The label states, fascinatingly ...
American Harvest celebrates the richness and the bounty of America's natural resources, and then sets them all up to be cut, mined, dug, drilled and consumed. It forcefully demonstrates how central automobile manufacturing is to the American economy, but even more strikingly it shows the effects of the automobile upon our landscape.
Almost alone among the key players of this century's history, the landscape has remained silent. But in truth it may be the most expert witness of all. In its broadest sense, landscape has been a stage on which struggles have been enacted - where humans extract resources from the earth, suburbs drain people and wealth from cities, and territory is contested between warring groups. Landscape is also a kind of slate upon which evidence of human culture, habitation and labor is written and from which it may be read. In Harvest, landscape is the subject (or victim) of human activity twice over: the first time as a source of raw materials, the second as territory occupied by factories, houses and highways. In fact, Harvest comes close to being a documentary treatment of industry's contention with nature, and in doing so confirms landscape as a stage of struggle between these two forces.
Almost as often as it mentions the richness of America's natural resources, Harvest stresses the idea of interdependence, invoking it at least thirteen times. As in the film From Dawn to Sunset (1937), seen on the Capitalist Realism disc, Chevrolet is trying to promote this idea as an alternative to the idea that different classes have different interests, as a way of appearing to unite workers, factory owners and consumers into a common and harmonious group based on the interdependency of production and consumption. Again and again, this theme reappears in films sponsored by major national manufacturers from the thirties through the sixties, and I would venture to say that its ebb and flow related to the level of labor militancy at any given time. Ultimately, the idea of interdependence harmonizes with the spirit of national unity that originated with the New Deal as a broad-based response to the Great Depression, metamorphosed into the total national mobilization of World War II, and was finally redirected into the defensive, self-reliant xenophobia of Cold War days. To speak of interdependence implies the existence of those upon whom one cannot depend; they are the ones who by strike, sabotage or inefficiency would break the circle.
Interdependence stops at our borders. None of the raw materials and none of the manufacturing we see in Harvest come from overseas; our 'American harvest' admits no dependence on foreign mines, mills or labor. Today, as we know, General Motors could not make this film with a straight face.
Harvest's images are as visually arresting as they ever are in an industrial film, but the verbal equivalent of these hot shots reaches new heights of bombast. The pretentious narration, delivered by John Forsythe, at one time a Jam Handy regular, is sometimes like a campaign speech (mentioning thirty-five states by name), sometimes scriptural, almost always exaggerative, and occasionally almost incoherent. Perhaps the worst sentence in the whole picture: 'From all the designs and all the plans, all the materials from all the processes, and all the parts made by all the skills of all the men and all the magic of all the machines move through all the pageant of production in a great orchestration of interdependence one upon another and another into a fine climactic assembly of the finest products of all of us for all of us, for all the farms and all the cities and towns of all our land'.
Despite the seeming irrelevancy of Harvest's language, it's well worth parsing these tortured sentences and cutting through the hyperbole to see exactly what General Motors is telling us. What remains is an eloquent statement of what was and continues to be the American corporate point of view, which sounds like this:
¥ We (the great industrial corporations) mobilize human beings, technology and investment to turn the earth's resources - ours for the taking - into products that have changed your life and are creating a better world;
¥ All of us -- workers, farmers, engineers and management -- depend upon one another, and we depend on the success of our interdependency;
¥ Only we (the great industrial corporations) are capable of fulfilling this great task with success;
¥ In doing so we have changed the face of America;
¥ And we will continue.
Even after almost forty-five years, the ideas that Harvest expresses still permeate corporate speech, though some allowance is now made for environmental consciousness. Many of the same images of extraction continue to appear in commercials, print advertising and annual reports; the new twist is that corporations now claim to accept responsibility for the stewardship of diminishing natural resources.
Though Harvest's bombast and pretension may initially seem dated and absurd, the power behind its assertions has given them the clout to prevail.
American Harvest was the first of a series of 'institutional' films sponsored by Chevrolet (see also American Look on The Rainbow is Yours disc). Others included American Engineer (1955); American Maker (1960) and American Thrift (1962). Each was a half-hour, high-budget production, made to show on television, before community and school groups, and in theaters. Their goal: to create a close link in the minds of viewers between Chevrolet and basic aspects of the American economy: extraction of raw materials and interdependency (Harvest); engineering and production planning (Engineer); design and consumer marketing (Look); labor, manufacturing and mass production (Maker); and women, consumption and money (Thrift).
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