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The Making of Power and the Land (1940)
Essay by Dr. Robert J. Snyder: Pare Lorentz (1940-1992)
Video Commentary on the Life of Pare Lorentz

By Dr. Robert J. Snyder, Associate Professor of Broadcasting
Department of Communication Technologies
University of Wisconsin-Platteville

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Ecce Home
Due, in part, to the international success of “The River,” the United States Film Service was established by President Roosevelt in August, 1938. Lorentz was named its director. He work now had a permanent home. For his first project for the U.S.F.S., Lorentz wanted to tackle the problem of unemployment.

Around the same time, Bill Lewis, the program director for CBS, offered Lorentz a job with the network to produce a one-hour weekly radio magazine. Lorentz wasn’t interested in radio so he turned Lewis down. Then Lewis, whom Lorentz described as a fine gentleman, said that if Lorentz had any ideas for radio, he could produce them for the “CBS Workshop,” a regularly scheduled program run by William Robson on the Columbia network for just such experimental purposes. Lorentz thought that doing a 30-minute radio show might help him in preparing his next big movie as “Ecce Homo” had a proposed budget of $165,000.

Lorentz worked on the sound effects and music with Bernard Herrman, the conductor of the CBS house orchestra. The concept for “Ecce Homo” as a radio program would be the meeting of four unemployed men at a filling station in Kansas. Each man would represent a region of the United States; north, south, east and west. This would allow Lorentz to use a similar approach to his script as he taken with “The River,” making the narration lyrical, plus, for “Ecce Homo” Lorentz would also have to write dialogue. Because it was an election year, Robson and Lorentz thought it best not to circulate the script around CBS.

What made the script controversial was Lorentz’s feeling that with a plethora of gigantic industrial equipment and natural resources, it was stupid to have millions of Americans unemployed. “Ecce Homo’s“ protagonist was Worker 7790, an able-bodied any man, with a lack of interest in labor politics.

Because of the complexity of the script, music and sound effects, Lorentz and his cast and crew were allowed considerable rehearsal time. The broadcast was scheduled for May 21, 1938. As with most radio of its day, “Ecce Homo” was broadcast live, even the sound effects had to be live as prerecorded libraries of effects didn’t exist in this pre-tape era. Lorentz devised many of the sound effects for the program, using, for example hammers and other tools to create the sound of factory assembly lines.

Except, perhaps, for the four black men dressed in double-breasted suede vests singing an old chain gang song while they jangled leg shackles for added effect, Lorentz recalled that on the night of the broadcast, there was no tension in the studio. Robson handled the crew during the actual broadcast and transmitted Lorentz’s whispered ideas. The broadcast went smoothly. Afterwards, Lorentz and crew went to the club 21 for what Lorentz described as “a real good bash.”

The program received generally favorable reviews. Lorentz even heard from a few audience members. “Ecce Homo” was broadcast three more times, twice by the BBC and once by the CBC. Lorentz heard the Canadian broadcast while shooting footage for “Ecce Homo” at the Grand Coulee Dam. Hearing his words coming out of the air in the state of Washington was pretty frightening at first. But others listening to the program must have been favorably impressed as Lorentz went around feeling pretty puffed up that evening. Henry Ford however, apparently wasn’t impressed. The Ford Motor Company cancelled its advertising with CBS the next day. Lorentz recalled sending a recording of “Ecce Homo” to author John Steinbeck. In his memoirs, Lorentz speculates that “Ecce Homo” may have provided the inspiration for the title of Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath.

Work on the film commenced. Lorentz felt it could be expanded into a two-hour picture. With two films under his belt, Lorentz planned ahead and obtained the necessary permissions to shot on location. Crews were assigned and Lorentz traveled to Cleveland to begin filming at White Motors. Manufacturing footage was also shot at the Plymouth plant, Eaton Axle Works, U.S, Rubber and other plants. Lorentz would complete a rough cut of what he referred to as the industrial symphony sequence. However, the new U.S Film Service continued to have problems securing funding for this project. Lorentz showed his footage to many people but could not get any one to invest in the film. Hitler had invaded Poland and the attention of government was turning to national defense. Lorentz eventually postponed production on “Ecce Homo” as he was recalled to Washington to produce a film for the Public Health Service. “Ecce Homo” was never completed. Much of the footage would be used, however, by the Office of War Information during World War II.

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