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THE MAKING OF POWER FOR THE PARKINSONS
by Dr. Ephraim K. Smith

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With the above exceptions and the final scenes where the Parkinsons seem to have every possible electrical appliance yet invented, Ivens did create an accurate reenactment of life on a typical 1930s American farm. The fact that the house already had electricity meant that the less time would be required for setting up for the “after” segments. The film also rings true he because of Ivens’ easy-going personality, his ability to work with virtually everyone, and his exceptionally close relationship with the Parkinsons. They trusted him and willingly went through retakes of various scenes until Ivens was satisfied. And this was not that difficult a task for the Parkinsons. They could accurately reenact the use of kerosene lamps and scrubbing clothes by hand as this had been their lifestyle just a short nine months previously.

And except for the use of lights, a washing machine, a vacuum cleaner and a radio, they had not yet made full use of the potential of this new technology. The family did not have indoor plumbing: they had to take baths in a tub with water heated over the stove and they used an outdoor privy. For Bill Parkinson, the fact that he would receive some compensation may have been one of the attractions that persuaded him to allow strangers in to film his family. Ivens, in his memoirs, writes that he had offered Bill Parkinson the standard government rate of $5 a day. While Tom Parkinson (Bill’s son) later said (as recorded by Ken Keylor in his article on Country Living in 1985) that he could not recall any money being exchanged as payment, he added that “I do remember Dad saying he’d settle up for the pump and water system that was installed as part of the film.”

In return for their participation, the Parkinsons thus received better lighting and modern plumbing for the house and the barn. Whatever staging may have occurred in the first part of the film with the use of kerosene lamps, their evident pleasure in the final scenes with their new water pump, the shower in the basement, and the modern bathroom upstairs was likely genuine. According to Robert L. Snyder, the Parkinson family believed at the time (based on the recollections of Tom Parkinson in 1968) that they had received around $900 in new wiring and equipment. Although the record is not clear, this may have included some kitchen appliances – the electric stove and the refrigerator -- shown in the final scenes of Power and the Land. Their smiles, it appears, were genuine! In that sense, the film does indeed then represent the “reality” of their situation in 1939. And it was also a clever advertisement for the work of the REA.


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