«//THIS IS THEIR FIGHT: JORIS IVENS’S THE SPANISH EARTH AND THE ROMANTIC GAZE// -SUBMISSION DATE: 30/03/2014 // ACCEPTANCE DATE: 20/10/2014 ...»
JORDI OLIVAR // THIS IS THEIR FIGHT: JORIS IVENS’S THE SPANISH EARTH AND THE ROMANTIC GAZE
//THIS IS THEIR FIGHT:
JORIS IVENS’S THE SPANISH EARTH AND
THE ROMANTIC GAZE//
---------------------------------------------SUBMISSION DATE: 30/03/2014 // ACCEPTANCE DATE: 20/10/2014
PUBLICATION DATE : 15/12/2014 (pp. 59-72)
UNITED STATESJZ0007@auburn.edu /// PALABRAS CLAVE: Guerra Civil Española, Tierra de España, Ernest Hemingway, Joris Ivens, El Mono Azul, Alianza de Intelectuales Antifascistas, Propaganda, Cine.
RESUMEN: En 1937, el documental Tierra de España trató de dar a conocer la Guerra Civil Española al público internacional. Este ensayo analiza la representación de España que Joris Ivens (director) y Ernest Hemingway (guionista) proyectan con el fin de obtener apoyo político y económico para la causa republicana. Como trataré de demostrar en este artículo, su intento de creación de una cierta empatía transatlántica entre el público estadounidense y el pueblo español estaba basado en la perpetuación de la imagen de una España romántica que termina por erradicar la complejidad cultural peninsular.
KEYWORDS: Spanish Civil War, The Spanish Earth, Ernest Hemingway, Joris Ivens, El Mono Azul, Alianza de Intelectuales Antifascistas, Propaganda, Film.
ABSTRACT: In 1937, the film The Spanish Earth documented the Spanish Civil War for international audiences. This essay analyzes the ways in which Joris Ivens (director) and Ernest Hemingway (screenwriter) portrayed the Spanish conflict in order to obtain political and economic support for the Spanish Republican cause. As I try to prove in this paper, their attempt to create a certain transatlantic empathy between American audiences and the Spanish people relied on the perpetuation of a romanticized image of Spain that erases the cultural complexity of Spain.
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JORDI OLIVAR // THIS IS THEIR FIGHT: JORIS IVENS’S THE SPANISH EARTH AND THE ROMANTIC GAZEThe Spanish Civil War, with its anticipation of the future tensions of World War II, served as a laboratory not only for modern warfare but also for war propaganda. After World War I and the Soviet Revolution, the Western world had already learned about the radical importance of propaganda in contemporary armed conflicts. Information and misinformation became a part of military tactics. As a result, the Spanish Civil War left us with an extensive number of cultural products that tried to communicate specific perspectives on the conflict from both sides of the trenches. From posters to films, including the exhibition of Picasso‟s Guernica in the Spanish pavilion at the international exhibition held in Paris, those loyal to the democratically elected Spanish government tried to get new recruits for their cause both at home and abroad. While most of these products were created locally in Spain either for local or foreign consumption, some others were produced by foreign artists and aimed at an international audience. From Ernest Hemingway‟s For Whom the Bell Tolls to André Malraux‟s L’Espoir, American and European authors internationalized the Spanish conflict through fiction and films in spite of the official policy of non-intervention signed by Western democracies. In this essay I focus on one specific instance of this internationalization: the film The Spanish Earth, a documentary directed by Joris Ivens that dabbles in the realm of fiction and that was the product of the collective effort of a group of intellectuals called the Contemporary Historians.
The Spanish Earth was designed as a propaganda artifact aimed at increasing the awareness of the Spanish Republican cause in the international community, but more precisely in the United States. Through this film we can try to understand how the Spanish conflict was sometimes transmitted and perceived across the Atlantic in an attempt to increase and materialize the actual support for the Republic. Filmed in Spain but destined mainly for American audiences, The Spanish Earth can help us to understand the way a foreign gaze perceived the Spanish Civil War and tried to render the conflict readable for international consumption. At that time, what were the chances of an American audience becoming emotionally involved in the Spanish Civil War? These transatlantic messages were forced to face the lack of knowledge and the indifference that the intended audience had for the „other‟ community. The success of a film like The Spanish Earth as propaganda
depended on answering the potential question raised by the most recalcitrant audiences:
“Why should we worry about it?” This essay should help us to understand the viable answers to this question—the answers that allowed for a potential resolution of the utter initial indifference and the birth of a budding transatlantic empathy. As I will show in the following pages, The Spanish Earth relied on an epideictic rhetoric—praising the worthiness of the Spanish Republic and the blameworthiness of Franco and his allies—which curiously depends on stressing the otherness of Spain instead of on trying to close the gap between the multiple selves of international audiences and the Other represented on the screen.
Most of the cultural artifacts created in relation to the Spanish Civil War seem to involve either the perception or the construction of a tangible community—what Benedict Anderson called an imagined community. According to Anderson‟s usage of the term, an imagined community is precisely “imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them or even hear of them, yet in the midst of each lives the image of their communion” (Anderson, 1991: 6). Curiously enough, when we try to analyze the sense of transnational community inherent in the making of The Spanish Earth, the term “imagined” acquires even greater validity. In the construction of its particular imagined community, Ivens‟s film is forced to create a series of links across the Atlantic that not only supersede national borderlines but also linguistic and cultural barriers. The ability of imagining this specific transnational community seemingly depends on the possibility of dissolving the inherent otherness and of creating a sense of communion between the communities involved—in this case the Spanish and that of the international target audiences of the film. As Anderson states in the case of nation building, transnational connections can also “always [be] conceived as a deep, horizontal REVISTA FORMA //VOL 10 TARDOR 2014 // ISSN 2013-7761 // 60
JORDI OLIVAR // THIS IS THEIR FIGHT: JORIS IVENS’S THE SPANISH EARTH AND THE ROMANTIC GAZEcomradeship” based on “fraternity” (Anderson, 1991: 7). I propose that Anderson‟s perception of the concept of nationhood is homologous to the transatlantic imagined community created around the mystic halo of the Spanish Civil War. However, the case of the Republican cause‟s aura is particularly interesting because it can also help us to put into question certain assumptions made by Anderson about the apparently exclusive power of nations. According to Anderson, “[d]ying for one‟s country […] assumes a moral grandeur which dying for the Labour Party, the American Medical Association, or perhaps even for Amnesty International cannot rival […] Dying for the revolution also draws its grandeur
from the degree to which it is felt to be something fundamentally pure” (Anderson, 1991:
144). Obviously enough, Anderson‟s sarcastic remark seems to ignore the effort of the international commitment in the fight against fascism in the 1930s and 40s. It is certainly true that no national holidays commemorate the effort of the International Brigades that fought alongside the Spanish Republic. Nothing in the everyday life of individuals on either side of the Atlantic seems to remind us about their existence. We can easily argue, following another of Anderson‟s arguments, that forgetting the International Brigades is one of the prerequisites in order to become a twenty-first-century Spaniard or a true American patriot in the age of global terror. However, it is evident that actually fighting and dying for the Republican cause was surrounded by “moral grandeur.” Fighting for the Spanish Republic was perceived as “something fundamentally pure” even for those who did not believe in the revolution but in the legitimacy of a democratically elected government threatened by fascism. Whether or not the “internationals” were fighting for “the imagined community of the socialist nation” or for a democratic world free of fascism, it seems clear that the power of the Republican cause was strong enough to die for (Anderson, 1991: 161).
As Anderson argues, the press was essential in providing “the technical means to „re-presenting‟” the imagined community (Anderson, 1991: 25). The rise of print-capitalism allowed for “reproductibility and dissemination” of the ideals that structured the community and caused “rapidly growing numbers of people to think about themselves, and to relate themselves to others, in profoundly new ways” (Anderson, 1991: 36-37). In the case of the Spanish Civil War, the press was only a part of the series of cultural artifacts that helped to create and perpetuate the aura of the Spanish Republican cause.
Newspapers, magazines, films, documentaries, newsreels, songs, poems, novels, essays, paintings, and posters helped to communicate the Spanish struggle for democracy under the menace of fascism. By the 1930‟s the press already had a long tradition as a means to create a sense of the working class community1. But, after all, the press was only a medium among others. As Sergei Eisenstein‟s Bronenosets Potyomkin (1925) and Leni Riefenstahl‟s Triumf des Willens (1935) and Olympia (1938) proved film had already acquired an immense potential for the transmission of ideology by the late 1930s. Moving pictures allowed an even greater extent of “infinite reproductibility” than the press (Anderson, 1991: 182).
However, it remains unexplained how certain culturally specific messages can be received and interpreted internationally. In the case of The Spanish Earth, the main goal was to awaken social interest about the conflict in international audiences and to capitalize upon this interest in a certain level of commitment and actual intervention. In order to understand how this film pursued this aim, it is necessary to take into account a series of concepts borrowed from social psychology.
Our further research on the construction of an international fraternity, should take into account the notion of gemeinschaftsgefuhl, or social interest, developed by Alfred Adler.
In Spain, the first newspaper affiliated with the labor movement was El eco de la clase obrera, published in Madrid in 1855. The second one appeared nine years later in Barcelona with the title El obrero. From then on, the number of labor newspapers and magazines in Spain increased exponentially until the 1930s. For a detailed account of the role of the press in the Spanish Civil War see Jordana Mendelson‟s Revistas y guerra.
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JORDI OLIVAR // THIS IS THEIR FIGHT: JORIS IVENS’S THE SPANISH EARTH AND THE ROMANTIC GAZEAccording to Kelly, the notion of social interest “refers to an innate potential of the human being to develop an identification with and feeling for other people” (Kelly, 1994: 434).
Undoubtedly, The Spanish Earth strongly and optimistically relies on this “innate potential” of “identification.” For the Contemporary Historians collective, the role of this film was to arise a clear feeling of empathy towards the Spanish population and the cause of the Spanish Republic. Interestingly enough, the Contemporary Historians‟ project did not try to dissolve the otherness of Spain and of Spaniards in the eyes of foreign audiences. Far from it, The Spanish Earth stressed a sense of ultimate otherness by portraying Spain as a prelapsarian society. The Spanish Earth emphasizes the image of a seemingly innocent and unspoiled rural Spain, which could be perceived as the ultimate other by the modern urban audiences of France, Britain and the United States.
As defined by Eisenberg, empathy is “an emotional reaction to another‟s emotional
state or condition that is consistent with the other‟s state or condition” (Eisenberg, 1994:
247). Under the menace of fascism, most of the cultural products from the Republican side put forth an effort to make empathy surface in global audiences and, eventually, to turn this empathy in any kind of pro-social behavior. The reception process of this kind of cultural production relied on the total implication of the receiver in the cause transmitted by the sender of the message. In this case, no aesthetic distance is desired. The receiver is forced to take a stance in front of the message. According to social psychology, in these cases, the receiver shifts towards “perspective taking,” which is a cognitive process, rather than an emotional one, that leads to the “comprehension of another‟s internal psychological processes such as their thoughts and feelings” (Eisenberg, 1994: 247). Perspective taking
would then move the subject to activate a specific prosocial behavior (Eisenberg, 1994: