The Spanish Earth (1937)

Genres - Culture & Society, History  |   Release Date - Jul 11, 1937 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 54 min.  |   Countries - USA  |  
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Joris Ivens' landmark documentary remains an intense and raw filmgoing experience. Made to educate audiences on the civil war then being waged in Spain, The Spanish Earth makes no attempt to conceal its sympathies, but is nevertheless still immensely valuable as both a historical document and a work of cinema. What is most memorable about the film is the extraordinary footage. Ivens and his crew had incredible access and much of the film takes place on the front line. The resulting images of front line action are riveting and often very disturbing, and cameraman John Ferno deserves much of the praise. Oftentimes, the immense devastation to the land and people is what comes across most strongly, and the film is still relevant today as a examination of how a civil war can destroy a country. If anything ages the film, it is the commentary, written and delivered by Ernest Hemingway. Although informative, and not as propagandistic as one might expect, it is also -- with all due apologies to Hemingway -- a bit simplistic, and ultimately not as moving as the footage. The images truly speak for themselves. What is striking about the film is that it is simultaneously disturbing and beautiful. The obvious beauty of the Spanish countryside and the skill with which the film was put together stand in sharp contrast with the violence of the images. One especially impressive sequence, the climax where the parallel action of water on its way to the fields is intercut with images of troops on the move, is just one example of where the considerable talents of director Ivens, cinematographer Ferno, and editor Helen van Dongen are amply on display.