River, The

392. THE RIVER (1937-USA). Written and directed by PARE LORENTZ. Music by VIRGIL THOMSON. Produced by the U.S. Farm Security Administration. With this work of art, the American documentary came of age. “This is the story of a river; a record of the Mississippi. Where it comes from, where it goes. What it has meant to us; and what it has cost us.” Pare Lorentz cleverly combines historical footage, excerpts from Hollywood movies, and newly-shot film to cover the Mississippi River’s history, from the Civil War through the 1930’s. It is a tragic story of misuse: through improper planting, exhaustion of the land, depletion of forests and the growth of heavy industry, the soil becomes severely eroded, resulting inevitably in massive floods, “We built a hundred cities and a thousand towns-but at what a cost!” The film’s highlight is a superb montage, beginning with a melting icicle, which leads to a trickle down a mountainside, then to streams, then rivers, and finally the flood-swollen, ever-rising Mississippi. Lorentz illustrates the point that “poor land makes poor people” with heartbreaking shots of the impoverished river valley residents. The film concludes with a report on the federal government’s attempts-through regional planning, the TVA and other organizations-to confront the problems. Lorentz’s poetic images are complemented by a free-verse narration evoking the finest of Walt Whitman, and by Virgil Thomson’s symphonic blend of spirituals, folk ballads and original music-a score that became famous in its own right. Frank Nugent of The New York Times said, “In the artful simplicity of its production, it is a poetic, stirring and majestic motion picture…an epic…at the top of American documentaries,..one of the finest films ever made.” 32 minutes. Documentary