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The Eye in Matter

Dziga Vertov and Early Soviet Cinema

October 2 – November 23, 2017 / Sabatini Building, Auditorium and Filmoteca Española, Cine Doré

Free admission until full capacity is reached

Dziga Vertov. Man with a Movie Camera . Film, 1929
Dziga Vertov. Man with a Movie Camera . Film, 1929

The philosopher Gilles Deleuze wrote that the films of Dziga Vertov revealed “an eye in matter, a perception such as it is in matter.” Prompted by the centennial of the October Revolution and by the growing interest in materialist philosophies and practices today, Museo Reina Sofia presents, in collaboration with the Filmoteca Española, this series, which returns to the path-breaking work of Vertov, bringing these experimental “film-things,” as he called them, into dialogue with other materialist currents in Soviet film-making from the period. 

Forging film “with our bare hands,” as Vertov proclaimed, the cinema of his kinoc group evolved rapidly through many phases and assumed a number of forms that ranged from animated propaganda shorts and agit-films assembled on racing trains to ethnographic documentaries and lyrical city symphonies. Trained in music and psychotechnics, Vertov approached every project with the enthusiasm and naivité of an autodidact, each time reinventing the technical possibilities of cinema and each time discovering new synaesthetic conjunctions between the embodied human sensorium and an emerging system of technical media. The Cine-Eye theory, formulated by the director, sought the greatest possible objectivity, rejecting scripts, staging and professional actors. Vertov wanted to find film in its purest state, adhering to the maxim that the camera lens captures reality better than the human eye.

Even today these films disclose unprecedented logics of experience: at certain moments they embed film’s optical-indexical trace into a system of natural correspondences deep within matter itself, while at other moments they project highly abstract compositional patterns far beyond the threshold of everyday perception (recent computer analysis reveals that many of Vertov’s films are organised according to the strictest mathematical principles). In Vertov’s body of work, base materialism and metaphysical calculus converge under the sign of political — albeit non-Party —commitment.                                                                             

Part retrospective and part recontextualization, this series presents a number of Vertov’s feature films and selections from his early chronicles, together with little-known Kulturfilme by famous masters like Kuleshov and Pudovkin; with works of contemporaneous non-fiction film-makers such as Esfir Shub and Mikhail Kaufman; with experimental European films that impacted Vertov and that he himself influenced; and with a number of now-forgotten documentaries by Vladimir Erofeev, Roman Karmen, and Vitalii Zhemchuzhnyi, among others, which question the theories set out by the director of Man with a Movie Camera (1929) on filming reality.  These films show that, from its inception a century ago, Soviet documentary has been the site of struggle between two competing epistemologies of reality that continue their contest today: on the one hand, the skeptical positivism of intransigent facts and, on the other, the logical objectivism of abstract concepts. Throughout almost thirty sessions, this film series establishes a panoramic approximation to the period through both. 

All the films are projected in the original version with Spanish subtitles

Free admission until full capacity is reached

  • Curatorship: Devin Fore
  • Organized by: Museo Reina Sofía
  • In collaboration with:

    Filmoteca Española

    With special thanks to:

    Austrian Film Museum, Vienna and Gosfilmofond of Russia, Moscow

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Program

Dziga Vertov. Kinonedelja Nº. 1[Kino-Week nos. 1]. Film, 1918.  Courtesy of the Austrian Film Museum \ From the Special Collection Dziga Vertov

Monday, October 2 - 7:00 p.m.

Session 1. NEWSREELS

Museo Reina Sofía. Sabatini Building, Auditorium

Dziga Vertov
Kinonedelja nr. 1 / 3 / 5 / 33  [Kino-Week nos. 1 / 3 / 5 / 33], 1918-1919
URSS, 35 mm, silent, b/w, 11' /  10' /  6' / 9' 

Kinopravda nr. 5 / 14 /  15 / 18  [Cine-Truth nos. 5 / 14 / 15 / 18], 1922-1924
URSS, 35 mm, silent, b/w, 8' / 14' / 22' / 14'

Session hosted by Chema González, Head of Cultural and Audiovisual Programs at the Reina Sofía Museum, and Carlos Reviriego, Deputy Director of the Spanish Film Archive.

This first Session shows the rapid evolution of a brilliant self-taught filmmaker. In six short years, between Kino-nedelia no. 1 (1918) and Kino-Pravda no. 18 (1924) unfolds an entire history of cinema, developed inductively and endogenously. In the first newsreels, the rhythm of the editing is predictable and regular; the subjects recorded are mostly public events; resting upon its tripod at eye-level, the camera’s view emulates the visual orientation of the human body. As the session moves forward, Vertov adds element upon element to this syntax. The camerawork grows more eccentric and leaves behind the optical analogy with the eye to become something that no longer has a referent in the human body. And by Kino-Pravda no. 18 an entirely new language has emerged: the camera is now embedded in moving machinery ranging from elevators to planes and machines; complex alternations between the directions and speeds of the camera pans set up contrapuntal visual rhythms; titles are integrated into the film as moving images; and the film concludes with a swift staccato montage that pushes against the limit of perception.

Portrait of Esfir Shub, author of Velikii put’ [The Great Path],  1927

Tuesday, October 3 - 5:30 p.m.

Session 2. COMPILATION CINEMA

Filmoteca Española. Cine Doré. Sala 1
Segundo pase: viernes, 3 de noviembre - 17:30 h

Esfir Shub
Velikii put’  [The Great Path], 1927
URSS, 35 mm, silent, b/w,  115'

Shub was a master at the art of repurposing. Like its more famous pendant, Fall of the Romanov Dynasty, which covered the years 1912-1917, The Great Path, which was celebrates the advances made by Bolsheviks in their first decade of power, was stitched together out of newsreel footage taken from diverse sources. A voracious researcher, Shub worked through countless kilometers of footage to assemble The Great Path. Shub explained that The Great Path was more difficult to make than Fall of the Romanov Dynasty for technical reasons: the more recent footage had been poorly archived and indexed, especially after 1922, and so, as she approached the present day, the film was harder for her to sequence chronologically. But this technical challenge was also a philosophical one: How is it possible to make sense of the present moment while still in the midst of its chaotic unfolding, when the telos is history is not yet clear? The Great Path picks up where the last film left off, amidst broken statues at the zero hour of socialism.

Portrait of Esfir Shub, author of Velikii put’ [The Great Path], 1927

Wednesday, October 4 - 7:00 p.m.

Session 3. ANIMATION

Museo Reina Sofía. Sabatini’s Building. Auditorium 

Vladislav Starevic
 Strekoza i muravei  [The grasshopper and the ant], 1911
URSS, 35 mm, silent, b/w, 5'

Dziga Vertov
Sovietskie igrushki [Soviet Toys], 1924
USSR, 35 mm, silent, b/w, 11'

Nicolai Khodotaev
Mezhplanetnaia revoliutsiia [Interplenatary Revolution], 1924
USSR, 35 mm, silent, b/w, 8'
Kitai v ogne [China in Flames], 1925
USSR, 35 mm, silent, b/w, 32'
Samoedskii mal’chik [Samoed boy], 1928
USSR, 35 mm, silent, b/w, 7'

Nicolai Bartram
Katok [Ice Rink], 1927
USSR, 35 mm, silent, b/w, 7'

Nicolai Khodotaev
Groznyi Vavila i tetka Arina [Formidable Vavila and Little Aunt Arina], 1928
USSR, 35 mm, silent, b/w, 7'
Odna iz mnogikh [One of Many], 1927 
USSR, 35 mm, b/w, 15'
Budem zorki [We will be in alert], 1927
USSR, 35mm, silent, sepia, 3'



Presented by Gonzalo de Pedro, film programmer and professor at Carlos III University of Madrid.

  Vertov regularly incorporated animated sequences into his films, both of the cel and, more often, of the stop-motion variety. At the beginning of his career he produced two standalone animations, including Soviet Toys, and even at the end he still had unrealized plans for a full-length feature animation. At first glance, Vertov’s interest in animation is difficult to reconcile with the epistemology of objectivity that underwrites documentary, for animated cinema is not taken from life but is something completely fabricated, if not fantastical. And yet, in a different regard, animation (especially stop-motion) is in fact a corollary expression of documentary’s desire to depict a world “caught unawares,” since it seeks to pull aside the veil of human perception and witness things as they exist without us.  

Dziga Vertov. Kinoglaz Film, 1924.  Courtesy of the Austrian Film Museum \ From the Special Collection Dziga Vertov

Friday, October 6 - 5:30 p.m.

Session 4. KINO-EYE

Filmoteca Española. Cine Doré. Sala 1

Dziga Vertov Kinoglaz [Kino-eye], 1924
USSR, 35 mm, silent, b/w, 78'

Presented by Devin A. Fore, professor at Princeton University, curator of the series and film scholar specialized in cinema and image theory within the Soviet avant-garde.

In 1916, at the age of 20, Vertov was introduced to a variety of experimental instruments for scientific inquiry. These tools made it possible to record phenomena and processes that were otherwise undetectable to the unaided eye. So too would the camera become for Vertov a device for scientific investigation, a means not to tell stories or to make art and but to disclose aspects of the empirical material world. For him, the camera was meant not to represent reality but to uncover its underlying laws and structures. Like the microscope and the telescope, the movie camera was an instrument for understanding the world. Kino-Eye explores the potential of this device for epistemological discovery. Not only does it show us life from vantages inaccessible to the human eye and penetrate through flesh with x-ray vision, but it also makes visible the causalities that surround us every day but to which we remain oblivious.

 

Dave Fleischer. The Einstein Theory of Relativity. Film, 1923

Saturday, 7 de October - 7:00 p.m.

Session 5. INFLUENCES

Museo Reina Sofía. Sabatini’s Building. Auditorium

Dave Fleischer 
The Einstein Theory of Relativity, 1923
EE.UU., BetaSP, silent, b/w, 29'

Vitalii Zhemchuzhnyi
 Stekliannyi glaz [Glass Eye], 1928  
URSS, 35 mm, silent, b/w, 48'

  When Vertov saw Kornblum’s popular science film The Einstein Theory of Relativity for the first time, he claimed to have had the idea one year before. Indeed, although it may not resemble any of Vertov’s work formally, Kornblum’s film, which survives today only in a drastically shortened English-language edit, contains a wealth of Vertovian concepts. After a tour of the technological marvels of the present, The Einstein Theory of Relativity proclaims that these inventions were the result of having overcome “the deception of the senses.”

As the title indicates, Glass Eye, by director Vitalii Zhemchuzhnyi and writer Lili Brik, is a direct reference to Vertov’s Kino-Eye. Engaging directly with the contemporary debates around the “played” and the “unplayed” film, i.e. the scripted and the documentary, Glass Eye consists of two parts: the first half of the film offers a sendoff to the tradition of Hollywood studio cinema, the other half of the film consists of episodes from contemporary documentary and scientific films that demonstrate the nearly unlimited powers of the camera.

 

Vsevolod Pudovkin. Mekhanika golovnogo mozga [Mechanics of the brain]. Film, 1926

Sunday, October 8 - 8:00 p.m.

Session 6. KULTURFILM I

Filmoteca Española. Cine Doré. Sala 2
Segunda sesión: Wednesday, November 8 - 8:00 p.m.

Lev KuleshovSorok serdets [Forty Heats], 1931
URSS, 35 mm, silent, b/w, 49'


Vsevolod PudovkinMekhanika golovnogo mozga [Mechanics of the brain], 1926
URSS, 35 mm, silent, b/w, 98’

The genre known as the kulturfilm (a designation taken from the German) is one of the most important yet forgotten genres of early Soviet cinema. Almost all of the great masters of the period, including Eisenstein, tried the form out. Burgeoning in the second half of the 1920, this genre of educational documentary then disappeared just as quickly in the beginning of the 1930s. This session offers a sample of educational documentary, a genre that was left in an uncomfortable position amid the ideological debates pitting reality against fiction.  On the one hand, the kulturfilm’s commitment to scientific topics ranging from personal hygiene to ethnography evidenced its strong commitment to the laws of objective reality over fictionalization. On the other hand, the means that these instructional films used to convey these laws were not strictly documentary. For example, these instructional films often employed reenactments to depict paradigmatic cases, which, technically speaking, made them “played” fiction films. The kulturfilm’s task of edification did not foreclose the possibility of entertainment.

Dziga Vertov. Kino-pravda: 23. Radiopravda [Kino-Truth: 23. Radiopravda]. Film, 1925.  Courtesy of the Austrian Film Museum \ From the Special Collection Dziga Vertov

Monday, October 9 - 7:00 p.m.

Sesión 7. KINO PRAVDA

Museo Reina Sofía. Sabatini’s Building. Auditorium

Dziga Vertov
Kino-pravda: 21. Leninskaia kinopravda [Kino-Truth: 21. Lenin Kino-Truth], 1925
USSR, 35 mm,  silent, b/w, 36’
Kino-pravda: 22. Krest’ianskaia kinopravda [Kino-Truth: 22. Peasant Kino-Truth], 1925
USSR, 35 mm, silent, b/w, 18’
Kino-pravda: 23. Radiopravda [Kino-Truth: 23. Radiopravda], 1925
USSR, 35 mm, silent, b/w, 23'

Presented by Miguel A. Bouhaben, film historian and professor at the Littoral Polytechnical Higher School and the Guayaquil University of Arts, Ecuador. Co-editor of Dziga Vertov. Memorias de un cineasta bolchevique (2011).

This sequence of the three final Kino-Pravdas touches upon three topics central to the political agenda and cultural imaginary of the period: the death and legacy of Lenin, the smychka (“union”) between the proletariat and the peasantry, and the electrification of the country. This suite of films reminds us that Vertov never thought of himself as a feature filmmaker. If the lengths of his “mature” works fall within the conventional range of 60-80 minutes, this was purely a convenience of marketing and distribution. Forgoing the structuring conceit of the narrative plot, there is very little that holds his films together as individual works. “There are no twenty-three Kino-Pravdas,” he wrote in 1926: “There is no film Kino-Eye. / There are no films about the Moscow Soviet, the State Trading Organization, and so on. You just think there are. / … There is the constant scientific and experimental work of Kino-Eye, / but there are no individual films, / there are no fulfilled commissions.”  

Dziga Vertov. Šagaj, Sovet! [Stride, Soviet!]. Film, 1926. Courtesy of the Deutsche Kinemathek

Tuesday, October 10 - 5:30 p.m.

Session 8. MOVING FORWARD

Filmoteca Española. Cine Doré. Sala 1
Second screening: Friday, November 10 - 8:00 p.m.

Dziga Vertov
 Šagaj, Sovet! [Stride, Soviet!], 1926
URSS, 35 mm, silent, b/w, 80'

Commissioned by the Moscow Soviet to advertise their achievements and get them re-elected, Stride Soviet! in fact does little to campaign for any actual members of Mossovet. Traditional politics is about discourse and debate, but in this film Vertov is far more interested in showing the politics of technology. If, in Lenin’s famous definition, “Socialism equals power to the soviets plus the electrification of the entire country,” in this film Vertov clearly privileges the latter over the former. Stride Soviet! exemplifies an existence based in science, matter and technical construction.Vertov replaces speech with making, communication with metabolism, the rhythm of syntax with the rhythm of machines.  

Esfir Shub. Segodnia  [Today]. Film, 1930

Wednesday, October 11 - 7:00 p.m.

Session 9. COMPILATION CINEMA

Museo Reina Sofía. Sabatini’s Building. Auditorium

Esfir Shub
 Segodnia  [Today], 1930
URSS, 35 mm, silent, b/w, 65'

Shub’s structures her remarkable film Today around the contrast between life here (“u nas”) and life there (“u nikh,” i.e. in the capitalist west). Like Vertov’s One Sixth of the World, it situates the Soviet Union in the global order of its day. But whereas Vertov’s film explores the Soviet Union’s economic position in the world, Today focuses on its political, technological and cultural position. Here people are being scrubbed and hygiene is being promoted; women in Central Asia are removing their veils and are educated; palaces of culture and leisure are being built for the working class. There, on the other hand, chaos and oppression reign: Sacco and Vanzetti are executed and protests ensue; harsh colonial regimes fetter the global masses; and all the while a bored ruling class distracts itself with frivolous pursuits. For Shub this kind of sensationalism only seals the downfall of an anemic capitalist order.  

Dziga Vertov. Šestaja čast' mira [One Sixth of the World]. Film, 1926.  Courtesy of the Austrian Film Museum \ From the Special Collection Dziga Vertov

Friday, October 13 - 5:30 p.m.

Session 10. VERTOV

Filmoteca Española. Cine Doré. Sala 1

Dziga VertovŠestaja čast' mira [One Sixt Part of The World], 1926
URSS, 35 mm, silent, b/w, 73'

The Soviet Union was a massive multiethnic empire divided internally by extremes of socio-cultural difference and by the seemingly insurmountable obstacles imposed by geography itself. In One Sixth of the World, Vertov documented the traditional labor practices of the country’s minority cultures, connecting the work performed in these distant, seemingly marginal locales to the factory sites of the industrial proletariat. This ethnographic film does not privilege the latter as the exclusive revolutionary subject. It lionizes diverse forms of labor performed by the Soviet peasantry and national minorities, ranging from reindeer husbandry to traditional agriculture. All Soviet workers, irrespective of language, ethnicity or social habitus, contribute to a single collectivity of production, the film insists. . Rather than anchoring his film in any fixed location, Vertov instead vaults from location to location, tracing the vectors of movement in which commodities, materials and capital circulate although hardly homogenous––economic network, there are no static positions or values.  

Pare Lorentz. The River. Film, 1937

Saturday, October 14 - 7:00 p.m.

Session 11. ETHNOGRAPHIC DOCUMENTARY I

Museo Reina Sofía. Sabatini’s Building. Auditorium

Pare Lorentz The River , 1937
USA., 35 mm, b/w, 31'

The treatment of landscapes in Pare Lorentz’ work largely echoes Soviet ethnographic documentary within the context of the American New Deal. The landscapes of Lorentz’s The River are efflorescing and even quasi-animistic. The eponymous protagonist of this Farm Security Administration film, the Mississippi river, reacts to mankind’s labors in unpredictable and willful ways. Besides the remarkable landscape footage, perhaps the most striking feature of Lorentz’s film is its overdubbed narration, a poem written by Lorentz in blank verse spoken by the opera singer Thomas Chalmers. Not for nothing, in fact, did Vertov use the ode as a model for the incantatory, non-narrative intertitles of the silent film One Sixth of the World.  

Retrato de Roman Karmen, autor de Moskva–Karakum–Moskva [Moscú–Karakum–Moscú], 1933

Sunday, October 15 - 5:30 p.m.

Session 12. CONNECTIONS

Filmoteca Española. Cine Doré. Sala 1
Second screening:
Tuesday, November 14 - 8:00 p.m.
Filmoteca Española. Cine Doré. Sala 2


Roman Karmen

Moskva–Karakum–Moskva [Moscow–Karakum– Moscow], 1933
USSR, 35 mm, silent, b/w, 30'
K Sobytijam v Ispanii  nr. 2 / 7/ 10 / 11 / 14 / 17 [On the Events in Spain nos. 2 / 7/ 10 / 11 / 14 / 17], 1936-1937
USSR, 35 mm, b/w, 60'

 Roman Karmen was one of the foremost war filmmakers of the 20th century. Trained in the context of the soviet debate around documentary, his cinematic perspective established its models of representation as both a historical experience and a constant flow of current affairs. Previously, Karmen would shoot this return trip from Moscow to Central Asia’s Karakum desert and back at the end of the summer of 1933, taking up again the “cine-race” genre (Kino-probeg). Moscow–Karakum–Moscow provides a survey of the diverse Soviet empire, it also pays tribute to the victories of the First Five-Year Plan. On the Events in Spain, 1936-1937 gathers together the newsreel series on the Spanish front that Karmen shot and sent periodically to Moscow. Karmen’s ability to “capture” the historical subject through the different typologies of men as well as to record the live events (sometimes without even thinking about restaging them) made these installments into one of the most significant film archives of the Spanish Civil War.  

Dziga Vertov. Odinnadtsatyi [El undécimo año]. Película, 1928.  Cortesía del Austrian Film Museum \ De la Colección especial Dziga Vertov

Tuesday, October 17 - 5:30 p.m.

Session 13. VERTOV

Filmoteca Española. Cine Doré. Sala 1
Second screening:
Wednesday, November 15 - 7:30 p.m.
Filmoteca Española. Cine Doré. Sala 2


Dziga Vertov Odinnadtsatyi [The Eleventh Year], 1928
USSR, DCP, silent, b/n, 53'

 The Eleventh Year brings together two seemingly unconnected and infinitely distant moments in time: on the one hand, the construction of the world’s largest hydroelectric station on the Dniepr river in the Ukraine and, on the other, the excavation of a pair of two-thousand year-old Scythian skeletons recently discovered at the site of the industrial enterprise. Vertov’s working notes for the film describe a project driven by the friction generated through the unlikely juxtaposition of these two moments, the tension between the silent “Scythian in the grave and the din made by the onset of the new life.” After a series of dynamite blasts have set world history in motion, liberating the skeletons from their static earthly tomb, time begins to course and circulate around these remains like the water that will soon flood the territory above the dam. In this case Kino-Eye “means the conquest of time––a visual bond between phenomena that are temporally remote from one another.”  

Sergei Eisenstein. Lo Viejo y lo Nuevo (La línea general) [General’naia liniia]. Película, 1929. Cortesía de Filmoteca Española

MWednesday, October 18 - 7:00 p.m.

Session 14. EISENSTEIN VERSUS VERTOV

Sabatini’s Building. Auditorium

Sergei Eisenstein
Staroie i Novoie o General’naia liniia [The General Line],1929
USSR, 35 mm, silent, b/n, 90'

Made at the apogee of Vertov’s influence, The General Line was Eisenstein’s one attempt to make a feature-length documentary film. Not, however, that the result of this attempt resembled any work of Vertov. Eisenstein’s remarkable film about agricultural industrialization and the smychka between rural peasants and urban workers contained a number of its own formal innovations. First of all, Eisenstein came up with a clever dramaturgical solution to the challenge of the “non-played” film: instead of using professional actors, Eisenstein cast people essentially to play themselves on screen. Secondly, documentary’s prohibition against filming within the controlled confines of the studio also forced Eisenstein out-of-doors, where he and cameraman Eduard Tissé shot en plein air. Using a complex set of mirrors to reflect light and a 28mm lens that allowed them to achieve an unprecedented focal range, Eisenstein and Tissé produced some of the visually most striking images of landscape in the cinema of the time.  

Mikhail Kaufman. Vesnoi [En primavera]. Película, 1929. Fuente Colección EYE Filmmuseum

Friday, October 20 - 5:30 p.m.

Session 15. OFFSHOOTS

Filmoteca Española. Cine Doré. Sala 1
Second screening: Thursday, November 16 - 5:30 p.m.

Mikhail Kaufman
 Vesnoi [Spring], 1929

USSR, 35 mm, silent, b/n, 67'

Joris IvensRegen [Rain], 1929  
The Netherlands, 35 mm, silent, b/n, 12'

 Spring was the first film that kinoc cameraman Mikhail Kaufman made after breaking with his older brother. Kaufman had felt sidelined in their last production together, Man with a Movie Camera, whose final edit was quite different from what Kaufman had expected. Spring testifies to a very different sensibility than Vertov’s. Above all, in Spring, Vertov’s technophilia is replaced by visually more lyrical compositions. Like Man with a Movie Camera, Spring foregoes intertitles entirely, realizing Kaufman’s goal of “speaking in pure film language, without recourse to the help of literary explanations,” but for Kaufman, it was nature, not technology, that most eloquently expressed this pure film language, this language without the intercession of human speech or thought, as reflected in the fact that some of the most striking sequences of Spring are its shots of running water. With these sequences, where Kaufman captures the materiality of spring at the most elemental level of existence, in the change of state of water, from frozen solid to dynamic liquid. In the process Kaufman discovers that water––all movement and reflected light––is one of the most cinematic of subjects. The same year Dutch filmmaker Joris Ivens made this discovery as well: his experimental documentary Rain pivots the camera downward and Amsterdam emerges in the reflective mirror of the water’s surface, just like the picture on a movie screen.  

René Clair. Paris qui dort [Paris dormido]. Película, 1928. (c) Fondation Jérôme Seydoux-Pathé

Saturday, October 21 - 7:00 p.m.

Session 16. EUROPEAN CONTEXTS I

Museo Reina Sofía. Sabatini’s Building. Auditorium

Alberto Cavalcanti
 Rien que les heures [Nothing but Time], 1926
France, Bluray, silent, b/w, 47'  

René Clair
 Paris qui dort [Paris Asleep or The Crazy Ray], 1924
France, 35 mm, silent, 35’

Hans Richter
 Everyday, 1929

United Kingdom, 16 mm, b/w, 17'

This session considers the interactions and influences between Vertov and contemporaneous European avant-garde filmmakers. Vertov despaired when he first saw Paris qui dort in 1926, claiming that he had conceived a similar film several years before, albeit set in Moscow rather than Paris. Clair’s science fiction film tells the story of a city frozen by a scientist who has invented a ray that stops time. Vertov referred also to Cavalcanti’s Rien que les heures in his writings, as a film that consists of a series of strange minimal narratemes, fragments of stories that are repeated and intercalated with one another. For its part, Hans Richter first met Vertov in the summer of 1929 when he was touring Europe with Man with A Movie Camera. The close dialogue with Vertov is evident in Everyday’s close-ups of hands and machines, its stop-motion animations, its shots of the audience in the movie theater, its depictions of labor.  

Dziga Vertov. El hombre de la cámara. Película, 1929. Fuente Colección EYE Filmmuseum

Sunday, October 22 - 9:30 p.m.

Session 17. VERTOV

Filmoteca Española. Cine Doré. Sala 1
Second screening: 
Friday, November 17 - 8:00 p.m.
Filmoteca Española. Cine Doré. Sala 2

Dziga VertovChelovek s kinoapparatom [Man with a movie camera], 1929
USSR, 35 mm, silent, b/w, 86'

 Justifiably recognized not just as Vertov’s masterpiece but also as one of the greatest works in the history of cinema, Man with a Movie Camera rewards multiple viewings. This is not just because it’s a classic. Designed to defy linear narrative thought, the complex structure of its editing sets up a vast network of connections and causalities among its individual episodes that could never be fathomed in a single sitting. Vertov’s film only provides the thinnest pretense of a plot: a cameraman travels around a city in a single day. Man With a Movie Camera was Vertov’s technophilic, tongue-in-cheek response to the emergent poetics of Socialist Realism, which demanded a return to psychological drama and depth through representations of the “living person” (zhivoi chelovek). By the end of the film, it becomes clear that the real star of the show is not the cameraman but the apparatus that he carries. A film about the powers of film, Man with a Movie Camera is not just a self-reflexive summa of the formal devices that Vertov learned in his first decade using a camera, but also a proclamation of this apparatus’s superiority to man.  

Mikhail Kaufman. Moskva [Moscú]. Película, 1927

Monday, October 23 - 7:00 p.m.

Session 18. URBAN SYMPONY

Museo Reina Sofía. Sabatini’s Building. Auditorium

Mikhail Kaufman Moskva [Moscow], 1927
USSR, digital file, silent, b/w, 60’

Presented by Marcelo Expósito, artist, theorist and freelance lecturer. His work includes research on the contemporary reception of Dziga Vertov and the Russian avant-garde.

 Shot together with fellow kinoc Il’ia Kopalin, Kaufman’s city symphony observes very different principles than Man with a Movie Camera. While Vertov’s film constructed an abstract and ideal-typical city out of footage collected in Kiev, Moscow and Odessa, Kaufman’s Moscow is firmly grounded in the topography of the Russian capital, its specific streets, bridges, squares and monuments. Vertov’s city symphony dispenses with all intertitles, but Kaufman identifies by name each specific location, every street and factory, so that the spectator always knows where he or she finds herself. The composition of the film is correspondingly logical and transparent and by the end of the film the spectator feels an intimate familiarity with this bustling metropolis as if one of its own denizens.  

Jean Vigo. Taris, rey del agua [Taris, rois de l'eau]. Película, 1931. (c) Gaumont

Tuesday, October 24 - 8:00 p.m.

Session 19. EUROPEAN CONTEXTS II

Filmoteca Española. Cine Doré. Sala 2
Second screening:
Friday, November 17 - 6:00 p.m.

Eugene Deslaw
La marche des machines [March of the Machines], 1928
France, 16 mm, silent, b/w, 9'

Jean Lods
La Seine, la vie d’un fleuve [The Seine, the Life of a River], 1931
France, digital file, b/w, 25'

Jean Vigo 
Taris, roi de l’eau [Taris, King of the Waters], 1931
France, 16 mm, silent, b/w, 9'

Jean Lods
Le Mile, Jules Ladoumègue [The Mile, Jules Ladoumègue], 1932
France, digital file, b/w, 41'

Joris Ivens
De Brug [The Bridge], 1928
The Netherlands, 16 mm, silent, b/w, 14'

Jean Lods
Odessa, Histoire d'une ville [Odesa, History of a City], 1936
USSR, digital file, b/w, 24'

 

This session foregrounds the collaborations between French filmmakers and cameraman Boris Kaufman, the youngest of the three Kaufman brothers. In 1927 the 21-year-old moved to Paris to study philosophy, but quickly found himself following in his older brothers’ footsteps. Already the next year his first film experiment came out, the short La marche des machines, which consisted entirely of the rhythmic details and abstract geometries made by factory machinery. Kaufman’s film is paired in the session with Ivens’ contemporaneous short about the new Rotterdam train bridge, which uses similar formal means as Kaufman, but which avoids the latter’s extreme machine fetishization.The human body figures more prominently in the other films in this session. The early sound film La Seine explores the interactions between the river, the landscape and the workers who move between the two. Taris, roi de l’eau and Jules Ladoumègue are portraits of record-breaking athletes, in swimming and track respectively. Both films were made after Vertov stayed with his brother during the European tour of Man With a Movie Camera.The session is rounded out by a documentary by Jean Lods about Odessa, which Vertov claimed as a descendant of his own work.

 

Joris Ivens. Pesni o geroiakh [Canción de héroes]. Película, 1931. Fuente Colección EYE Filmmuseum

Thursday, October 26 - 7:00 p.m.

Session 20. INDUSTRIAL SYMPHONY

Museo Reina Sofía. Sabatini’s Building. Auditorium

Joris Ivens
Pesni o geroiakh [Song of Heroes], 1931
USSR, 35 mm, b/w, 49’

Two years after Vertov filmed Enthusiasm, Ivens shot Song of Heroes (aka Komsomol) in Magnitogorsk, a small town in the Urals that the first Five-Year Plan had transformed into one of the most important Soviet steelworks. There was no infrastructure for the tens of thousands of peasants and workers who were relocated overnight to the site, both electively and forcibly, so foreign experts like the German architect and urban planner Ernst May were called in to design an entire civilization ex nihilo complete with housing, schools, and places of leisure. Unlike in Vertov’s “Donbass Symphony,” most of the sound in Song of Heroes is not location recording but overdubbing. Although there are long passages of industrial clatter and pounding noise, these sounds are embedded digetically by machines that are visible on the screen. Short dialogues––what Ivens called “organized episodes”––were shot in a film studio. Even the rousing song at the end, with music by Hans Eisler and text by the factographer Sergei Tret’iakov, is performed by the Komsomol as they drive by at night with flares in their hands.  

Dziga Vertov. Éntuziazm [Entusiasmo / Sinfonía del Donbáss], 1930]. Película, 1930. De la Colección del Austrian Film Museum \ Ampliación del marco Georg Wasner

Friday, October 27 - 5:30 p.m.

Session 21. VERTOV

Filmoteca Española. Cine Doré. Sala 1
Second screening:
Tuesday, November 21 - 5:30 p.m.

Dziga Vertov
Entuziazm [Enthusiasm], 1930
USSR, 35mm, silent, b/w, 65’

The first screening will be presented by Peter Kubelka, experimental filmmaker and founder of the Austrian Film Museum.

  Vertov dreamt of making sound film long before its technical invention and in 1929 he finally got his chance. The resulting film, Enthusiasm, is one of Vertov’s most experimental works and correspondingly difficult to situate within the mediatic economy of its day: part moving picture, part radio broadcast, part morse code transmission, and part sheer noise, the film even contains a version of television avant la lettre. As usual Vertov persisted against gravity, resulting in a film that, in Vertov’s words, “dramatically expands our aural horizon.” Rejecting the “division of films according to the categories of talking, noise, or sound,” as he put it, Enthusiam forces human speech to compete with other varieties of sound and presents all varieties of machine language, from the radiotelegraph and the ticking of a metronome to the factory whistle that is manipulated by Vertov to sound distinct musical notes. Human speech is in the film as well, but never in the form of plot-driven dialogue. The soundtrack of the film, hailed today as one of the first examples of musique concrète.