Alexander Dovzhenko's Silent Masterpiece
Alexander Dovzhenko, one of the four giants of early Soviet revolutionary cinema (along with Eisenstein, Pudovkin and Vertov), shattered in the film world with his silent masterpiece Earth, even though few outside the director's native Ukraine connected with its specific references to place and topic (Stalin's program of industrial collectivization). But the deep feeling and poetic imagery of this film transcended locale and era, move strong men to tears and have frequently won it a place on critics' lists of the greatest films of all time.
One of the undisputed masterpieces of the cinema, no single viewing of Earth will ever reveal all of its poetic brilliance. The third in a triptych of films by Ukranian director Alexander Dovzhenko (after Zvenigora in 1927 and Arsenal in 1928), Earth is strikingly simple in plot.
On the eve of collectivization in the Ukraine, an old farmer dies peacefully in bed. His grandson Vasil has a new vision - the village council will buy a tractor to be shared among the farmers. Struggling against superstition, rich landowners and nature itself, Vasil is ultimately the victim of a tragic murder, but the dawn brings forth a new life and the promise of prosperity to the poor village.
The story itself is secondary to the visually stunning and incredibly moving images that Dovzhenko creates. His love for the Ukranian people and land intoxicates the viewer with the sensual splendors that fill the screen.
Bezhin Meadow would have been Eisenstein's most beautiful and lyrical film - had it been permitted to see the light of day. In one of cinema's great tragedies, Eisenstein's film was banned by Stalinist officials in 1937 and copies of the film were subsequently destroyed in a fire caused by German bombing in World War II. Only individual still images and film frames survived from the original footage. These, along with Eisenstein's script and production records, guided Soviet researchers who painstakingly produced this 30-minute reconstruction of Eisenstein's original conception.
Based very loosely on a pastoral tale by Turgenev, Bezhin Meadow is set in a Russian village during the Soviet collectivization programs of the 1930s. Eisenstein chose to dramatize that conflicted process by centering his story on a peasant boy who supports the collective and who dies at the hands of his counterrevolutionary father. This tale of martyrdom inspired the most lyrical work of Eisenstein's entire career. The haunting still images which comprise this reconstruction are meticulously reproduced in this edition and do full justice to Eisenstein's renowned visual style.