Continuing our discussion of Ivens’ work; this week we’ll cover two more short films: New Earth and Spanish Earth. The latter a propaganda film, the former being similar to De Brug, highlighting Ivens’ fascination with engineering and man’s ability to control his environment.
NIEUWE GRONDEN (New Earth)
The more I see of Ivens’ work, the more impressed I become because it’s interesting to see his evolution from one work to another (which, I suppose is true of any artist). To see him progress from Regen to this in only a short period of time is inspiring. He makes such a grand leap from one to the other that it provides a wonderful underlying narrative within itself which is compelling.
It has a great premise that is more than simply a historical document: mankind’s recurring struggle with nature. More specifically though, the documentary depicts Dutch workers as they reclaim land from the sea for agricultural use. Again, Ivens’ shows his apparent admiration for engineering and organized labour, and it really is extraordinary how proficient it all seems. Through methodical editing, Ivens’ conveys the clockwork aspect of all the seams that brought this project together, and it does seem more mechanical than organic (but that’s entirely arguable) – man and technology working together to conform nature for their own schemes and aspirations.
As one would expect from Ivens’, there is some great imagery (most of which is accompanied by Ernest Hemingway’s voiceover) and an economical use of title cards (thank Dog) which provide some statistics and topographical information.
Overall, an interesting film that is more fascinating because it’s real and happening before our eyes. If I was have heard the premise of this film described to me in words, I think I’d be slightly less impressed – which says a lot about Ivens’ visual and editing style.
This is one of those films that gain more notoriety from the controversy of being propaganda than necessarily on the talents of the filmmaker, but despite all of that (which I tend to despise with fervor just on principle) I really thought this short showcased the versatility of Ivens’ work. Of course, if y’alls haven’t noticed already, there’s a running theme throughout Ivens’ work and all of his films reflect that in spades; but even so, his range and depth of vision is finely tuned and can, on occasion, surprise.
Hemingway, once again, narrates; and I am personally of the belief that he isn’t the greatest narrator of all time (despite my love of his writings, in particular The Sun Also Rises and … but don’t let me get sidetracked), but he does lend a certain rhythm to the proceedings and that’s what silent films need really, complimentary rhythms to emphasize their abstract flow … but this isn’t really a silent film, so what am I driving at?
But back to the short: Sure, there is that propaganda element, true, but I think all films have a subconscious ‘message’ (whether realized or intended by the filmmaker) – and one might call all this propaganda if it was a little more forced. I won’t go that far because it’s excusing the fully-aware kind of propaganda which Ivens’ has indulged in here. However, there is vision in this film and it’s of the kind that is cinematically universal and narratively succinct. It was made during the Spanish Civil War and that was certainly a volatile period of time, but Ivens’ film doesn’t seem portentous or wary, but hopeful and slyly encouraging (as all propaganda must be). Looking back on it (as we all have the luxury of doing), there’s the sickening feeling of war and innocence consumed and all that, but I don’t think that was Ivens’ original intention.
And I liked it, what can I say? Yes, there are predictable aspects where I thought Ivens’ could’ve been a little more subtler in his nudging asides, but I think that the time period would account for this more than anything. At least with New Earth, we’re seeing a very noticeable progression in the history of Ivens’ work. If one compares this to say, Regen, there’s a striking difference from the abstract poetry of one to the bludgeoning subtlety of the other … but it’s all very telling isn’t it?
As with most (or all possibly) of Ivens’ work, there isn’t much freedom given to the viewer to form their own conclusion naturally. And in that sense it didn’t surprise me when I heard that Ivens’ had made several propaganda films because all his films feel like propaganda films – not necessarily in direct message, but in their objective tone. Ivens doesn’t merely shoot some scenes and supply factual data, he scatters his own appraisals and supposes on the implications. That’s not to say that his films are less informative or less relevant, but it’s important to keep that aspect of his work in mind I think.
What was everyone else’s take on these two shorts? What do you think about Ivens’ work as a whole? What is your opinion on his recurring themes?
How about some links to the films?
Exactly what I was going to say…
Here ya go chaps:
New EarthSpanish Earth
By the way, you can always check back on the main SW&A thread – there will usually always be links there for these films.
links with schedule is on my list too. I try to keep it updated.Joris Ivens Part 1 of Discussion
Cool. I watched Rain and I’ll watch the others.