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Zemlya

ZEMLYA



(Earth)


USSR, 1930


Director: Alexander Dovzhenko

Production: VUFKU (Kiev); black and white, 35mm, silent; length: 1704 meters, 6 reels. Released 8 April 1930, Kiev. Filmed April-November 1929 in Poltava.

Screenplay: Alexander Dovzhenko; photography: Danilo Demutsky; art director: Vasily Krichevsky; music for performance: Leonid Revutsky; assistant directors: Julia (Ioulya) Solntseva and Lazar Bodyk.


Cast: Stepon Shkurat (Opanas Trubenko); Semen Svashenko (Vasilly, the son); Nikola Nademsky (Grandfather Semen); Yelena Maximova (Natalka, Vasilly's fiancée); I. Franko (Arkhip Belokon, a Kulak); P. Masokha (Khoma); V. Mikhailov (Father Gerasim, the priest); P. Petrik (Kravchina-Chuprina, the Komsomol Secretary); Julia Solntseva (Vasilly's sister).


Publications


Script:

Dovzhenko, Alexander, La Terre (in Russian, English, and French),

Moscow, 1965; also published in Mother: A Film by V. I. Pudovkin and Earth: A Film by Alexander Dovzhenko, New York, 1973.


Books:

Rotha, Paul, Celluloid: The Film Today, London, 1931.

Leyda, Jay, Kino: A History of the Russian and Soviet Film, New York, 1942; revised edition, London, 1960.

Leyda, Jay, An Index to the Creative Work of Alexander Dovjenko, London, 1947.

Martin, Marcel, Panorama du cinéma sovietique, Paris, 1960.

Rachuk, Igor, Poetika Dovzhenko, Moscow, 1964.

Schnitzer, Luda and Jean Schnitzer, Dovjenko, Paris, 1966.

Mariamov, Alexander, Alexandre Dovzhenko, Moscow, 1968.

Oms, Marcel, Alexandre Dovjenko, Lyons, 1968.

Yourenev, R., Alexander Dovzhenko, Moscow, 1968.

Amengual, Barthélemy, Alexander Dovzjenko, Paris, 1970.

Carynnyk, Marco, editor, Alexander Dovzhenko: The Poet asFilmmaker, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1973.

Garbicz, Adam, and Jacek Klinowski, editors, Cinema, The MagicVehicle: A Guide to Its Achievement: Journey One: The CinemaThrough 1949, Metuchen, New Jersey, 1975.

Marshall, Herbert, Masters of the Soviet Cinema: Crippled CreativeBiographies, London, 1983.

Kepley, Vance, In the Service of the State: The Cinema of AlexanderDovzhenko, Madison, Wisconsin, 1986.


Articles:

"Interview with Dovjenko," in Close-Up (London), no. 4, 1930.

Sadoul, Georges, "Interview de A. Dovjenko," in Lettres Françaises (Paris), 1956.

Montagu, Ivor, "Dovzhenko—Poet of Eternal Life," in Sight andSound (London), 1957.

"Special Issue" of Film (Venice), August 1957.

Dovzhenko, Alexander, "Autobiography," in Iskusstvo Kino (Moscow), no. 5, 1958.

Shibuk, Charles, "The Films of Alexander Dovzhenko," in NewYork Film Bulletin, no. 11–14, 1961.

Capdenac, Michel, "Julia Solntseva et la terre ukrainienne," in Lettres Françaises (Paris), 25 May 1961.

Kelman, Ken, in Film Culture (New York), Winter 1963–64.

"Alexander Dovzhenko," in Anthologie du cinéma 1, Paris, 1966.

Kael, Pauline, in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Boston, 1968.

Frejlih, S., "Ein Epos unserer Epoche," in Film und Fernsehen (Berlin), August 1974.

"Dovzhenko Issue" of Iskusstvo Kino (Moscow), September 1974.

Pym, John, in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), February 1980.

Burns, P. E., "Cultural Revolution, Collectivization, and Soviet Cinema," in Film and History (Newark, New Jersey), December 1981.

Mayne, J., "Soviet Film Montage and the Woman Question," in Camera Obscura (Bloomington), no. 19, January 1989.

Margolit, E., "Zemlja, SSSR (1930)," in Iskusstvo Kino (Moscow), no. 12, December 1990.

Kepley, V., Jr., "Dovzhenko and Montage: Issues of Style and Narration in the Silent Films," in Journal of Ukrainian Studies, vol. 19, no. 1, 1994.

Williams, B., "A Mirror of the Cinema: Poetic Discourse and Autotelic Aesthetics in Dovzhenko's Earth," in Journal of Ukrainian Studies, vol. 19, no. 1, 1994.

Trimbac, S., "Pocva I sud'ba," in Iskusstvo Kino (Moscow), no. 12, December 1994.


* * *

Earth is a tribute to life in the Ukraine, the birthplace of its creator, Alexander Dovzhenko. The film's star is essentially the Ukrainian village in which the story is set: it is not necessarily a tale of Russian farmers and kulaks but a visual poem about life and the calm acceptance of death.

Earth's scenario is virtually lacking in plot: in fact, one of its themes—the triumph of modern farm equipment over a primitive methodology—is similar to that of Sergei Eisenstein's Old and New. Youthful peasants in the community join together to purchase a tractor, to efficiently operate their farms. Vasilly, head of the village committee, reaps corn with the assistance of the machine, women fasten together the stalks cut from the earth, a threshing machine toils in the fields, and the peasants produce an abundant harvest. The town's kulaks (or, well-to-do landowners who profited from the sweat of the poorer farmers; as a class they opposed Soviet politics and collectivization of the land) are intimidated by this show of unity. At the end of a workday, young lovers stare at the sunset, and animals peacefully graze in the meadows. Vasilly, who had earlier plowed beyond the boundaries of a kulak's farm, strolls home in the moonlight and is shot by a kulak. His father grieves over the corpse, but will not allow a traditional Christian burial. Instead, the villagers carry Vasilly in an open bier, through the fields. His murderer runs into the cemetery, blurts out that he is the peasant's killer, and dances amid the graves in a weak imitation of Vasilly's movements before the moment of his death. But the killer is ignored. A rain—tears from the sky— falls and shines on the crops. The clouds disappear, and the sun glistens and dries the earth.

This short synopsis does not effectively describe the film's content and impact on the viewer. Dovzhenko lyrically captures what the earth—the soil and the life-sustaining crops it produces—means to human beings. The earth must be lovingly nurtured so that corn and wheat may be reaped and mouths may be fed. (Dovzhenko shot the film on the rich terrain of his beloved Ukraine.) Most significantly, the film is at once a celebration of life and an acknowledgement of the inevitability of life's end. Dovzhenko's images, all in meticulously composed shots, are unforgettable: in the film's prologue a dying man (the grandfather of Vasilly, a character patterned after the filmmaker's grandfather), serene as he approaches his end, happily pierces an apple with his teeth; Vasilly ecstatically dances in the summer moonlight, kicking up dust and feeling every moment of his life before it is abruptly ended by a bullet; apple tree branches brush over the face of Vasilly's corpse in the funeral caravan. In sequence after sequence, Dovzhenko brings together the two ultimate but contrasting realities: life and death. Death is not a gloomy, depressing finality, but a necessary and logical occurrence. If babies are to be born and the world replenished with the hopes, desires and energy of youth, some must vacate the earth and allow them time and space. Similarly, the earth must yield its crops so that it may again commence the cycle necessary to feed and nourish the hungry.

Earth is clearly not apolitical. Lewis Jacobs described it as a "rhapsody of victory for a new society." Dovzhenko himself explained, "I conceived Earth as a film that would herald the beginning of a new life in the villages." But, in its day, the film was quite controversial. Some Soviet critics were quick to condemn it as politically incorrect because the lyricism overrides the storyline. In addition, it focuses on a universal, philosophical theme; it does not just merely detail specific events and struggles relating to the Revolution. A particularly pointed article in Izvestia entitled "The Philosophers," by Demyan Bedny (the pseudonym for Yefim Pridvorov, considered a major proletarian poet of the 1920s), resulted in the editing of several sequences, including the scene where the tractor's radiator boils over and is cooled by the collective urine of the peasants, and another depicting Vasilly's betrothed, naked and crazed with grief, mourning his death. "I was so stunned by (Bedny's) attack," Dovzhenko wrote, "so ashamed to be seen in public, that I literally aged and turned gray overnight. It was a real emotional trauma for me. At first I wanted to die."

After Earth premiered in Russia, Dovzhenko brought the film to Paris and Berlin, and under the title Soil, it opened in New York during the fall of 1930. The negative of Earth was destroyed by the Germans during World War II, but a copy of the original release print fortunately survived.

Earth created a sensation outside the Soviet Union. Its simple imagery influenced other directors, particularly documentary filmmakers in England and the United States. Today, it is Dovzhenko's most famous film, and one of the great achievements of world cinema.

—Rob Edelman

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