Look for the 2005 re-release
Tryavna | North Carolina | 01/09/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"If you're interested in getting this excellent compilation of films about the Great Depression, then please note that Image Entertainment re-released this DVD in late 2005. The cover is slightly different, featuring a still photo of two children from "The River." For some reason, Image hasn't been on the ball lately, and many e-tailers (including Amazon) continue to list this title -- as well as the silent documentaries "Grass" and "Chang" -- as out of print. It isn't. You can still find it here occasionally and with e-tailers who specialize in rare and hard-to-find DVDs (like Facets). There's no reason to pay more than $30 for this title unless you want the OOP 1st issue.
The movies themselves: As John Marr points out in his review below, "Our Daily Bread" is a little dated and corny in its story and acting, but it's still a fine movie made by a superb American director, King Vidor. Vidor made this movie independently -- hence some of the non-professional actors. But it's well-crafted and features an astonishing and now-classic irrigation sequence at the climax. The other films vary in quality, but all of them are historically important. "The New Frontier" is a short piece of fluff news about the kind of cooperative community that inspired "Our Daily Bread." The two California newsreels are infamous for having used professional actors and not "average joes"; historians think that these propoganda pieces helped defeat the left-wing Upton Sinclair during his gubernatorial bid in 1934. (The first newsreel is actually quite subtle, but the second is pretty transparent.) More artistically interesting are the three documentaries: Pare Lorentz's "Plow that Broke the Plains" and "The River" and Joris Ivens' "Power and the Land." These docus used to be part of the standard curriculum in film classes, and they're excellent examples of montage (juxtaposing different images to create a sense of connection between two seemingly distinct events/ideas). "The Plow that Broke the Plains" famously connects the Dust Bowl of the 1930s to WWI, when farmers were encouraged to cultivate all their land for the war effort rather than leave any portions fallow. Personally, I prefer Ivens' "Power and the Land" -- he humanizes/personalizes his story by focusing on one (very photogenic) Ohio family.
As for the DVD: Quality varies quite a bit here, too. The centerpiece, "Our Daily Bread," is superb. Film preservationist David Shepard bought Vidor's private copy of this film -- even though the movie had fallen into public domain -- just to conduct a high-quality restoration. In my opinion, Shepard's work on "Our Daily Bread" ranks as one of his finest achievements. It's clearly superior to all other (and cheaper) editions of this movie. The shorter pieces are OK. Fortunately, all but "The New Frontier" were transferred progressively, so even though they aren't in the best of shape, they look quite good on high resolution monitors.
Overall, this DVD is a real gem for movie buffs and especially for fans of King Vidor or historic documentaries. Although it may be hard to find the 2005 re-release, it's well worth your while. (And shame on Image Entertainment for not marketing this title more aggressively.)"
Outstanding documnetary overview of the Depression
John S. Marr MD | Richmond, VA | 02/26/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"There are very few movies I chose to see again and again, and fewer still when it comes to documentaries. However this film is filled with wonderful period pieces -- mostly carefully chosen newsreel and movie clips -- that weave a woeful tale of the Depression. Strangely enough,the film is almost exhilarating, showing the courage and perseverance of individual Americans as well as the country as they faced the 1929 Crash and struggled through the grim thirties. There are dozens of carefully chosen movie clips using characters portrayed by Cagney,Bogart,etc., as well as many other lesser known actors and films dealing with very real issues of survival. I bought this DVD three years ago. When I went to purchase it for a friend I was surprised to see that no one had reviewed it! It deserves five stars and a much wider audience. (There is a short film, "The River", about the 1937 Mississippi flood, which by itself is worth the price of the DVD.)"
"All Together Now"
Rocky Raccoon | Boise, ID | 07/30/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"(3 1/2 *'s) `Films of the Great Depression' isn't (or aren't if each are considered separately) great cinema, but it is a fascinating archive for a quaint time in American history when everything was far more difficult and dear than today. `Our Daily Bread' is the only feature with actual actors, and the rest are mostly government supplied documentaries on New Deal programs and their before and after resonance in people's live during the Depression. `The River' shows commerce and livelihoods as their effected by the Tennessee Valley Authority (or TVA), and `The Power of the Land' demonstrates how government programs enabled rural residents to hook up with electricity and make their lives easier. `The California Election News' is distinctive. While the issues aren't laid out before the viewer, the participants answers are revealing enough to fill in the gaps. An interviewer asks people of several walks of life whom they're voting for in the governor's election. The interviewees state their preference and why they'd vote for a certain candidate. 'Our Daily Bread' showcases a fairy tale of sorts about a community coming together to share work and possessions while overcoming pernicious poverty and drought. While the acting isn't great, one could imagine Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland filling the leading roles nicely instead.
It's understandable the praise that's been heaped upon `Films of the Great Depression'. It's an interesting piece of time travel that documents a difficult time in America."