Draft Review by Dean Duncan May 28, 2015

This starts with a clear, simple statement of a problem, a clear, simple prescription of the solution, which we’re convinced is the only one, and then a clear, simple portrayal of the solution effected; the beginning’s best, looking like all those other great Soviet typage portrayals of want before revolutionary fervour makes things right (cf. Pudovkin, ’27), one sees how Grierson might have been so inspired, what with Turkestan cotton, Siberian grain and the desert in between, the emphasis on how drought eliminates the cotton crop and how technology and a railway will fix it all being the point and focus, and being important and interesting at the same time, it’s a case of mass geographical dialectics, and it works superbly; the mountain water reaching the crops must have inspired King Vidor, the cotton picking scenes are very vivid, sheep shearing reveals the drama of everyday, the transport vistas suggest Grass, the storm footage is very dramatic, more classic Soviet stuff as the surveyors overcome the suspicions of the cagey Turkestaners and eventually join them in revolutionary camaraderie (sort of like Pudovkin, ’29), maps are exptremely dynamic, and striking images stick in the mind: camels lugging railway ties, tons of men digging and dumping, “stubborn is nature–but still more stubborn is man–and the machine” (are these JG’s titles?), the detonation is most dynamically cut, industry overcomes the primitive, as suggested by the train outrunning the joyous galloping hordes, which is a heroic if overly symbolic pairing; but it’s not just machine worship, but education, which makes this a secular missionary piece about the war on the primitive and the reasons for waging it, these are convincingly rendered by the end as we see water over the desert, dissolve to cotton, and see the problems from the beginning solved, through equations, by the end