUNDED
IN THE FIRST WORLD WAR
HOPPED UP AND SAID

He smiles and says THE GERMANS ARE GOING TO DO
IT AGAIN IN LOUD PROFANITY.
AND HE AND THE FRENCH
DELEGATION WALKED RIGHT OUT
BEFORE WE EVEN STARTED.
SO THEN “THE PLOW.”
WAS LAST.
AND A MAN NAMED FRED
OTHMAN,
UNITED PRESS,
NEWSPAPER MAN,
NOT A CRITIC.
AND HE WROTE THIS EXTRAORDINARY
REVIEW ABOUT THE DRAMA
AND EXCITEMENT AND IT
WAS ON 18 FRONT PAGES
AS A NEWS STORY.

Elwy says REALLY?
THAT'S TREMENDOUS.
TREMENDOUS.

Pare says SO VERY RARE, BUT
THAT WAS THAT.
THAT STILL DIDN'T MEAN
ANYBODY WOULD TAKE THE MOVIE.
SO I HAD HEARD WILL HAYS HAD
SAID - I KNEW POSITIVELY HE'D
SAID, NEVER WILL A GOVERNMENT
FILM BE ON A COMMERCIAL SCREEN.
SO I TOLD A REPORTER ON
THE
NEW YORK TIMES
THIS STORY.S
AND HE MENTIONED TO ARTHUR
HAYS SULZBERGER, THE PUBLISHER.
Mr. SULZBERGER HAD BEEN
CAUGHT IN A DUST STORM
A WEEK BEFORE FOR TWO
DAYS AND TWO NIGHTS.
AND BY THIS MIRACULOUS
COINCIDENCE, HE CALLED UP
A CITY ROOM, AND I PUT TWO
FULL PAGES OF PICTURES
IN
THE SUNDAY TIMES
ROTOGRAVURE SECTION.

Elwy asks WHAT?!

Pare smiles and explains NEWS STORY; WILL HAYS
TURNS THUMBS DOWN ON THIS.
SO THAT WAS A PRESS
AGENT'S DREAM.
AND ARTHUR MAYER, THE THEATRE
OWNER I SPOKE OF EARLIER,
READ THIS, AND HE
GRABBED THE FILM,
PUT A GREAT BIG THUMB IN
FRONT OF THE THEATRE.
WILL HAYS SAYS
THUMBS DOWN.
I GUESS EVERYBODY THOUGHT
IT WAS A DIRTY MOVIE.

Elwy laughs out loud.

Pare continues BUT THAT DID IT.
THAT BROKE THE NEW YORK
OPENING; PEOPLE WERE SPLENDID.
THEN I DIDN'T GET, IT'S A
SHAME, BUT WE HIT THE ROAD.
AND I WENT TO CLEVELAND, TOLD
THE SAME WILL HAYS STORY,
AND ALWAYS WENT IN TO THE
TIME WHEN I WAS MAKING
THE MOVIE AND WOULD GO TO
THE CITY ROOM BECAUSE
DUE TO MY WRITING, MOST OF THEM
HAD HEARD OF ME AS A CRITIC.
AND TRUSTED HONEST
NEWSPAPER MEN.
THAT WAS IT.

Elwy says YOU, AS A MOVIE CRITIC,
REVIEWED YOUR OWN FILM
IN
McCALL'S
, DIDN'T YOU?

Pare says “THE PLOW,” YES.

Elwy smiles and says TELL ME WHAT KIND OF REVIEW
YOU GAVE YOURSELF, PARE?

Pare says WELL, I COULD LOOK
IT UP FOR YOU.

Elwy comments I HAVE READ IT, BUT
THIS IS FOR OUR VIEWERS.
YOU WERE A LITTLE
CRITICAL OF YOURSELF.

Pare says WELL, I WAS CORRECT.
I LOOKED AT IT THE OTHER
NIGHT HERE AT THE ONTARIO
FILM INSTITUTE, AND “THE
PLOW” IS AWKWARD AT TIMES
IN EDITING, AND SLOW WHERE IT
SHOULD HAVE BEEN CUT A LITTLE.
BUT THE PHOTOGRAPHY AND MUSIC,
I SAID, WERE EXCELLENT.

Elwy asks WHAT WAS YOUR SALARY,
SIR, IN MAKING
“THE PLOW THAT BROKE
THE PLAINS”?
YOU TOLD US YOUR BUDGET.

Pare explains I ESTABLISHED A TECHNICAL
CONSULTANT BECAUSE THERE
WERE SO MANY ARCHITECTS AND
ENGINEERS OUT OF WORK THAT
THIS HAD BEEN DONE TO HIRE
THEM FOR SEVERAL DAYS
OR SEVERAL WEEKS
AS CONSULTANTS.
SO WE ALL WORKED AT
25 dollars A DAY, PLUS TRAVEL.
AND ONE OF THE REASONS
I COULD GET THESE MEN
OF HIGH RECORDS TO WORK FOR ME
IS THAT I GOT THE SAME WAGE.
SO THEY KNEW I
WASN'T A CONTRACTOR,
AND I WASN'T
MAKING PROFIT.
THEY NEVER SPOKE OF IT,
BUT I'M QUITE SURE
THEY FELT IT WAS
A FAIR SHAKE.
AND GIVEN THE
CAMERAMAN'S UNION WAGES,

He nods and says WE MET THE BOTTOM
SCALE, AT LEAST,
THAT TECHNICAL
CONSULTANT.
LATER ON, I WAS CHIEF
OF THE U.S. FILM SERVICE,
AND I WAS GIVEN AN
ANNUAL SALARY.

Watch: The Documentary: An Interview with Pare Lorentz 1