Monday, January 14, 2013

Beyond the Black Maria: "A Corner in Wheat"

"A Corner in Wheat" 1909 (Library of Congress)

13. "A Corner in Wheat" (1909) Watch
This socio-politically charged short film is the earliest of many entries on the Registry directed by the staggeringly prolific D.W. Griffith. The infamous cinematic pioneer simply and effectively uses cross-cutting and what the soviets would later refer to as the 'collision montage' to juxtapose the greed of a wealthy tycoon who decides to corner the world wheat market with the plight of the destitute masses who can no longer afford bread as a result. We are shown a succession of tableaux vivants displaying the tycoon in question, a violent trading floor on Wall Street, and the poor in a general store as they grapple with rapid inflation. This all culminates in a classically ironic ending, when the tycoon takes some wealthy friends to visit the grain elevator where he suffers an accident and is crushed to death by his own greed. 
Bookending all this economically harrowing action are scenes of a farmer and his family working a wheat field. This storyline also constitutes the only exterior location shooting, in an agrarian setting that is shockingly gloomy and downright funereal. The field might as well be a desert, and the wind tugs at people's ratty clothes and what sparse vegetation there is in a subtle and haunting fashion which suggest a stinging chill in the air. These elemental effects are lacking in the studio-shot scenes and lend an integral yet undefinable quality of authenticity to the film. Nature is an unpredictable but always compelling costar. 

No comments: