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Bread (1934)


Main image of Bread (1934)
Production CompanyKino Production Group
 Film and Photo League

Cast: Sam Serter

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Experimental political short which employs rapid montage techniques and protests against poverty.

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Bread (Kino, 1934) is a short political film made as a protest against social inequality during a period of widespread poverty and unemployment. Kino was one of a number of workers' film groups which made, distributed and exhibited films to an audience largely made up of left-wing elements of the working class. The collective was set up in 1933 to exhibit Soviet films and workers' newsreels, which it began making in 1934. Bread differed from many of Kino's films, as it was a rather ambitious, if low budget, attempt at a modernist form of political cinema.

The look of the film reflects two crucial influences in its production: its small budget and the filmmakers' interest in the work of Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein. The former contributes to the graininess of the images, which suitably mirror the film's theme of hardship; the latter is evident in the many rapid montage sequences, which break up the flow of the narrative in order to stress ideological points.

The first striking use of montage occurs when the unemployed protagonist is means-tested for unemployment benefit by a panel of three officials. A low-angle shot of the officials' faces from the interviewee's point of view highlights their intimidating appearance. A rapid montage of the three faces underlines this point, emphasising the imbalance of the situation and the inequalities of the current social system.

Another striking scene occurs after the hungry and desperate protagonist has stolen a loaf of bread. After he is chased and caught by a policeman, there is a repetitive, rapid alternation of three still images: firstly the policeman shot in a low-angled close up, secondly a close up of the policeman's truncheon, and thirdly the unemployed protagonist lying helpless on the ground. The scene symbolically evokes the violent oppression of one class by another.

The film is also notable for its choice of a working-class man as its subject, including representing his psychological state. This is unusual for the time, when principles of 'objective' documentation tended to govern political filmmaking. The film could be criticised for using subjective, montage principles to produce one-dimensional propaganda, but it was produced at a time when working-class discontent was barely referred to in mainstream cinema.

Jamie Sexton

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