Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?
Philippe Mora, a Paris-born Australian filmmaker, impressionistically captured the essence of American life during the Great Depression in a collage of Hollywood snippets, newsreel fragments, vintage cartoons, musical numbers, propaganda pictures, sermons, man-on-the-street interviews, and some still photos, all rapid-fire edited to maximize impact. Presented in roughly chronological fashion, the film begins with the astounding surreal image of a colossal stock-ticker machine exploding on Wall Street, a metaphor for the economy heading into a downward spiral following the prosperity of the 1920s. In Tinseltown dramas or in newsreel clips, viewers see soup kitchens, factory closings, labor violence, James Cagney, Dust Bowl migrants, chain gangs, Shirley Temple, train-hopping hoboes, bank robber John Dillinger, dance marathons, and marches on Washington, including the infamous rally when jobless World War I veterans were fired upon by federal troops (commanded by Douglas MacArthur, as noted by one of the very few subtitles). The ongoing visual refrain is the role that was played by movies as a mode of public catharsis and escape from the dismal reality and headlines. Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?—which played in theaters in 1975 during a vogue for nostalgic material like The Sting, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? and Paper Moon—was a most untypical offering from grindhouse peddlers Dimension Pictures. Bowing on Blu-ray in an unfortunately unrestored edition (the images here are far from pristine), extras include vintage Pathé newsreels. Recommended, overall. (C. Cassady)