American Herbert Kline collaborated with Hungarian photographer Geza Karpathi in this documentary on the Spanish Civil War. It focuses on Dr. Norman Bethune, a Canadian physician who gave up his practice to join the loyalists in Madrid and help create the much needed blood bank. Kline practically lived with Bethune's unit capturing footage of transfusions and other medical services. Under editors Strand and Hurwitz, who added newsreels and other source materials, the film was transformed into "a broadly-based study of the struggle against fascism." 1
Life or death transfusion by Doctors Barksy and Bethune
Campbell writes: "In their structuring, both Heart of Spain and Return to Life reveal an attempt to organize documentary material according to montage principles, incorporating, as Leo Hurwitz expresses it, 'opposition, conflict, and contradiction' into their image assembly....In Heart of Spain, in particular, contrast editing is deployed in a conscious effort to mold a political aesthetic." 2
The film can be divided into four sections, each featuring contrast editing and fast cuts. It begins showing the war in general and then narrows its scope to focus on Dr. Bethune's Institute in particular. Heart of Spain also features one woman, Hero Escobedo, and her actions at the institute such as donating blood and speaking with wounded soldiers.
Most of the film is comprised of short shots and seemingly no sequence was conceived in the conventional manner of spatio-temporal continuity. Part of the reasoning for this method is technical in that synchronous-sound shooting was difficult to accomplish on location. The Eyemo that was used for the film was "good for shots with a maximum length of ten seconds." 3 Another consideration is the method of early Soviet cinema in which "each shot was regarded as having a single content which took on meaning only within the context of an image chain." 4
With Heart of Spain, according to Alexander, "the filmmakers of Frontier Films made their first major film. It does not try to tell a story in sequence or to compose a linear essay--nor does it attempt to develop fictional or real characters either dramatically or in depth. Instead...it dynamically utilizes appropriate fragments of cinema--shots, scenes, sequences, commentary, and music--to dramatize a situation in a telling, convincing, powerful way." 5
1 Campbell, Russell. Cinema Strikes Back: Radical Filmmaking in The United States 1930-1942. Ann Arbor, Michigan: UMI Research Press, 1978. (167).
2 Campbell. Cinema. (177).
3 Campbell. Cinema. (182).
4 Campbell. Cinema. (182). 5 Alexander, William. Film on the Left. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press., 1981. (165).