December 11, 1905|
Clarksburg, West Virginia
|Died||March 4, 1992
Armonk, New York
|Alma mater||West Virginia Wesleyan College
West Virginia University
|Occupation||New Deal filmmaker
Hollywood film critic
|Organization||Colonel, U.S. Army Air Corps, World War II|
|Known for||Documentary films about the New Deal, Dust Bowl, Nuremberg trials; World War II War Department films|
"Best Documentary", Venice International Film Festival.
Pare Lorentz (December 11, 1905 – March 4, 1992) was an American filmmaker known for his movies about the New Deal. Born Leonard MacTaggart Lorentz in Clarksburg, West Virginia, he was educated at West Virginia Wesleyan College and West Virginia University. As a young film critic in New York City and Hollywood, Lorentz spoke out against censorship in the film industry.
As the most influential documentary filmmaker of the Great Depression, Lorentz was the leading US advocate for government-sponsored documentary films. His service as a filmmaker for US Army Air Corps in World War II was formidable, including technical films, documentation of bombing raids, and synthesizing raw footage of Nazi atrocities for an educational film on the Nuremberg Trials. Nonetheless, Lorentz will always be known best as "FDR's filmmaker."
New Deal documentary films
Lorentz left West Virginia after college in 1925, to begin a career as a writer and film critic in New York in 1925. He contributed articles to leading magazines such as Scribner’s, Vanity Fair, McCall's, and Town and Country. and co-authored a 1929 book, Censored: the private life of the movie.
His work as a film critic led him to Hollywood, where he wrote several articles on censorship and a pictorial review of the first year of Franklin D. Roosevelt's presidency, The Roosevelt Year: 1933. Roosevelt was impressed with the articles and the book, and in 1936, as President of the United States, invited Lorentz to make a government-sponsored film about the Oklahoma Dust Bowl.
Despite not having any film credits, Lorentz was appointed to the Resettlement Administration as a film consultant. He was given US$6,000 to make a film, which became The Plow That Broke the Plains, a film that showed the natural and man-made devastation caused by the Dust Bowl. Though the tight budget and his inexperience occasionally showed through in the film, Lorentz's script, combined with Thomas Chalmers's narration and Virgil Thomson's score, made the 30-minute movie powerful and moving. The film, which had its first public showing on May 10, 1936 at Washington's Mayflower Hotel, had a preview screening in March at the White House. Roosevelt was impressed and, after his re-election in 1936, gave Lorentz the opportunity to make a film about one of the President's favorite subjects—conservation. Lorentz made The River, a film celebrating the exploits of the Tennessee Valley Authority. The TVA mitigated flooding but, more importantly to Lorentz and to Roosevelt, it put a stop to the prodigious pillaging of the forests by providing cheap, readily available hydro-electric power to a wide area. This film won the "best documentary" category at the Venice International Film Festival. The text of River appeared in book form, and was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in poetry the same year. It is generally considered his most masterful work.
When Republicans gained seats in Congress in 1938, and the Congressional balance of power shifted in a more conservative direction, the pipeline of Federal commissions for projects like Lorentz's was abruptly halted along with the short-lived existence of the US Film Service, which Lorentz headed. In 1940 he produced Power and the Land promoting the Rural Electric Administration. The REA took over its own production, and the film itself was directed by Joris Ivens, the prolific Dutch filmmaker best known for his anti-fascist documentaries. Lorentz made one more movie before the US involvement in World War II, The Fight for Life (1940), a semi-documentary on the struggle to provide adequate natal (obstetric) care at the Chicago Maternity Center, based on a book by Paul de Kruif. John Steinbeck worked on the project with Lorentz.
US Army Air Corps World War II films
Lorentz went on to serve in the US Army Air Corps, more specifically the Air Transport Command (ATC), accompanied by Floyd Crosby, who became an outstanding cinematographer during World War II. He was promoted to the rank of colonel. While serving, he made 275 pilot navigational films and minor documentaries for the Office of War Information and the US Information Agency, and filmed over 2,500 hours of bombing raids. (Note: Lorentz's name is not associated with any OWI or USIA films; his son Pare Lorentz, Jr., may have worked on a USIA film though most of his work was for USAID.) In 1946, Lorentz made a federally funded movie about the Nuremberg trials which was intended to help educate the German people as to what had happened during the war. In the process of compiling material, Lorentz reviewed over a million hours of footage about the Nazis and their atrocities. The film that resulted, Nuremberg, played to "capacity audiences" in Germany for two years. However, it was not released in the United States until 1979. Note> This film was produced for the Civil Affairs Division of the Government of Military Occupation (OMGUS). Lorentz's role and contributions to this production are not entirely clear since he prematurely resigned and the Hollywood director Budd Schulberg is given credit for completing it.
Later life and legacy
In the prosperity of the post-War period, there was no revival of partnerships with the Federal government. He had ambitious plans to make documentaries about the New Deal and the United Nations, but funding was not available from government or private sources. His final film was Rural Co-op, which he wrote and directed in 1947.
The International Documentary Association named its Pare Lorentz Film Festival and its grand prize in honor of Lorentz, granted to individuals whose work best represents the "democratic sensibility, activist spirit and lyrical vision" of Lorentz."
- The Roosevelt Year (1933)
- The Plow That Broke the Plains (1936)
- The River (1938)
- The Fight for Life (1940)
- Nuremberg (1946)
- Rural Co-op (1947)
Several of these films are viewable online at the Pare Lorentz Center Film Library.
- Ernst, Morris Leopold; Lorentz, Pare (1970) . Censored: the private life of the movie. New York: J Cape and H. Smith. OCLC 446645561.
- Lorentz, Pare (1992). FDR's moviemaker: memoirs & scripts. Reno: University of Nevada Press. ISBN 978-0-87417-186-0.
- Lorentz, Pare (1975). Lorentz on film: movies 1927 to 1941. New York: Hopkinson and Blake. ISBN 978-0-911974-10-2.
- Lorentz, Pare (2014) [1938, Stackpole Sons]. The River. New York: Nabu Press. ISBN 9781293501030.
- Lorentz, Pare (1934). The Roosevelt year: a photographic record. New York: Funk & Wagnalls Co. OCLC 974368.
- "Great Depression, the Movies of Pre-Code Hollywood". Filmreference.com. 2011. Retrieved May 23, 2011.
- Hogan, Kathleen M (1998). "Reaping the Golden Harvest: Pare Lorentz, Poet and Filmmaker". Pare Lorentz and the Films of Merit. 1930's Project, American Studies at the University of Virginia. Retrieved May 22, 2011.
- Drennan, Bill (October 7, 2010). "e-WV, The West Virginia Encyclopedia". Pare Lorentz. West Virginia Humanities Council. Retrieved May 23, 2011.
- Hogan, Kathleen M (1998). "Reaping the Golden Harvest: Pare Lorentz, Poet and Filmmaker". The Plow that Broke the Plains. Retrieved May 22, 2011. 1930's Project, American Studies at the University of Virginia
- Hogan, Kathleen M (1998). "Reaping the Golden Harvest: Pare Lorentz, Poet and Filmmaker". The River. Retrieved May 22, 2011. 1930's Project, American Studies at the University of Virginia
- Power for the Parkinson Horthy Electric
- Pare Lorentz Film Center Biography
- "Pare Lorentz". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica. May 2011. Retrieved May 23, 2011.
- McNary, Dave (November 18, 2004). "'Fahrenheit,' 'Born' share top IDA kudos". Variety.
- Pare Lorentz Film Festival. International Documentary Association.
- Pare Lorentz Film Library. Pare Lorentz Center. (Some are viewable online).
- Meyer, Michael J. "Pare Lorentz." A John Steinbeck Encyclopedia. Eds. Brian Railsback and Michael J. Meyer. Westport: Greenwood, 2005. 216–17.
- Renshaw, Patrick. "Pare Lorentz." The Independent (UK). March 20, 1992.
- Handman, Gary. "Pare Lorentz: a bibliography of materials in the UC Berkeley Library". Moffitt Library (Berkeley, Calif.). Media Resources Center. University of California, Berkeley. Library. Retrieved May 22, 2011.
- Hogan, Kathleen M (1998). "Reaping the Golden Harvest: Pare Lorentz, Poet and Filmmaker". Retrieved May 22, 2011. 1930's Project, American Studies at the University of Virginia
- Snyder, Robert L (1968). Pare Lorentz and the documentary film (1st ed.). Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press. OCLC 362155.
- Lorentz, Pare, Virgil Thomson, Thomas Chalmers, Louis Gruenberg, Myron McCormick, Storris Haynes, Will Geer et al. (2000). The films of Pare Lorentz (DVD). Los Angeles: International Documentary Association. OCLC 526749000.
- Pare Lorentz on IMDb
- Pare Lorentz Papers at the Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Columbia University
- Pare Lorentz Film Center, at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum
- Pare Lorentz Film Festival of the International Documentary Association
- The River, on YouTube posted by the FDR Presidential Library