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

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Although Power and the Land was supposed to be a “before and after” film showing the benefits of bringing electricity to the farm, the Parkinsons already had electricity! Sally Brannan, Ruth’s daughter, recalled her mother (Ruth) telling her that the power lines and light switches had to be covered up for the opening sequences showing life on the farm without electricity. This oral history by Sally and other members of the Parkinson family confirms information already known to scholars. In a 1968 study of Pare Lorentz, Robert L. Snyder quoted a letter from Ed Locke, Ivens’ scriptwriter and assistant director, that the Parkinsons (as of October 6, 1939) had electric lights, a washing machine powered by an electric motor, a radio, and a vacuum cleaner. Ken Keylor, in a retrospective article published in Country Living in 1985, quoted Ruth Parkinson as recalling that “we had to hang sheets from the ceiling to cover up the light fixtures, move pictures to hide the switches on the walls and dig out the old sad irons again.”

Although Ivens made it clear in his autobiography that Power and the Land depended heavily upon the use of non-actors and reenactment, he did not directly mention that the Parkinsons already had power in 1939. And surprisingly – or perhaps not surprisingly, there is only a very indirect statement to this effect in Power and the Land. Towards the end of the film, William Adams, the narrator, in a segment on the progress of the REA since 1935, states “Lights up! 1936! 26 REA systems, 7,500 farm families like Bill Parkinson’s get light.” If this was an attempt to acknowledge that the Parkinsons already had power, this is a very indirect statement, and, in any case, the date is not accurate. The Parkinsons did not get electric power, as seems to be implied in the narration, in 1936. The Belmont Electric Cooperative, of which they were among the first members, was not established until March, 15, 1938. And according to Ken Keylor’s 1985 article in Country Living, the Parkinsons were not hooked until up some nine months before the filming of Power and the Land. They thus had power when Ivens and Locke, looking for a suitable location to make a before-and-after film on electricity, drove up the road to their farm in 1939.


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