KinoKultura: Issue 55 (2017)

The Truth about Kino-Pravda, or Censorship as a Productive Force

By John MacKay

As Séverine Graff notes in her indispensable recent book on the early history (ca. 1960–1970) of cinéma-vérité (“film-truth”), it has become almost de rigueur to designate Dziga Vertov (1896–1954), the main creator of the Kino-Pravda (“Film-Truth”) experimental newsreels (1922–1925) among many other non-fiction works, as one of the key predecessors and prophets of that immensely influential approach to documentary, as a simple Google search (say, “Vertov cinéma vérité”) will confirm (Graff 2014: 53). Film historian Georges Sadoul (1904–1967) was, as Graff demonstrates, unquestionably the main fashioner and promoter of this lineage, the person who probably did more to re-insert Vertov into both film history and discussions about contemporary film practice than anyone else outside the USSR. We know much more about Vertov today than Sadoul did, however, and recent research suggests that revisiting the canonical Kino-Pravda-vérité partnership might prove historically clarifying. Vertov once wrote that “showing the truth is far from easy,” but that the truth itself “is simple” (Vertov 1936). As we will soon see, alas, neither the truth about “Kino-Pravda” nor the showing of it are simple at all.

Vertov was a late enthusiasm of Sadoul’s: the historian had written about Vertov in his widely read 1949 History of an Art: Cinema from its origins to our time, but his evaluation of Vertov was then neither very positive nor (as we will see) especially well informed (Sadoul 1949: 170-175, 180-183, 193, 221, 300-301, 339). His belated interest in Vertov, which took up a good part of his final decade, might have been piqued in October 1955, when he went to Moscow as part of the French delegation during the first French Film Week (Iutkevich 1955; Gallinari 2006). Sadoul had been friends and colleagues for years with poet and fellow Communist Louis Aragon and Aragon's wife, the writer Elsa Triolet; and this connection is probably what got him, along with the famous actor (and fellow Communist) Gérard Philipe, an invitation to the home of Lilya Brik, Triolet’s sister and Mayakovsky’s legendary muse and lover (Plisetskaya 2001: 3187).[1] Either during that October 1955 gathering or some time later (but before 1959), Brik and her husband, the Mayakovsky scholar Vasilii Katanian, gave Sadoul a copy of Vertov’s article “Kinoks: A Revolution,” published in 1923 in the Mayakovsky-edited LEF. Returning to Moscow in August 1959 for the inaugural Moscow International Film Festival (MIFF), Sadoul together with his Russian-speaking wife Ruta stayed on into September to conduct interviews with Vertov’s widow and co-creator Elizaveta Svilova (1900–1975) and brother and collaborator Mikhail Kaufman (1897–1980), and to gather more information about Vertov (Sadoul Letter of 19 December 1959). He would return to the Soviet capital at least three more times during the 1960s, and would write to Svilova at least eight times, mainly in pursuit of Vertov’s writings and the filmographic and historical information that would end up in his 1971 book on Vertov, assembled by Bernard Eisenschitz after Sadoul’s death in 1967 (Sadoul 1971).[2]

It seems that at least two different discourses, of distinct provenance, helped draw Vertov into discussions of “Film-Truth” as a topic and a desideratum around 1960, even before the emergence of “cinéma-vérité” as such. The first is the ambiguous Thaw-era Soviet call for truth telling in the wake of the mythologizing, falsification and “varnishing” of reality characteristic of the Stalin period (Jones 2006: 10-18; Clark 2013: 86-91). Important both in political rhetoric and in artistic theory/practice, the injunction to speak “truth” influenced the Soviet presentation of Vertov’s writing already in 1957, as we can see on the first page of the selections, dated 1940, from his working notebooks:

[I]mplied in Kino-Eye were:
            all cinematic means,
            all cinematic inventions,
            all methods and means that might serve to reveal and show the truth.
            Not Kino-Eye for its own sake, but truth through the means and possibilities of the Kino-Eye, that is, Kino-Pravda (Vertov 1957: 113; Vertov 1984: 42).

These remarks were transmitted in early translations into German, English and French, and the centrality of “truth” to Vertov’s project continued to be affirmed almost ad nauseum by pioneering Soviet scholars like Sergei Drobashenko (Vertov 1962: 54; Romanov 1967; Drobashenko 1965). We will return to these affirmations later on in this essay.

Secondly, the notion of Vertov as a truth seeker dovetailed with an established Western view of Vertov as a filmmaker preoccupied with objectivity, and with the kinds of supposedly objective knowledge the camera could be used to produce. Indeed, Vertov's reputation outside the Soviet Union between c. 1937 and 1960 was not simply that of a partisan defender of non-fiction against fiction, but that of a dogmatic and often naive celebrant of this supposed “objectivity,” and hence epistemological superiority, of the camera and what it registers. This view evidently derived from an identification, erroneous though understandable, of Vertov’s term “Kino-Eye” with the movie camera or even just the camera's lens, whose name in both French and Russian—objectif—tempted a number of critics, especially but not only French ones, to designate Vertov a strict “objectivist.”[3] In his 1949 history of cinema, Sadoul (who at this point thought that Vertov had begun his career as an “actuality cameraman”) offered perhaps the clearest elaboration:

[Vertov] was given charge of establishing and directing a newsreel, the Kino-Pravda, a supplement to the big daily Pravda. These words, which signify cinéma vérité, were taken by Vertov as a watchword […] In their films and their manifestos, composed in a strange Futurist style, [Vertov and his Kino-Eye group] proclaimed that cinema must reject the actor, costumes, makeup, the studio, sets, lighting, in other words any mise-en-scène, and submit itself to the camera [alone], a more objective [objectif] eye than that of the human. For them, the impassiveness of the mechanical was the best guarantee of truth (Sadoul 1949: 172).

Thus were connected, somewhat shakily, Vertov’s “Kino-Eye” (the camera as an objective registrar of reality, a kind of extension and enhancement of the human eye and, later, ear), and “Kino-Pravda” (the capacity of cinema to help us know the world, in ways relatively untrammeled by the biases and limits of subjectivity), both terms assumed to be theorems critically and rigorously elaborated by the filmmaker. This influential take on Vertov—which had its own plausibility, to be sure, but also stood starkly at odds with the dominant Soviet emphasis upon the filmmaker’s committed, indeed Party-minded engagement, as we will see—at once helped to connect Vertov to the vérité/direct cinema of the early 1960s, provided fodder for a critique of vérité and Vertov alike, and began to come under fire, as a characterization of Vertov’s thought and work, by critics and historians inside and outside the USSR starting in the mid-1960s.

One of the triggers that eventually and unintentionally catalyzed these two discourses was sociologist and filmmaker Edgar Morin’s “For a new ‘cinéma-vérité’,” which must count (especially when its influence is measured against its brevity) as one of the most important essays on non-fiction ever written (Morin 1960). The writing of the article was itself triggered by the new kinds of documentary creation recently made possible by lighter sync-sound camera equipment—Morin wrote the piece after serving as a judge, along with ethnographer and filmmaker Jean Rouch, at the first Festival of Ethnographic and Sociological Film (Festival dei Popoli) in Florence in December 1959—and by postwar innovations in realist fiction filmmaking going back to Italian neorealism and extending into Morin's own moment of what was already being called the New Wave. For Morin, already the author of two important books about film, the “old” cinéma-vérité was nothing other than fiction film, of whose capacity to attain and express truths about human existence he had no doubt (Morin 1956; Morin 1957). Here he began to swerve decisively away from Vertov, of course—and by extension from Sadoul, source of the phrase “cinéma-vérité”—and indeed he explicitly stated that Robert Flaherty far more than Vertov is the “father” of the new, non-fiction cinéma-vérité (Morin 1960).[4]

But what fiction film, no matter how scrupulously crafted, cannot capture is “the authenticity of lived experience [vécu].” True, both early Soviet and Italian post-war cinema attempted to have people “act out their own lives,” but they never attained what Morin called the “irreducible je ne sais quoi found in [images] ‘taken on the spot’ [‘pris sur le vif’].” Earlier documentary filmmakers, largely because of the unwieldy equipment they had to lug around, were primarily capable of showing either large panoramas of mass activity or the movement of machines. Efforts like Vertov’s to supposedly capture “life unawares” at a more intimate distance were, Morin implied, both ethically questionable and limited to catching occasional snapshot-like bits of “living behavior.” By contrast, the new portable gear enabled the filmmaker to “plunge into a real milieu” and thereby to gain concrete social knowledge that might be shared to undo the social isolation so characteristic, in Morin’s view, of modern life (Graff 2014: 62-64).

Morin and Sadoul were not friends—the former had angrily left the French Communist Party (PCF) in 1951, while the latter remained in the PCF to the end of his days and was, until 1956 rolled around, a Stalin apologist nonpareil (de Baecque 2003: 1473-1485, 1576-1599)—and the only thing Morin seems to have taken from Sadoul’s Histoire is the phrase “cinéma-vérité” itself, which he never directly links to “Kino-Pravda” in any case. Meanwhile Sadoul, who never directly engaged with Morin’s text in print, began around May 1961 to use the terms “ciné-oeil” (“Kino-Eye”) and “cinéma-vérité,” invariably invoking the supposed Vertovian heritage, in reference to a variety of innovative films, fictional and non-fictional, that broke with cinematographic convention in pursuit of a more spontaneous, “plunged-into-the-milieu” style, such as John Cassavetes’s Shadows (1959) or Shirley Clarke’s The Connection (1961) (Graff 2014: 63).

Sadoul’s discursive takeover of “cinéma-vérité” should not be regarded as mere opportunistic poaching upon Morin's reintroduction of the idea in his brief article or (even more) in Chronique d'un été (1961; in collaboration with Jean Rouch), a landmark documentary whose accompanying publicity materials sometimes foregrounded the term “cinéma-vérité” more than the title of the film itself (Graff 2014: 63). As we have seen, Sadoul had become interested in Vertov well before Morin’s essay or Chronique had appeared, though I suspect that Morin was felt by the prolific historian to have thrown down a film-historical gauntlet, not least through his demotion of Vertov. One cannot but wonder, too, whether Vertov—committed revolutionary filmmaker and victim of Stalin-era administrative caprice—did not function as a kind of de-Stalinizing tonic for Sadoul, who neither wrote about his doubtless fraught reaction to the revelations of 1956 nor, indeed, made any mention of Vertov’s post-1938 marginalization. There is no doubt that Sadoul, through his articles, talks and the posthumous 1971 book, managed to insert Vertov into contemporary film culture—the New Waves in both documentary and fiction—very effectively.[5] The promotion campaign extended to the still-young academic discipline of film studies as well, beginning when Sadoul gave a series of eight lectures at the Sorbonne’s Institute of Filmology on (as he told Svilova) “the life and work of Vertov and above all about his theories, so fecund and relevant in 1962” (Sadoul, Letter of 21 January 1962).

By 8 March 1963, even before his well-known Vertov publications appeared in Cahiers du Cinéma, Sadoul could exult in another letter to Svilova:

I have just returned from Lyon where three days of academic lecturing and discussion were devoted to Cinéma-Vérité, with the best French, English, American, and Italian documentarists present, along with our mutual friend Joris Ivens. The discussion opened with my report on the historical importance of Dziga Vertov, the veritable prophet of contemporary cinema.

In effect, there is now developing in the West a movement of Cinéma-Vérité, the term having been chosen with reference to Dziga Vertov and to his Kino-Pravda. I know, of course, that it would be more just to speak of Kino-Eye, but the word “Cinéma-Vérité” has become, in France, in Italy and in many other countries, a veritable keyword (Sadoul Letter of 8 March 1963).[6]

The event in question is 2–4 March 1963 MIPE-TV conference in Lyon, France,[7] a meeting convened by musique concrète composer and pioneering media researcher Pierre Schaeffer, and probably the most self-conscious manifestation of cinéma-vérité as a genuine film-historical conjuncture. Like Graff and unlike Sadoul, I would hesitate to call it the gathering-together of a movement, not least because of the major differences of opinion and practical approach that divided the participants, who included such luminaries as Rouch, Morin, Sadoul, Richard Leacock, Richard Drew, Albert Maysles, Morris Engel, Jacques Rozier, Joris Ivens, Michel Brault, Raoul Coutard and many others.[8] While Soviet critics, looking upon the Lyon summit from afar, were appalled by the defenses of non-engaged, supposedly politically neutral “objectivity” and (even more) the association of Vertov with such a position (Anon. 1963; Iutkevich 1964; Basin 1964), Sadoul in his remarks crafted a version of vérité capable of encompassing both the montage virtuoso Vertov and the patiently observational Robert J. Flaherty—around whose names opposing non-fictional camps could and did form—while couching his quite liberal account of vérité in expressly Vertovian terminology (“Kino-Eye,” “radio-ear,” “interval,” etc.) (Sadoul 1963; Graff 2011: 73).

Over the years, plenty of people have doubted the validity—or perhaps even more, the coherence—of the Vertov-vérité connection (de Heusch 1962: 29; Rothman 1997: 92-94). Those skeptics may be forgiven for wondering, as they surely did and do, what the filigree montage artifice of a film like Man with a Movie Camera—far and away the best known of Vertov’s films even back in those days—has to do with the famous non-interventionism of the vérité or “direct cinema” approaches to documentary. (Direct cinema great Albert Maysles (1926–2015) once told me that upon first watching Man with a Movie Camera, he was at once struck by how amazing it was, and by how little relation it had to anything he was trying to do in documentary.) As it turns out, none other than Georges Sadoul was among the first of the skeptics.

We have already cited the passage from the History where Sadoul claimed that Vertov’s “Kino-Pravda” was not merely the name, borrowed from the famous newspaper Pravda, for his experimental newsreel cycle of 1922–1925, but rather a “watchword,” a theoretical position, always rather vaguely defined, that the filmmaker developed over the course of his career. Just prior to the Lyon conference, however, and after carefully examining the texts he acquired from Svilova and others over the previous years, Sadoul began to doubt whether “Kino-Pravda” was indeed anything more than a label for the series. A scrupulous historian, he was gratified to discover, virtually on the eve of the MIPE-TV event, that Vertov had in fact used “Kino-Pravda” to describe a theoretical principle, at least late in his career:

At the last minute, I found a late text by Dziga Vertov where, in 1940, he uses Kino-Pravda not as the title of a periodical, but as Cinéma-vérité, a logical consequence of his entire theory of Kino-Eye combined with Radio-ear [which meant] knowing how to seize, as necessary, life as it is, in order to then capture it on film and later organize it into a work of art through montage (Graff 2014: 69).

And that was that, it would seem. Still, as we have said, persistent pockets of skepticism vis-à-vis the Kino-Pravda/cinéma-vérité nexus suggest the need for another look at the matter, which will entail our entering a small textual labyrinth.

The “late text” mentioned by Sadoul was undoubtedly “From the Working Notebooks of Dziga Vertov,” the inaugural 1957 publication in Iskusstvo Kino [Art of Cinema] which includes the following remarks on its second page (I have already quoted the first few lines):

[I]mplied in Kino-Eye were:
            all cinematic means,
            all cinematic inventions,
            all methods and means that might serve to reveal and show the truth.
            Not Kino-Eye for its own sake, but truth through the means and possibilities of the Kino-Eye, that is, Kino-Pravda.
            Not “filming life unawares” for the sake of “filming life unawares,” but in order to show people without masks, without makeup, to catch them through the eye of the camera in a moment when they are not acting, to read their thoughts, laid bare by the camera.
            Kino-Eye as the possibility of making the invisible visible, the unclear clear, the hidden manifest, the disguised overt, the acted nonacted (Vertov 1957: 113; Vertov 1984: 42).

Already at this point, however, the textual complications begin. As Sadoul indicates, this section of the “Working Notebooks” is dated to February 1940 in the 1957 publication, and evidently he never had a chance to acquaint himself with the version published in Vertov’s Articles, Diaries, Projects, which appeared as we know under the editorship of Sergei Drobashenko in 1966, less than a year before Sadoul’s death. The same text is included in that edition, in an article entitled “The Birth of ‘Kino-Eye’,” with the addition of a few lines:

Kino-Eye as the possibility of making the invisible visible, the unclear clear, the hidden manifest, the disguised overt, the acted nonacted; making falsehood into truth.

Kino-Eye [as] the union of science with non-fiction/newsreel film in the struggle for the Communist decoding of reality, as an attempt to show truth on the screen: film-truth [kinopravda] (Vertov 1984: 42; translation slightly altered).

—but with a drastic alteration of the date: from 1940 to 1924. This is the text and the date that has been disseminated around the world via translations of Articles, Diaries, Projects, and has stood for some years as the clearest evidence that “Kino-Pravda” was indeed a theoretical-practical watchword for Vertov from the early 1920s onward, and that Vertov could be legitimately regarded as a predecessor of cinéma-vérité and related documentary movements of the late 1950s-early 1960s.

The 2008 Russian edition of Vertov’s writings makes it clear, however, that “The Birth of Kino-Eye”—the name of the article’s first draft, later changed to “How did it begin?”—dates not to 1924 or to 1940, but to 1934, obvious not least because of its references to Three Songs of Lenin (1934) and the major films that Vertov had made between 1924 and 1934 (Vertov 2008: 265-267, 320-323, 557, 569).[9] “How did it begin?” went unpublished at the time, but was recycled in various ways for articles and talks written and delivered at the end of 1934 and beginning of 1935 (Vertov 2008: 267-274, 281-282, 289-295). The editors of the 2008 edition suggest that “How did it begin?”, written sometime toward the end of August-beginning of September 1934, was composed on the occasion of the fifteenth anniversary of Soviet cinema (27 August 1934).[10] This might be true, but if so, the article was almost certainly doing a very special kind of double-duty.

As those knowledgeable in the history of Soviet culture may have already noticed, with eyebrows raised, the late August-early September composition date of “How did it begin?” means that it was written in the immediate wake of, or even during, one of the central cultural events of the 1930s, namely the First Congress of Soviet Writers in Moscow (17 August–1 September 1934). It was at this Congress that an artistic dogma that had been taking on a shape and a name over the previous couple of years, specifically socialist realism, effectively came into its own as the artistic dogma of the USSR, along with the Writer's Union itself. “Truth” or (better) “truthfulness” (pravdivost') was a key desideratum on the socialist realist wish list (along with “realism in its revolutionary development,” “revolutionary romanticism” and other ideologemes), as this well-known remark by the Congress's organizer and convener Andrei Zhdanov reminds us:

Soviet authors have already created not a few outstanding works, which correctly and truthfully depict the life of our Soviet country. [...]

Comrade Stalin has called our writers engineers of human souls. What does this mean? What duties does the title confer upon you?

In the first place, it means knowing life so as to be able to depict it truthfully in works of art, not to depict it in a dead, scholastic way, not simply as “objective reality,” but to depict reality in its revolutionary development.

In addition to this, the truthfulness and historical concreteness of the artistic portrayal should be combined with the ideological remolding and education of the toiling people in the spirit of socialism. This method in belles lettres and literary criticism is what we call the method of socialist realism (Zhdanov 1977: 21).

Speaker after speaker invoked the importance of truthfulness-to-reality - considerably more often than they did the notion of “socialist realism” itself - while “formalism” (aka literary modernism or avant-gardism, especially the more anti-mimetic varieties) was correspondingly denounced.[11]

Vertov could not but have been aware of the scope and tenor of the Congress, and not only because it was covered extensively in the press and attended by several writers he knew well, in particular his patron and friend since childhood, journalist Mikhail Kol'tsov (1898–1940) (Pervyj Vsesoiuznyi S'ezd 221, 350). From the tribune of the Congress, prose writer and screenwriter Boris Agapov and children's author Nikolai Bogdanov praised Vertov’s recently completed Three Songs of Lenin as a prime example of the way that film, too, had begun to satisfy the truthfulness-and-sincerity requirements of the new aesthetic ideology.[12] For Vertov, who had been criticized ferociously and incessantly for his formalism among other sins by the “proletarian” critics of the Cultural Revolution period (especially between 1928 and 1933), these endorsements must have come as a major relief, and provided him with the opportunity to express his own agreement with the new general cultural line (Vertov 2008: 531-534, 542-545, 549-556).

And that, quite clearly, were what his remarks on “Kino-Eye” as but “the means”to “Kino-Pravda” were meant to do. Not merely, that is, to abjure formalism (“Kino-Eye for its own sake”), but to re-articulate those already historically Vertovian terms and preoccupations - Kino-Eye, Kino-Pravda; “all cinematic inventions”—in a way that would retroactively pave a path connecting the early phase of his career (with the Kino-Pravda series and his early manifestos) to the present socialist-realist moment. As a discursive move, it has no precedent in Vertov before late August-early September 1934: his sole prior defense of “Truth” (the concept, not the newspaper or the newsreel series) dates to April 1926 and functions, characteristically for those years, to mark the quite distinct difference between trashy “reddish” (krasnovataia) post-Revolutionary fiction films and his own non-fictional work, rather than the difference between formal “means” (“Kino-Eye”) and revealed “ends” (“Kino-Pravda”) (Vertov 2008: 112). The latter distinction is made often post-1934, becoming almost a ritual formula, though its iteration didn’t prevent him from being charged with formalism again, as we know (Vertov 2008: 266, 271, 282, 295, 326, 376). [13]

Thus Vertov’s valorization of “Film-Truth” pertains above all to his grappling with the socialist-realist conjuncture, not (as Sadoul and others have thought) with his more autonomous speculations about documentary. Somebody—probably either Drobashenko, or Svilova, or both—falsified “The Birth of Kino-Eye’s” birth-date, although I think we can legitimately doubt whether Vertov, who after all came up with this re-historicization of “Kino-Pravda” in the first place and wanted to retain a significant place within Soviet film history, would have been opposed to the swap. So is the whole “Kino-Pravda/cinéma-vérité” episode a regrettable (and not particularly funny) farce, a Red herring disturbing the waters of documentary history and theory for over 50 years for no good reason? Our story has one final twist that leads me to doubt whether even that by now apparently obvious truth is so obvious after all.

For whether he was prompted by the socialist-realist emphasis on individual heroes, by the now official hostility to “montage,” by new possibilities for documentary filming with synchronized sound, or by all three of these factors, Vertov was in fact seized, around the mid-1930s and later, by the idea of a more observational kind of non-fictional cinema, which he pursued in a preliminary way via the pioneering sync-sound interviews in Three Songs and in Lullaby (Kolybel’naia, 1937), as well as in the unreleased Three Heroines (1938). It seems certain that Drobashenko included several of Vertov’s unrealized plans for documentary “portraits” of ordinary Soviet individuals in the 1966 Articles, Diaries, Projects not only because of the then-current importance of such film-portraiture in documentary worldwide - Drobashenko was concurrently editing an important collection of international essays on vérité (Drobashenko 1967)—but also because Vertov did indeed intend to move in that more observational, subject-centered direction, as more acute observers of his career knew and as the recent edition of his script ideas plainly demonstrates (Vertov 1984: 296-297, 309-311, 316-320; Vertov 2004: 285-297, 439-440, 445-451, 454-474).[14]

All of this suggests that the boundaries between “socialist” and other kinds of realism—like cinéma-vérité—might on occasion be more porous, at least seen via a long historical view and considered in terms of representational practice rather than aesthetic ideology, than we might initially imagine. It might also suggest that we consider at least some acts of falsification, like the mis-dating of “The Birth of Kino-Eye,” as examples of what Heather Hendershot has called “censorship as a productive force” (Hendershot 1998: 2): in this case, not only as a means of converting Dziga Vertov into always-already a socialist-realist (and thereby saving him as a Soviet artist), but also as a way of connecting a largely forgotten and indeed (post-1934) largely unrealized non-fictional corpus to some of the most vital documentary currents of the 1960s and beyond. This, of course, is exactly what Sadoul, Rouch and others succeeded in doing.

John MacKay
Yale University


1] Also present at the Brik-Katanian soirée were author Anne Philipe (the actor’s wife), ballerina Maya Plisetskaya, and Plisetskaya’s future husband, composer Rodion Shchedrin (they first met that evening). Sadoul joined the French Communist Party in 1927 (Durteste 2004: 30).

2] He had been in Moscow in 1932 and 1952, and returned in the post-Stalin period in October 1955, October 1956 (briefly), August-September 1959, and (to attend MIFF) in July of 1961, 1963 and 1965. He gave a talk about Vertov during the 1965 MIFF, and apparently used his time in Moscow to see as many Vertov works as he could. See the letters in RGALI (Russian State Archive of Literature and Art) f. 2091, op. 2, d. 543; Graff 2014: 65. The Sadoul-Svilova correspondence stretches from 19 December 1959 to 25 July 1967.

3] To be sure, textual support for such a position can be found in Vertov's writings, particularly those from around the beginning of 1925 through the end of the 1920s, even if he never openly espouses “objectivism” as a positive value—preferring, often frustratingly, to couch his own stance in largely negative terms (“non-played film,” etc.). The clearest source for the “objectivist” line is a brief summary of Vertovian theses published in 1937, entitled “Ciné-Oeil” (“Kino-Eye”) and probably the remnant of program notes handed out by Vertov in France during his 1929 speaking tour—the piece derives from “Kino-Eye and The Eleventh Year” (written in January 1928; see Vertov 2008: 135-137)—which indeed overwhelmingly presents “facts” and the “non-played” as the exclusive center of Vertov’s notion of film (Vertov 1937). The summary was widely read as republished in Lapierre 1946: 207-209. See also Graff 2014: 60.

4] Morin had almost certainly seen some Vertov by this time, at least Man with a Movie Camera. Graff (2014: 61-62) writes of Morin’s refusal to “pose [Vertov] as a model”.

5] The other crucial promoter was Rouch, who began to speak of “Dziga Vertov, [Robert] Flaherty and [Henri] Cartier-Bresson” as his “three masters” no later than June 1963 (in the same issue of Cahiers du Cinéma where Sadoul’s selection from Vertov’s writings appeared (Rohmer and Marcorelles  1963: 15-16).

6] Sadoul’s remarks did not in fact open the conference, but they were among the most discussed; see Graff 2011.

7] Abbreviation for “Journées d’Études du Marché International des Programmes et Équipements du Service de la Recherche de la Télévision française” (Graff 2011: 65).

8] Some of the most important differences centered on the question of directorial intervention, with a major rift opening up between the anti-interventionist Leacock/Drew on one side and Jean Rouch on the other (Graff 2011: 74).

9] The editors of Stat'i (Kruzhkova and Ishevskaia 2008) plausibly suggest that the misdating to 1940 was due to a confusion with another, quite different autobiographical talk from that later year (entitled “Ot Kino-Nedeli k Kolybel'noi”), delivered in connection with the celebrations of Soviet cinema’s 20th year. See also Graff 2014: 70, footnote 56.

10] Today known as “Russian Cinema Day,” commemorating Lenin’s nationalization of cinema on 27 August 1919.

11] For but a few valorizations of “truthfulness,” “truth” and related words at the Congress, see (in Pervyi Vsesoiuznyi S’’ezd) the remarks by Zhdanov (3, 4), writer Samuil Marshak (30), novelist Leonid Leonov (150), veteran Party ideologue and operative Karl Radek (306-307, 310-311), playwright and ideologue Vladimir Kirshon (403-411), and Maxim Gorky (676) among many others. Against formalism, see inter alia the comments by journalist and novelist Ilya Ehrenburg (185), novelist Vsevolod Ivanov (229), writer Boris Lavrenev (432), and poet Nikolai Aseev (567-569).

12] Agapov: “If you go watch Three Songs of Lenin, the new work by Dziga Vertov—that once implacable defender of raw facts [faktovik]—you’ll see there the most authentic lyricism with nothing made-up.” Bogdanov: “The young person of our epoch is not sentimental. Living through that epoch, he’s received a large dose of good critical sense. [Nonetheless] tears roll out of his eyes when he sees the living [Feliks] Dzerzhinskii [first head of the secret police] standing by the coffin of Lenin in Three Songs of Lenin, that wonderful work by Dziga Vertov” (Pervyi Vsesoiuznyi S''ezd 605, 650). Three Songs had not yet been publicly released, but had been shown to a variety of audiences in closed screenings and had already been discussed positively in the press; see MacKay 2006.

13] Terms apparently within the same semantic field as "truth"—"fact," above all—in fact work very differently in Vertov's (and others') discourse of the 1920s, and function above all to distinguish the raw materials of non-fiction film from the subjectively ("artistically") generated and staged building blocks of fiction film.

14] On the vital importance of documentary portraiture in post-1954 Soviet documentary, see Sidenova 2016: 97, 174-178.

Works Cited

Anon. 1963. “O reaktsionnykh kontseptsiiakh sovremennoi burzhuaznoi estetiki kino.” Iskusstvo Kino 8: 120–128.

Basin, V. 1964. “Ob'ektivnost'?” Iskusstvo Kino 2: 97–98.

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John MacKay © 2017

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Updated: 13 Jan 17