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May 20, 2009
Washington, DC

The highlights of English class the spring semester of my senior year of high school: I wrote the best English paper I?ve ever written (a conversation between Huck Finn, Holden Caulfield, and the unnamed narrator from Ralph Ellison?s Invisible Man); I saw The Graduate for the first time (?Plastics Benjamin!?); and I read The Grapes of Wrath followed by an incredible couple of days watching John Ford?s atmospheric translation of Steinbeck?s epic. I remember that the black-and-white film didn?t seem old-fashioned, but rather it was fitting that the Joads? story had seemingly leached all of the color out of the film stock the way the Dust Bowl had leached all of the color out of Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, and -- of course -- Oklahoma.

As many of you may have noticed reading the blog, Big Read cheer-person David Kipen knows a thing or two about film and contributed the essay ?The Novel at the Movies? to The Grapes of Wrath Reader?s Guide. Kipen writes, ?Of [The Grapes of Wrath], John Steinbeck himself claimed that, ?[Producer Darryl] Zanuck has a hard, straight picture in which the actors are submerged so completely that it looks and feels like a documentary film and certainly has a hard, truthful ring . . . it is a harsher thing than the book, by far. It seems unbelievable but it is true.?? Kipen goes onto call the film ?a starkly beautiful movie, suffused in every scene with the intensity of craftsmen working on what even they must have suspected was the most important picture they might ever make.?

But don?t take Kipen?s (or my) word for it. If you?re in the DC area, check out the 1934 Film Series, hosted by the Smithsonian American Art Museum, ?in the spirit of the museum?s current exhibition, 1934: A New Deal for Artists.? The museum will screen The Grapes of Wrath -- clocking in at a little more than two hours -- Thursday, May 21 at 6:00 pm. Check SAAM?s Web site for more info.

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