Revisiting the Spanish Civil War: “The Spanish Earth” (1937 documentary)

This is a different movie about the war that was a prelude for WWII and is essential viewing on ‘the people’s army’/Republican side. George Eastman House has released a nice b & w print just screened on TCM. The movie was directed by Joris Ivens, text was simply and effectively written by Ernest Hemingway who was a correspondent in Spain at the time, and was narrated empathically by the equally-legendary Orson Welles.

Basically, the movie is made of images of war and the people involved supported by choral and tinny instrumental music with sound effects and some speeches by prominent Republican fighters added. About half of the movie shows the farming town of Valencia irrigating their valley to supply food for the people’s army and Madrid as well showing their men training for and returning from battle. The other half shows life in Madrid at the time complete with dead citizens and downed dead Fascist soldiers on the streets and in shops. There are also scenes of evacuation, long food-lines, and besieged citizens trying to make sense of the war that has come to their city. Throughout, the tone and agenda is pro-Spanish ordinary folk.

If you know nothing of this war or want to know how the Republicans viewed their cause, this is the nonfiction film to watch; it gives many insights into the conflicts and rationales of the Republicans, and shows the many typical sides of civil war. Highly recommended.

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