Friday, January 9, 2009

A CORNER ON WHEAT

In this 14 minute movie, D.W. Griffith depicts three separate but connected story lines. The main story follows a commodities speculator as he maneuvers to gain a corner on wheat. It is told in parallel with the story of a baker and his customers who have to pay more for their bread. These are bookended by images of a poor farmer and his family sowing seeds.



Griffith contrasts the scenes of the mogul's festivities with the hardships caused by his actions by cross cutting them with scenes of the baker's customers. The effect is a bit ham-fisted by today's standards, but the technique was innovative at the time (as was almost all film technique at this early stage).

An artistic flourish that I thought was notable occurs at the 8 minute mark; it's a 15 second scene of a motionless breadline that is so still you have to watch closely to see that it wasn't actually a photo. I also like how the scenes of the farmer sowing seeds is an intentional reference to the painting, The Sower, by Jean-Fran├žois Millet.

The novel the film is based on, The Pit, by Frank Norris was published in 1903, but it was the Panic of 1907 that would make the film seem timely to its audience. The panic was triggered by a failed attempt to corner the market on copper. The subsequent crisis led to the establishment of the Federal Reserve in 1913.

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