I left inspired leaving the William Morris gallery after Brian’s workshop on Wednesday. His ‘Art for all’ attitude and use of privilege to spread that idea rather than further his fame was infinitely admirable. What I found most interesting was his dedication to anti-capitalist socialist politics. To go against the status quo so loudly as a public figure could of been disastrous to his career yet he continued to be arguably the most important artist of his time. This got me to thinking about other artists that talk passionately about revolutionary politics and George Orwell came to mind. He fought in the Spanish Civil between 1936 and 1937 for the Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification, an anti-Stalinist communist party. His intention was to record his experiences whilst fighting to educate people abroad resulting in the book Homage to Catalonia. I know little about the anarchist politics of the Spanish civil war (reading Chomsky on Anarchism required relevant historical knowledge I didn’t have to fully understand it) so now, considering the current political situation there, seemed a good time to look into it. A search on Youtube struck gold in 1937 documentary The Spanish Earth, leading back to another incredible writer interested in revolutionary politics – Ernest Hemingway, he narrated the film and wrote it’s screen play. Hemingway’s reporting on the Spanish Civil War for the North American Newspaper Alliance inspired his famous novel about the conflict From Whom the Bell Tolls (also the name of my 3rd favourite Metallica song).
The film covers the war effort from the grass roots up shot amazingly on big awkward movie cameras narrated solemnly by Hemingway, replacing Orson Wells original voice over. Visually it feels more like a series of physically and emotionally moving photographs than a film, any still from the documentary is worthy of display in a museum. Even if you have no interest in the subject matter watching the film feels like looking through a bravely in depth and artistically shot photography book.
Here’s the film:
(Above image: ‘The Capitalist Vampire Bat’ by Walter Crane, from The Comrade newspaper 1903 which was displayed at the William Morris Gallery amongst other political cartoons concerning Morris’ political involvement.)