During the Great Depression in America, in the mid 1930s, Hollywood produced some of the best Musical and Comedies, and the masses loved it, they lived amid poverty, but they wanted to laugh and see glamor on the screen, for an hour and half, they lived in their fantasies, but one filmmaker by the name of King Vidor wanted to make a film about common people struggling to get a piece of their daily bread, “I didn’t want to be a complete prostitute just making money for the Studios”, says Vidor, “I wanted to make a film about the time. The story of Our Daily Bread talked about utilizing the land for subtenant and that appealed to me very much”.
Vidor had already made a film about the common man, The Crowd (1928), he wanted to make another one, about the collectivism in men, he went to the head of the Studios telling them how he wanted to make a film about “Going back to the land, living the basic”, no one was interested in producing such film, “I took it to MGM, to Thalberg, they liked the idea, but, they were afraid of it. They were afraid it was too much down to earth for a big studio, they were atone to other type of things”, “The only thing to do was make it myself”, so, Vidor had no choice but to mortgage his house and borrow, with the money he produced his most personal film, Our Daily Bread and released it with the help of his friend, Charlie Chaplin through United Artists, “I didn’t make money out of it, but that wasn’t my prime thought, but it came out ahead, it didn’t lose any”
If we look for the the teaching of Leo Tolstoy, Henry David Thoreau and Gerrard Winstanley in cinema, you don’t have to look further than Our Daily Bread; the message is simple, humanity can only live in peace and prosperity when it goes back to the land, get ride of money as an exchange commodity, call for equal sharing and distribution of the land, rejection of organized religion and government, gaining one’s bread by one’s plowing of the land, living on earth’s natural resources, and creating self-sufficient farming community that does not depend of money. Let Tolstoy best describe money, “Money has in our time completely lost that desirable significance as a representative of labour; such a significance it has only exceptionally, for as a general rule it has become a right or a possibility for exploiting the labour of others. The dissemination of money, or credit, and of all kinds of monetary tokens more and more confirms this meaning of money. Money is the possibility or the right to exploit the labours of others. Money is a new form of slavery, which differs form the old only in being impersonal, and in freeing people from all the human relations of the slave”.
Our Daily Bread open with a scene of a landowner evicting the newly wedded couple, John and Mary Sims, they have only two days to get the money to pay the rent, or else, leave the property. By chance, the meet an old uncle, who guide them to leave the city, to go back to an old farm once he had, “The bank don’t want it, neither do I”, “I guess beggars can’t be choosers” declare John, and with his wife, they start living the land. But the problem is, they don’t know anything about the land, about farming, irrigation, crops, etc. The idea comes to John that if they could gather as many people like them, each with a trade, they could build a collective cooperative community, “Where money is not so important, you help me, I help you, great idea, yea”. So begin the recruitment of the people, each with a trade, they help each other build houses, and all together farm the land, sharing everything equally.
It is not easy going with community at first, for they lack commodity, they struggle, to a point that John loses all interest in leading them, as the rain stop, severe drought threaten to kill the crops, at the last minute, as John is about to leave, he get an idea; that of digging a ditch of two miles long to divert water from a creek to irrigate the dying crops, the time is against them, they must collectively beat the time to save the crops, that is the last 10 minute of Our Daily Bread, a cinematic miracle on the screen.
Vidor uses the sound like music, that of digging the ground, like a chorus, they dig and dig, they work day and night without rest, little children, women, the old people, with their bare hand dig the ground, a triumph of what is good in humanity, such pure joy of happiness on the faces, of self-sufficiency and working collectively, it is no wonder that Vidor himself shout, with a smile, when the digging is finished, to let the water flow, and that water flow, when it move, digging up the ground, feeding the crops, that is when cinema speak in language of miracle, as the men chase alongside the water, side by side, man and nature working together and against each other, one man has to lay in the ground like a piece of clay to stop the water from diverting, others has to stop it with their bare hand, they run alongside, with joy, one of cinema’s most abstract action chase.
The realism of such little detail as the water wetting the ground, melting the dry clay is more powerful of an imagery than all the CGI effect of today’s cinema combined, such pure joy of the farmers, their wife and children dancing in the muddy ground, their happiness is that of hard working, of earning one’s bread by the sweat of one’s own brow.
Vidor once had high hopes for humanity, he was an optimist making the most optimistic film of the 30s, in a time in which only poverty and pessimism ruled a nation, he was a humanist of a filmmaker believing in a better world possible, Our Daily Bread and The Crowd is a testament to that, the collective goodness of humanity in action for the equal benefit of all, timeliness masterpiece.