Echo Park Film Center: Alexander Dovzhenko’s Earth
Echo Park Film Center
1200 N. Alvarado Street (@ Sunset Blvd)
Los Angeles, CA
Hosted by: Echo Park Film Center
What better way to celebrate Earth Day than to watch a film called simply Earth. No, it’s not a documentary. It’s the classic Soviet silent film by Alexander Dovzhenko made in 1930 about peasants trying to set up a farming collective despite the objections of the rich and powerful farmers.
Although Dovzhenko doesn’t quite get the respect that his comrade-in-filmmaking-arms Sergei Eisenstein does, he was nonetheless a significant figure in Russian revolutionary cinema. Earth is the third entry in his “Ukraine Trilogy” — after Zvenigora and Arsenal. You can read a nice appreciation on this typically overlooked pioneer in this piece written by Chris Fujiwara.
Below, I’ve embedded the first ten minutes of the film that I found on YouTube. The quality’s not that great, but it’s very interesting to watch, especially as it has an early avant-garde feel to it. Particularly trippy and beautiful is the way the wind blowing over the grain stalks looks like a cross between an abstract animation and the rippling waves of water.
Also intriguing is how Dovzhenko has cut together the sequence of a dying man lying in a pear orchard and being looked over by his friends and family. There’s no establishing shot here, just a series of close-ups and medium shots of each of the participants. The way this is edited, the actors could have been hundreds of miles from each other for each shot, but you still can get a clear sense of everybody’s position just by reading their facial expressions and following the direction of their eyes.
The metaphor of death and rebirth is nice here, too, with the old man taking pleasure in watching a pair of babies fuss and play. The only drawback is that the translation is a little poor and frequently ends up being unintentionally hilarious.
If you can’t make it out for this screening, Earth is available on DVD in a 3-film set put out by Kino Video. Get a copy and have your own Earth Day celebration at home.
Watch the first ten minutes of Earth: