History Piece

 
The Making of Power and the Land (1939-1940)


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Joris Ivens and Stephen Vincent Benet
While Joris Ivens followed a script outline in shooting Power and the Land, the commentary was not prepared until a rough cut of the film had been edited in 1940. Ivens, as he noted later in his memoirs, wanted to avoid a situation where there would be “a fight between the picture and the commentary or the music; like a movie star, each wants to steal the scene.” It was his job as director, Ivens added, “to see the composition of the total: pictures, words, music, their interaction, their independence and continuity.” (Joris Ivens, The Camera and I, p. 201, 203)

Ivens was thus not surprised when Benet brought in a script with more material then needed. But Benet, Ivens recalled later, was very generous and understanding about necessary cuts. Benet, Ivens noted, quickly saw what needed to be taken out, replaced, or shortened. While Ivens considered Benet’s script for the commentary “longer than normal,” he did not, as he wrote later in his memoirs, “want to make too many suggestions for the text; believing that it should flow from Benet’s personality.” (Joris Ivens, The Camera and I, p. 195, 196)

Once Benet had prepared the commentary, Ivens then had to choose someone to read the script. In casting the narrator, Ivens auditioned around forty-five people. Looking for a country sounding voice that sounded unrehearsed, Ivens finally selected William Adams. This narration, skillfully integrated with the musical score composed by Douglas Moore, imparts a distinctive American rustic flavor to Power and the Land.

As If He Had Died In Uniform
Stephen Vincent Benet died of a heart attack on March 13. 1943, just a little less than three years after completing the commentary for Power and the Land. He had been increasingly devoting himself to national service writing propaganda, including scripts for radio broadcast. Benet refused compensation for his services, but his efforts had come at a price. Already tormented by the pain of arthritis, he had pushed himself beyond endurance. “When he died on March 13, 1943, his heart literally exhausted from the punishment he had given it,” Charles Fenton has written of Benet, “the bromide of the orators and editorial writers was this time accurate – he had been killed in uniform as surely as if he had burned up in a B-17 or fallen at Guadalcanal.” (Charles A. Fenton, ed., Selected Letters of Stephen Vincent Benet, pp. 361-362)


Dr. Ephraim K. Smith prepared this text on based on the following sources: Charles A. Fenton, The Life and Times of an American Man of Letters, 1898-1943 (New Haven, Yale University Press, 1960); Charles A. Fenton, Selected Letters of Stephen Vincent Benet (New Haven, Yale University Press, 1960); Parry Stroud, Stephen Vincent Benet (New York, Twayne Publishers, Inc, 1962); and David Garrett Izzo and Lincoln Konkle, Stephen Vincent Benet: Essays on His Life and Work (Jefferson, North Carolina and London, McFarland & Company, 2003). Dr. Smith would also like to thank Patricia McAndrew, who published an essay on “Stephen and Rosemary: A Love Story” in the Izzo and Konkle volume, for her assistance in locating historical photographs of Stephen Vincent Benet and Douglas Moore.

Dr. Smith would like to express his deep appreciation to Thomas C. Benet, the son of Stephen Vincent Benet, for reviewing this text and for permitting us to reproduce some Benet family photographs and movie footage in Power for the Parkinsons and on this web site. The movie footage of Rosemarie and Stephen Vincent Benet was taken in Paris (c. 1927) and is reproduced in Power for the Parkinsons and on this web site with the permission of Thomas C. Benet.

To hear portions of the narration written by Stephen Vincent Benet and narrated by William Adams, click on the segments below from Power and the Land.

© 2005 Ephraim K. Smith

Excerpts from narration for Power and the Land (video)

Excerpts from narration for Power and the Land (video)


 

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