geezer cinema: john wick: chapter 4 (chad stahelski, 2023)
music friday: billie eilish

earth (oleksandr dovzhenko, 1930)

This is the twenty-sixth film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2022-23", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 8th annual challenge, and my fourth time participating (my first year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20", the second year at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21", and last year at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2021-22"). Week 26 is called "Ukrainian Poetic Cinema Week":

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen film from the Ukranian Poetic Cinema movement.

This was one of the hardest challenges to fulfill. There are only 12 films on the above Poetic Cinema list. I'd seen two of them, leaving ten, and none of them were available on any streaming service I have. So I broke the "unseen" rule and re-watched Earth, which I saw once about 50 years ago.

I like to tell an anecdote ... who knows if it was ever true, it tells the truth in its essence, even if the details are a bit off. I was a film major in 1973-4, and I watched a lot of movies. When I got into grad school in English, I spent a lot of time bitching about the literary canon. Suffice to say, I didn't like it. At one point, I took a film course where I was the only English grad student in the class ... all of the other students were undergraduate film majors. And they were smart whippersnappers. But as the semester went on, I realized their knowledge of the history of film was mostly lacking. Meanwhile, those long-ago years as a film major for me meant I got what amounts to a canonical film education (ironic, as I hope you can appreciate). The way I often described those film major years (and this is the part where the truth is in the essence, not the details) is that I watched six weeks of silent Ukranian films. One of them was Earth.

It's an acknowledged classic for a reason (in the most recent Sight and Sound poll, it finished at #312). It's a combination of beautiful cinematography (Danylo Demutskyi was the cinematographer) and innovative editing techniques by director Oleksandr Dovzhenko. Dovzhenko uses a lot of stationary images, of nature, of close-up faces, breaking things up not by moving the camera but by jumping to a new image. The connection between the people and nature is evident. Dovzhenko uses all of this to foreground beauty and symbolism over a more clear didacticism. While Earth is a paean to collectivism, it was criticized by Soviet authorities for, if I understand it correctly, being too masterful as art to make it useful as propaganda.

I'm pretty sure my sense of the politics of Earth is muddled, but it is so beautiful that I just gave myself over to it. Unfortunately, the only print I could find was on YouTube, and it was terrible, a real loss considering the excellence of the film.


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