Let Us Break Bread Together (in the Ephemeral section of Open Video Project. Also, film #820 on Prelinger Archive). [Category: Sleaze & Outsider]

This 50s film documents an ambitious (for its time) project the public school system in New York City instituted to break down racism by pairing schools in racially homogenous neighborhoods with other such schools whose racial composition was different and having the students visit each others’ schools and work on group projects together. It’s an admirable idea, and it looks like the project itself was fairly successful, but the film is bizarrely directed and incredibly tedious. It starts with an interracial choir singing the African-American spiritual “Let Us Break Bread Together” verrrrrrry sloooowwwllly, and that sets you up for what’s to come. All speech in the film, including the narration and comments from participants in the program, is done in a very slow, measured cadence, with pauses after every two or three words. Instead of filming spontaneous responses to interview questions from the participants, all comments from the participants (this includes comments from children, parents, and teachers) were heavily scripted and recited by the participants in the same slow, measured cadence. The actual content of both the narration and the participants’ comments sounds like it was written with the assumption that all audience members for the film would be slightly mentally retarded, so everything would need to be explained very slowly and carefully, with lots of repetition. When speaking, the participants look like they were given large doses of Thorazine and were directed to read off of cue cards that had only two or three words written on each one. One woman keeps glancing in different directions, as if every cue card was shown to her from a different vantage point. The film ends with two of the children reciting in unison a poem that was written by one of the other participants in the program. They do this staring straight ahead at the camera and speaking very slowly and without a trace of emotion. After awhile, you begin to wonder if this project took place in the School System of the Living Dead, or perhaps aliens had stolen their souls. The narrator, for some reason, has a weird, pseudo-British accent, which just adds to the weirdness of the proceedings. It’s too bad, really, that the film was so poorly directed, because the project itself was very interesting and ambitious, and could have sparked a really fascinating film. As it is, despite its weirdness, it puts you to sleep.

Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ***. Weirdness: *****. Historical Interest: ****. Overall Rating: ***.

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