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Silent Era Films on Home Video
Reviews of silent film releases on home video.
Copyright © 1999-2017 by Carl Bennett
and the Silent Era Company.
All Rights Reserved.

Earth
(1930)

 

Alexander Dovzhenko, director of Zvenigora (1927) and Arsenal (1929), began in 1929 a film was not only was to toe the Community Party line but also served to glorify the Ukranian farmer.

Members of a small Ukranian farming community are struggling to survive against the competition of a large landowner, and now a decree requires them to give up their farming horses and oxen to collectively farm with a new gasoline-powered tractor. Basil (Simon Svashenko), the young son of an old farming family sees their new lot as an opportunity to drive the rich landowner down with their collective strength. His father (Stephan Shkurat) is too set in his old-fashioned ways and resists, like many in the community, the modernist changes. When the tractor arrives, Basil is threatened by Thomas Whitehorse (Peter Masokha), the son of the landowner. Soon Basil, in Socialist indignity, uses the tractor to plow down the fences of the Whitehorse family. During an evening walk (or dance) home, Basil is gunned down. In anger, Basil’s father asks the Socialist cell to bury his son, to celebrate the new life he died for, instead of being buried by priests and prayers. A large funeral procession marches through the village and out to the farmlands to bury Basil. In the face of the collective strength of the now galvanized farmers, the guilty Thomas and the snubbed priest, symbols of the Socialist-rejected world of classes and superstitions, go into fits of mad, selfish greed and pious vengeance. At his funeral service, Basil is exalted to the level of Communist martyr in a stirring speech given by the cell leader. The film ends with images of the bounty of the earth and the redemption of the young and idealistic Socialist people.

It was a stroke of poetic genius on the part of Dovzhenko to begin his film with the death of the old farmer Simon (Nicholai Nademski) in an apple orchard, surrounded by friends and a harvest of fruit. The scene serves to establish the old ways of the farmers, as Simon is a symbol of their long-established methods and traditions now passing away, and to sing an ode to their simple and earth-loving way of life. — Carl Bennett

coverImage Entertainment
2002 DVD edition

Earth (1930), black & white, 70 minutes, not rated,
with Bezhin Meadow (1937), black & white, 31 minutes, not rated.

Film Preservation Associates, distributed by Image Entertainment,
ID1411DSDVD, UPC 0-14381-14112-2.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, one single-sided, single-layered DVD disc (reissued on DVD-R disc), Region 0, 6 Mbps average video bit rate, 192 kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, 8 chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase, $24.99.
Release date: 22 January 2002.
Country of origin: USA

Ratings (1-10): video: 6 / audio: 4 / additional content: 8 / overall: 7.

The source print for the Image Entertainment video transfer originates from the former Soviet Union and was prepared in 1971 by Mosfilm. The good 35mm print was prepared from materials that have been duplicated until they almost look like a 16mm reduction print. Some of the characteristics of 16mm are here, and that is some plugged-up shadow detail and exposure fluctuations. The source materials were also moderately speckled, scuffed and scratched. However, we have never seen a print of Earth that looked better than this, and the print does improve in quality in the later reels. The video transfer is the same one prepared in 1991 for Earth’s release on videotape by Kino International, and it was released on laserdisc in 1996. The transfer appears to preserve what image quality there remains in the 35mm source print, and is features moderately open framing. Video glitches that twitch the upper reaches of the picture to the right begin at 1:27 into the film and continue intermittently until 4:10, well into the death of old Simon. The glitches are distracting and should have been corrected before the disc was issued.

We commend video producer David Shepard for putting information about the source print on the DVD packaging. Information of this sort helps consumers make informed decisions when purchasing silent era films on home video. We feel that consumers want to know the condition and origin of the source print of a silent era film that is available on home video whenever possible.

The music score was composed and conducted for the 1971 Mosfilm print by V. Ovchinnikov. The music has been transferred from the print’s optical soundtrack and is muffled and compressed, as is to be expected from a Soviet sound print of that vintage. The music has been reproduced satisfactorily, probably as well as can be expected, in Dolby Digital 1.0 mono sound.

Bezhin Meadow (1937) was previously available on home video in the 1997 laserdisc box set, Classics of Early Soviet Cinema, Volume Two. Sergei Eisenstein, who had been shooting a film in Mexico, returned to the Soviet Union in 1932. Eisenstein’s first Soviet sound film was to have been Bezhin Meadow, a film he began shooting in 1935. The film, like Earth, was to be about Soviet collective farmers. But during the nearly two years of production, Eisenstein changed the focus of the film to the symbolic story of a struggle between the new and old Russia, represented by a young boy and his abusive father. Production was officially halted and the film was banned in March 1937. The footage that Eisenstein had shot was lost to the German bombing of the Mosfilm studios during World War II. The present representation of Eisenstein’s film was assembled by Soviet historian Sergei Yutkevich utilizing production notes and clippings from the original nitrate film negative that were in Eisenstein’s personal records and were preserved by Pera Atasheva. The entire assembled footage is made up of these single still frames and silent film style intertitles in English. The images are quite clear and, as would be expected of Eisenstein, many of the shots are quite striking.

We are minorly disappointed with the brief video glitches that mars one of our favorite scenes in Earth, but are generally happy to have this poetic, beautiful film available on DVD. Our hope is that some day film experts can return to the nitrate source materials of Earth and restore this film, in a new edition, to something closer to its original brilliance. The edition has been reissued on DVD-R disc.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD-R edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD-R edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
coverKino on Video
2003 DVD edition

Earth (1930), black & white, 69 minutes, not rated,
with The End of St. Petersburg (1927), black & white, 89 minutes, not rated, and Chess Fever (1925), black & white, 28 minutes, not rated.

Kino International, K298, UPC 7-38329-02982-1.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, one single-sided, dual-layered DVD disc, Region 0, ? Mbps average video bit rate, 224 kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, 9 chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase, $29.95.
Release date: 13 May 2003.
Country or origin: USA

This edition has been mastered from a very-good 35mm source print.

The film is accompanied by the orchestral and choral music score from the source print.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
coverMr. Bongo Films
2010 DVD edition

Earth (1930), black & white, 84 minutes, BBFC Classification PG.

Mr. Bongo Films, unknown catalog number, unknown UPC number.
Full-frame 4:3 PAL, one single-sided, single-layered DVD disc, Region 2, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound, Russian language intertitles, optional English language subtitles, chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase, £17.99.
Release date: 17 May 2010.
Country of origin: England
This PAL edition has likely been mastered from 35mm print materials.

It is possible that the BBFC Certificate for this release will be revised to PG, as earlier home video editions of this film were given a BBFC Certificate U.

North American collectors will need a region-free PAL DVD player capable of outputting an NTSC-compatible signal to view this edition.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 2 PAL DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
United Kingdom: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 2 PAL DVD edition from Amazon.co.uk. Your purchase supports Silent Era.
coverDovzhenko Centre
2012 DVD edition

Earth (1930), black & white, 83 minutes, not rated.

Dovzhenko Centre, unknown catalog number, unknown UPC number.
Full-frame 4:3 SECAM, one single-sided, single-layered DVD disc, Region 5, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound, Russian language intertitles, optional English language subtitles, chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase, $60.00(US).
Release date: 2012.
Country of origin: Ukraine
This SECAM edition has likely been mastered from 35mm restoration print materials.

The film is accompanied by a new soundtrack composed and performed by Ukranian modernist ‘ethno-chaos’ band DakhaBrakha.

Supplementary material includes a 56 page insert booklet.

North American collectors will need a region-free SECAM DVD player capable of outputting an NTSC-compatible signal to view this edition.

 
This Region 5 SECAM DVD edition is available directly from DOVZHENKO CENTRE.
coverGrapevine Video
2003 DVD edition

Earth (1930), black & white, 87 minutes, not rated.

Grapevine Video, no catalog number, unknown UPC number.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, one single-sided, single-layered DVD-R disc, Region 0, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, PCM 2.0 mono sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase, $9.95.
Release date: 2003.
Country or origin: USA
This edition has likely been mastered from a 16mm reduction print.

The film is likely accompanied by a soundtrack compiled from preexisting recordings.

 
This Region 0 NTSC DVD-R edition is available directly from GRAPEVINE VIDEO.
Other RUSSIAN and SOVIET FILMS of the silent era available on home video.
 
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