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Film / A Corner in Wheat

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A Corner in Wheat is a 1909 short film by cinema's first great director, D. W. Griffith. This 14 minute film (typical length for a feature of the day) depicts the results of a scheme by an unscrupulous financier to corner the wheat market. The financier makes an enormous fortune while inflicting misery on both the poor farmers who can't sell their wheat at market and the urban poor who can't afford to buy bread.

A Corner in Wheat was a notable turning point in Griffith's artistic development and a harbinger for greater triumphs in years to come. It is generally regarded as his first major work. Its sophisticated editing (even today) and complex melding of different locations and storylines into a single whole greatly inspired the montage effects of the Soviet film theorists such as Pudovkin and Sergei Eisenstein. It was inducted into the National Film Registry in 1994.


  • An Aesop: Greed is bad.
  • Art Imitates Art: The shots of the farmer sowing wheat are a nod to Jean-François Millet's painting The Sower.
  • Bookends: The farmer sowing wheat in the second scene of the film and the last.
  • Camera Tricks:
    • The ending Fade Out.
    • The shot of the farmer sowing wheat that maintains focus on him as he walks toward the camera, turns, and then walks away down the next row.
  • Capitalism Is Bad: The unscrupulous financier enriches himself while inflicting hunger and misery on the poor people of the city and the countryside.
  • Contrast Montage: Constantly cutting back and forth between the financier living the high life and the farmer in despair, or between the financier's lavish dinner and the hungry people who can't afford bread.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: The greedy financier who corners the wheat market.
  • Down on the Farm: One plot thread follows a wheat farmer struggling to get by.
  • Downer Ending: For all parties concerned. The farmer, shown in the beginning of the film sowing wheat with the assistance of his father and a plow horse, is working alone in the last shot of the movie.
  • Fade Out: A very early use of this particular Camera Trick, and maybe the first to use a slow Fade Out to reinforce a particular mood (in this case, the Downer Ending).
  • Fancy Dinner: The lavish dinner thrown by the financier after cornering the wheat market contrasts vividly with the poor people that can't afford bread anymore.
  • The Film of the Book: Plot elements were drawn from two Frank Norris novels: The Pit (cornering the wheat market) and The Octopus (farmers whose lives were affected by Eastern financiers).
  • Karmic Death: The financier trips and falls into a grain silo and is smothered by an avalanche of grain.
  • Tableau: A unique use of this trope to establish mood. Twice — once when the poor people are lining up for bread, and once when the financier's body is discovered — the actors remain motionless while the camera rolls. The poor people in the breadline are presented frozen at the beginning, while the actors in the latter scene freeze upon discovering the body. The first scene is presented in contrast with the rich people having a fancy dinner.
  • Two Lines, No Waiting: Despite being only 14 minutes long the film manages to tell three separate plot threads — the financier cornering the market, the farmer struggling to grow and sell his wheat crop, and the urban bakery where customers suddenly can't get bread.