Screening on Tuesday August 18th at 7.00 p.m. The film hardly needs recommendation. A Soviet classic, from an excellent print from the Nederlands Filmmuseum and digitally restored by Lobster Films: both the latter are in the forefront of early cinema archival work. And this silent film is presented with a musical accompaniment by the Alloy Orchestra, who went back to the archives and Vertov’s own musical notations for the original screening, [to accompany a screening at the 1995 Le Giornate del Cinema Muto].
Dziga Vertov is usually credited as director, but the credits read ‘Author and Supervisor’. The film sprang from a collective of Kinocs [the cinema of kino-eye]: with cinematographer Mikhail Kaufman and editor Elizaveta Svilova. Other radical Soviet artists were also involved in their work, so that the famous posters for the film were designed by Georgii and Vladimir Stenberg. It is worth adding some context. The film was produced by the Ukrainian Film and Photography Administration [VUFKU]. 1929 saw the cementing of a new political line in the Soviet Union, best represented by ‘Socialism in One Country’. The emphasis was on technology rather than social relations and in art and culture there was a retreat from radical form to the more conventional. However, for a while, an outpost of more radical style and content continued in the Ukraine: VUFKU had already produced Alexander Dovzhenko’s Arsenal in 1928. Thus much of the city footage was shot in Kiev and Odessa, with some found footage from the Kinocs’ earlier films for Goskino in Moscow. The radical form of the film can be seen in the opening credits and introduction, one of the most reflexive sequences in all cinema.
“This film, made in the transitional period immediately preceding the introduction of sound and excluding titles, joins the human life cycle with the cycles of work and leisure of a city from dawn to dusk within the spectrum of industrial production. That production includes filmmaking (itself presented as a range of productive labour processes), mining, steel production, communications, postal service, construction, hydro-electric power installation and the textile industry in a seamless organic continuum, whose integrity is continually asserted by the strategies of visual analogy and rhyme, rhythmic patterning, parallel editing, superimposition, accelerated and decelerated motion, camera movement – in short, the use of every optical device and filming strategy then available to film technology. …. ‘the activities of labour, of coming and going, of eating, drinking and clothing oneself,’ of play, are seen as depending upon the material production of ‘life itself’. (Annette Michelson in the Edited Writings of Vertov).
The film is often compared to the cycle of city films of the period: e.g. Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (1927). However, this is a film about people in the city and it is consciously political. In fact, it is a paean to Socialist Construction, a still meaningful term in 1929. Thus the final sequences of the film address themselves directly to the audience, the workers and peasants of the Soviet Union. This remains not only a great documentary but one of the outstanding products of the revolutionary 1920s Soviet Cinema.