History Piece

 
The Making of Power and the Land (1939-1940)


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Born in 1898, Joris Ivens had served an apprenticeship in his father’s camera and optical supply company in Nijmegen, the Netherlands. But rather than still photography in which he had professional training, Ivens became obsessed with the new motion picture, particularly after seeing one of D.W. Griffifth’s films. When he was only twelve, Ivens, reflecting a life long interest in the American West, used one of his father’s cameras to make The Tepee (De Wigwam), a home movie about an American Indian who rescues and returns a kidnapped farmer’s daughter to her family. Ivens played the leading role as the Indian hero. Like many of Ivens’ later films, this first effort featured a clash between good and evil, and, reflecting Ivens’ ever-optimistic attitude, had a happy ending.

Although Ivens completed course work in camera optics and economics, he found little satisfaction as a salesman and manager working for his father’s company. By 1927, his interests lay with the Dutch Film League and in making experimental short films. In 1928, he produced The Bridge (De Brug), filming the operation of a vertical-lift railroad bridge in Rotterdam. In 1929, he produced another short film, Rain, a study of Amsterdam in the rain. Shortly afterwards, Ivens completed two commissioned work, We Are Building (1930), showing workers involved in the reclamation work on the Zuiderzee, and Philips Radio (1931) an industrial public relations film.

Ivens, who thoroughly enjoyed life, was an absolutely charming fellow. With an easy-going personality, he got along well with presidents, Hollywood directors, literary celebrities, soldiers, workers, and peasants. Ivens, influenced both by his Catholic upbringing and communist ideology, was searching for his personal utopia. In Song of Heroes, his 1931 documentary on the construction by members of the young communist league of a Soviet blast furnace in the Ural mountains, Ivens, mistakenly - as he realized only decades later - believed he has found such a utopia. By the mid and late 1930s, Ivens had acquired a reputation as the leading Dutch filmmaker with a series of social conscience and anti-fascist documentaries. In New Earth in 1933, Ivens had deal with the ironic consequences of the construction of dikes near Amsterdam. In Borinage in 1935, Ivens focused on the bitter aftermath of a miners’ strike in Belgium. This was followed by two anti-fascist films, The Spanish Earth and the 400 Million.

Ivens made over eighty films during his lifetime. Active in the Film League in the Netherlands in the mid-1920s, Ivens screened films made by foreign vanguard filmmakers. In producing his first experimental films, Ivens rejected the exaggerated gestures typical of silent films of that day. He tried to film people and places as they actually were. In his first film Rain, Ivens showed people on the streets in Amsterdam going about their daily life in the rain. Photographing rain splattering on the pavement or windows, Ivens also revealed the beauty and structure of raindrops. His next two films, The Bridge and Philips Radio, also got down to film basics. They also demonstrate Ivens’ fascination with technology and his embrace of modernity. These early films established his reputation as one of the leading avant-guard filmmakers of his day.


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