KINO PRAVDA 1-23 [1922-25] (Dziga Vertov, 1922, USSR, 315m, BW)
Kino-pravda no. 1 (1922) et. al.
21 May 1922 (Soviet Union)
Director: Dziga Vertov
A series of newsreel films from Dziga Vertov, Elizaveta Svilova, and Mikhail Kaufman which document Russian Life in the early 1920s.
Kino-Pravda ("Film Truth") was a newsreel series by Dziga Vertov, Elizaveta Svilova, and Mikhail Kaufman. Vertov referred to the twenty-three issues of Kino-Pravda as the first work by him where his future cinematic methods can be observed. Working mainly during the 1920s, Vertov promoted the concept of kino-pravda, or film-truth, through his newsreel series. His driving vision was to capture fragments of actuality which, when organized together, showed a deeper truth which could not be seen with the naked eye. In the "Kino-Pravda" series, Vertov focused on everyday experiences, eschewing bourgeois concerns and filming marketplaces, bars, and schools instead, sometimes with a hidden camera, without asking permission first.
The episodes of "Kino-Pravda" usually did not include reenactments or stagings (one exception is the segment about the trial of the Social Revolutionaries: the scenes of the selling of the newspapers on the streets and the people reading the papers in the trolley were both staged for the camera). The cinematography is simple, functional, and unelaborated. Twenty-three issues of the series were produced over a period of three years; each issue lasted about twenty minutes and usually covered three topics. The stories were typically descriptive, not narrative, and included vignettes and exposés, showing for instance the renovation of a trolley system, the organization of farmers into communes, and the trial of Social Revolutionaries; one story shows starvation in the nascent Marxist state. Propagandistic tendencies are also present, but with more subtlety, in the episode featuring the construction of an airport: one shot shows the former Czar's tanks helping prepare a foundation, with an intertitle reading "Tanks on the labor front".
Vertov clearly intended an active relationship with his audience in the series — in the final segment he includes contact information — but by the fourteenth episode the series had become so experimental that some critics dismissed Vertov's efforts as "insane". The term kino pravda, though it translates from Russian as "film truth", is not to be confused with the cinéma vérité movement in documentary film, which also translates as "film truth". Cinéma vérité was similarly marked by the intention of capturing reality "warts and all", but became popular in France in the 1960s.
Dziga Vertov (1896-1954)
Denis Arkadevich ( David Abramovich) Kaufman, later to become famous under the
name Dziga Vertov, was born in Bialystok (now in Poland), where his father was a
librarian. His younger brothers both became cameramen: Mikhail (born 1 897) worked
with Vertov until 1929, while the youngest, Boris (born 1906) emigrated first to France
(where he shot Jean Vigo's films) and then to America (where he won an Academy Award
for On the Waterfront).
Starting his career with the conventional newsreel Kino-Nedelia ('Film- Weekly', 1918-
19), Vertov rapidly absorbed ideas shared by left-wing and Constructionist artists
( Alexander Rodchenko, Vladimir Tatlin, Varvara Stepanova) and Proletkult theorists
( Alexander Bogdanov, Alexei Gan). The documentary and non- or anti-fictional character
of his cinema was conceptualized in the context of the 'mortification of art' in the future
proletarian culture, and the 'kinoki' (cine-eye) group, with Kaufman, Vertov, and his
(second) wife Elizaveta Svilova as its core, saw themselves as the Moscow headquarters
of a national network (which never materialized) of local cine-amateurs providing
continuous flow of newsreel footage. Later the network was supposed to be supplemented
by a 'radio-era’ component to finally merge into the 'radio-eye', a global TV of the new
socialist world with no place for fictional stories. Vertov's crusade against the fiction film
was intensified after 1922 when Lenin's New Economic Policy led to an increase in
fiction film imports, but he was equally scathing about the new Soviet cinema of
Kuleshov and Eisenstein, describing it as 'the same old crap tinted red'.
The polar tenets of Vertov's theory were 'he caught unawares' and 'the Communist
deciphering of reality'. The 'kinoki' worked on two series of newsreels at the same time:
Kino-pravda ('Cine-tell') grouped facts in a political perspective, while the more
informal Goskinokalendar ('State film calendar') arranged them in a casual home -movie
style. Gradually the orator in Vertov took the upper hand: between 1924 and 1929 the
style of his feature-length drifted from the diary style towards 'pathos', while Kino-glaz
('Cine-eye', 1924) foregrounded singular events and individual figures. In accordance
with the trend at the time towards the monumental, Shagai, Soviet! ('Stride, Soviet!',
1926) was conceived as a 'symphony of work', and the poster-style The Eleventh Year
( 1928) as a 'hymn' celebrating the tenth anniversary of the Revolution.
Despite the self-effacing 'we' of the manifestos, the film practice of the 'kinoki' was
largely defined by Vertov's own highly individual amalgam of interests in music, poetry,
and science. Four years of music lessons followed by a year of studies at the Institute of
Neuropsychology in Petrograd ( 1916) led him to create what he later called the
'laboratory of hearing'. Inspired by the Italian Futurist Manifestos (published in Russia in
1914) and the trans-sense poetry (zaum) practiced by Russian and Italian futurist poets,
Vertov's acoustic experiments ranged from mixing fragments of steno-graphically
registered speech and gramophone records to verbal rendering of environmental noises
such as the sound of a saw-mill. After 1917, the futurist cult of noises was given a
revolutionary tinge by Proletkult as part of the 'art of production', and urban cacophonies
remained significant for Vertov throughout the 20s. He took part in the citywide
'symphony of factory whistles' (with additional sound effects of machine-guns, marine
cannons, and hydroplanes) staged in Baku in 1922, and his first sound film. Enthusiasm
( 1930) employed similar noise symphony for its soundtrack.
No less important was his suppressed passion for poetry. All his life Vertov wrote poetry
(never published) in the style of Walt Whitman and Vladimir Mayakovski, and in his
films of 1926-28 Vertov the poet emerges through profuse titling, particularly convoluted
in One Sixth of the World ( 1926) with its editing controlled by Whitmanesque interties’:
'You who eat the meat of reindeer [image] Dipping it into warm blood [image] You
sucking on your mother's breast [image] And you, high spirited hundred-years-old man',
etc. While some critics declared that such editing inaugurated a new genre of 'poetic
cinema' ( Viktor Shklovsky went so far as to see in the film traditional forms of the
'triolet'), others found it inconsistent with the LEF (Left Front) doctrine of 'cinema of
facts' to which the 'kiroki' formally subscribed.
In response to these Criticisms, Vertov ruled out the use of all interties’ from his filmic
manifesto The Man with the Movie Camera (Cheloveks kinoapparatom, 1929), a tour de
force which results in what appears to be the most 'theoretical' film of the silent era self-
confined to the image alone. Documentary in material but Utopian in essence (its setting
was a nowhere city, a composite location of bits of Moscow, Kiev, Odessa, and a coal-
mining region of the Ukraine), The Man with the Movie Camera summarized the thematic
universe of the 'kinoki' movement: the image of the worker perfect as the machine, that of
the film-maker as socially useful as the factory worker, together with that of the super-
sensitive spectator reacting to no matter how complicated a message the film offers to his
or her attention. In 1929, however, all these quixotic images were hopelessly out of date ~
including the master image of the film, that of the ideal city in which private life and the
life of the community are harmonized and controlled by the infallible eye of the movie
camera. More personal in style but less original in imagery, Vertov's post-'kinoki' films of
the sound period revolved around songs and music, images of women, and cult figures,
past and present. In Lullaby ( 1937) liberated women sing praise to Stalin, much in the
spirit of the earlier Three Songs of Lenin ( 1934), while Three Heroines ( 1938) shows
women mastering 'male' professions as engineer, pilot, and military officer. These three
films stem back to a project of 1933 carrying the generic title 'She', a film that was
supposed to 'race the working of the brain' of a fictional composer as he writes an
eponymous symphony of womanhood across the ages .Under Stalin, Vertov's feature-
length documentaries were largely suppressed: although never arrested, he was
blacklisted during the anti-Semitic campaign of 1949. He died of cancer on 12 February
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