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John Dos Passos and Cinema$
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Lisa Nanney

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9781942954873

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: January 2020

DOI: 10.3828/liverpool/9781942954873.001.0001

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Filming History and The Spanish Earth

Filming History and The Spanish Earth

“what a man and a comrade has to do in … wartimes”

(p.127) Chapter Seven Filming History and The Spanish Earth
John Dos Passos and Cinema

Lisa Nanney

Liverpool University Press

Dos Passos was instrumental in initiating The Spanish Earth, a 1937 documentary film relief effort for the Republican fight against fascism in the Spanish Civil War, although he likely did not contribute to its writing. Yet the dangerous, divisive circumstances surrounding the film’s creation and his collaboration with its Communist director Joris Ivens and with colleague Ernest Hemingway during its production in Spain challenged Dos Passos’s beliefs about the relationship between politics and art and profoundly affected his subsequent career. The execution of a Spanish friend, José Robles, at the hands of Russian military personnel who were ostensibly Republican allies, and a subsequent coverup, led Dos Passos to re-evaluate his leftist political positions, his professional alliance with Ivens, and his longtime friendship with Hemingway. The film and its circumstances raised complex questions about the dynamics between fact and fictionalization in documentary and the artist’s ethical and aesthetic responsibilities. Dos Passos’s choices to report fully on the repercussions of factionalization in the Spanish anti-fascist cause, to represent multiple perspectives of the looming greater European conflict, and to articulate unequivocally his conviction that Communism was compromising both European and U.S. leftist movements earned opprobrium from literary critics who had theretofore lionized him.

Keywords:   Communism, documentary, Ernest Hemingway, Joris Ivens, propaganda, José Robles, Socialist realism, The Spanish Earth

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