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The Great Depression

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Film Identifier: F.2019-08-0003
Run Time
0h 17m 24s
Format
16mm
Color
B&W
Sound
Silent
Date Produced
circa 1934
Abstract
Directed by Maurice Bailen with cinematography by J. Frietag, and produced for the Chicago chapter of the Workers Film and Photo League, The Great Depression is a dramatic representation of the depression era, circa 1934. The narrative arc largely focuses on the journey of one man in search of work; the film is an impassioned depiction of the ravages of the Great Depression on the general population.  

The Chicago chapter of the Workers Film and Photo League produced a number of short films and newsreels throughout the 1930s capturing the slums and poor working conditions prevalent during that time. The Great Depression is one of the very few works to have survived. The filmic version featured here is most probably the original work print. 

The Great Depression is set largely in and around Grant Park, Michigan Avenue and the Loop. Notable landmarks depicted are: the University Club, the Cultural Center, the Marshall Field building, Rookery, and the Fourth Presbyterian Church. Bailen also included footage of protest marches on the University of Chicago campus, and mayor Edward J. Kelly is featured, at one point shaking hands with Italo Balbo.
Description
Film begins with a medium close-up of a man looking out into the distance, then a procession of men treading the sidewalk as a title card reads: The Great Depression. The subsequent montage sequence reveals working conditions at the docks with numerous signs on construction sites and stores throughout the Downtown area reading "No help wanted," in order to deter those looking for a job. Several hotels for men advertise their going rate, with meals included - the harsh conditions are juxtaposed with lavish billboard advertisements for Camel cigarettes, amongst other products. 

The unnamed actor starring in the film is shown sitting on the sidewalk, deep in thought over what his next steps should be as he continues the hunt for work. He observes a discarded newspaper headline about Mussolini and the attack on Ethiopia. A military procession is shown - some shots are negative composition, revealing an interesting stylistic choice on the part of the filmmakers - followed by a brief glimpse of a gravesite. 

More imagery depicting fancy vehicles and major advertisements for Johnny Walker is followed by a scene of protest marches at the University of Chicago. The protester's signs indicate that they are against war and are advocating for peace. The footage is intercut with the well-to-do walking in Downtown Chicago, followed by more footage of protests demanding a youth strike. 

The film then returns to its central hero, shown sleeping in the park with other men who also seem to be homeless. He then goes to the John Crerar Library at the University of Chicago (located at 5730 S. Ellis Ave.), looking through newspapers in a futile attempt to find work. Stark imagery of another military march is shown, followed by signs advertising free soup, and churches with signs “Jesus Saves.” There is a montage sequence revealing men sleeping on the streets juxtaposed with images of the churches’ depiction of Christ on the cross.
 
The final sequence shows the main character is shown to walk aimlessly along the Chicago River, stopping at some point at W. Randolph and North Ogden Ave., where he views a massive protest against income inequality, with signs demanding “Adequate Relief for All Unemployed.”
Main Credits
Maurice Bailen (is filmmaker)
Form
Short
Related Place
Chicago (represents)