Magazine article New Internationalist

The Spanish Earth

Magazine article New Internationalist

The Spanish Earth

Article excerpt

AUDIENCES STOOD AND CHEERED. Hands plunged into purses and pockets for one more donation. The issue was Spain and activists worldwide called it 'the good fight'. It was 1937 and people everywhere who craved news on the Spanish Civil War had waited anxiously to see Joris Ivens's The Spanish Earth. Most viewers had never heard of the Dutchman Ivens. They knew, however, that this was the film narrated and endorsed by Ernest Hemingway. They were not disappointed.

Mainstream newsreels, such as Hearst's Movietone News, had done a good job at shooting the war from Franco's side. Now here was visual proof of the barbarity at work in Franco's bombers, proof that Mussolini and Hitler were involved, and proof that the Spanish Republicans were prepared to fight back.

Hemingway's script and his dramatic yet measured voice added its own poetry and partisan anger to the powerful images.

The Spanish Civil War remains one the key events of the twentieth century. Along with Mussolini's 1936 invasion of Ethiopia, it formed the ominous prelude to Hitler's full - scale onslaught. It was on the one hand the lost cause that ushered in the fascist Franco's brutal 40 - year regime; on the other a moving chapter of democratic and left - wing solidarity as thousands of volunteers joined International Brigades and gave their lives to help people in another country.

The Spanish Earth tells the story of Fuentiduena, a Republican village on the road between Valencia and Madrid, a key area during the three - year civil war. The film shows bombings and battles yet also lingers to observe actual people working, close - ups of faces, families and relationships. It's a political, emotionally rich essay linking themes of 'working the earth and fighting for the earth', said Ivens. Right from the opening images Ivens's editing strategy is to develop links between what he called the sensual, psychological and point - of - view elements, 'pulling the spectator by emotions, from stage to stage of an idea's development'.

Ivens was also trying a new form of political documentary, rejecting the conventional newsreel and the straight essay of intellectual argument. The result was something akin to the realist novel, partly achieved by slowing the pace and setting up 'a thin continuity line with a peasant boy, Julian, at the front and at home'. …

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