KinoKultura: Issue 58 (2017)

Eisenstein, Vertov and Medvedkin: revolutionary “cinefication” and communist subjectivity

By Gal Kirn

A monument does not commemorate or celebrate something that happened but confides to the ear of the future the persistent sensations that embody the event: the constantly renewed suffering of men and women, their re-created protestations, their constantly resumed struggle. Will this all be in vain because suffering is eternal and revolutions do not survive their victory? But the success of a revolution resides only in itself, precisely in the vibrations, clinches, and openings it gave to men and women at the moment of its making and that composes in itself a monument that is always in the process of becoming, like those tumuli to which each new traveler adds a stone. The victory of a revolution is immanent and consists in the new bonds it installs between people, even if these bonds last no longer than the revolution's fused material and quickly give way to division and betrayal.
Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari (1994: 176–177)

 

A return to the conjunction of revolutionary art and politics
This year’s centenary of the October Revolution has already provoked many varied and distinct responses, but it is somehow surprising how little space within this landscape has been dedicated to the field of early Soviet film. [1] Is this omission due to the “over-saturation” of this already well-known field of research? Almost 30 years ago Ian Christie and Richard Taylor edited a famous volume on early Soviet film entitled The Film Factory and warned about the over-saturation of such a “mythologized legacy” (Taylor and Christie 1988: 1). By extending the focus to less famous film figures and shedding light on the furious discussions that were ignored by past scholarship, such dangers could be avoided. For far too long western academia has occupied itself with the “masters” and their early works. One could claim that this obsession continues even to this day, with the difference that film scholarship has now extended to less famous names and topics previously under-researched, but suggested by Taylor and Christie (1988). I would argue that despite the importance of acquiring new material and retrieving unknown archival documentation, which contributes to a certain layering and demythologization, much of the scholarship has almost forgotten the very beginning: the October Revolution itself. This article does not aim to re-mythologize early Soviet cinema in order to commemorate a sacred origin. Rather, what is at stake here is a concerted attempt to assess the revolutionary remnants in film, to show how revolution was continued through other means and refracted into film production itself. Furthermore, I will argue that it is precisely the field of early Soviet film that enables us to view the contradictory and productive relationship between (post)-revolutionary political and artistic practices—very much in light of what Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s (1994) introductory quote invites us to rethink.

Notwithstanding the important differences between the approaches, there seems to be a certain bifurcation at work in the returns to the early Soviet avant-garde and its cinematic legacy. This article intervenes precisely at this conjuncture where one either refers to the common places within film history and aesthetics, which stress the major breakthroughs in “montage” and camera techniques; or one considers early Soviet film from a critical distance, since film was also a major propaganda tool of the new communist state. As can be clearly seen, the discursive field ends up being structured around two poles if one is not conscious of these two approaches: an (over)-aestheticization of the avant-garde form of film, or an (over)-politicization of its content that is reduced to the abomination of Stalinist, totalitarian cinema. On the macro-level, there has been at least one attempt to overcome this bifurcation, written by Boris Groys before the fall of Berlin wall: The Total Art of Stalinism, first published in German in 1988 (English translation in 1992, here cited from the 2011 edition). Groys proclaimed that the avant-garde necessarily ended in Stalinism, confining it to an iron cage.[2] In this manner, the avant-garde is aesthetically outdated and politically complicit in the failure of revolution, and as such testifies to its own ultimate inner failure. This political, aesthetical and historical relativisation can be traced in the destiny of avant-garde art in socialist realism for the masses, or in its subsequent marketing use in the spectacle of capitalist consumption in western democracies. This is why the dreams of the October Revolution and the avant-garde should remain buried, which limits our desperate return to the avant-garde in retrograde nostalgia and its preservation through museums and exhibitions.[3]

However, this article argues that there is an alternative reading beyond the above bifurcation or Groys’s reconciliation, which highlights major insights of the avant-garde legacy, its experimentation with new forms and production relations that should correspond to the new political content (revolution) in the perspective of a new society.[4] This legacy cannot be separated from the October Revolution itself, which had major effects on the way in which the world is seen, and on our conception of space and time. The perspective of the world was no longer encapsulated in the religious tradition or in the linearity of time, but became much more closely related to the eruption or disruption of time, both violent and democratic at once, so fascinatingly condensed in Walter Benjamin’s Theses on the Philosophy of History (1940). This non-linear perception of time and space was profoundly treated and made visible within the avant-garde art in general and circulated to a wider audience especially through the medium of film.

cinefication The major hypothesis of this article is that revolution was first “cinefied” in the Soviet context, which suggests that film was able to imagine, produce, narrate and circulate the image of (the October) (R)revolution. In this context, I will attempt to elaborate on the concept of “cinefication” here taken from Pavle Levi’s book Cinema by Other Means (2012). Levi has shown that cinefication should not be seen only as an official Soviet policy that build the cinematic infrastructure across the country and spread the revolution by trains. Rather, cinefication should be seen as the emergence of an apparatus with intensified technological capacities and also as the specific modality-genealogy of avant-garde methods within cinema. In order to understand the emergence of (avant-garde) film one should actually take into account non-cinematic means, which in their turn produced cinematic effects. My hypothesis shifts the stress on these interdisciplinary, inter-medial resources to the more general relationship between revolution and cinema/film. In short, the October Revolution continued “by other means” in cinema/film. Therefore we will not be interested in a vulgar materialist analysis that engages in a mere reflection of the October Revolution on screen (revolution as matter), but rather in how the revolution was “refracted,” displaced or replaced and actually continued by new Soviet cinema. Why and how does early Soviet film become a revolutionary practice? I shall be interested in the maxim that Sergei Eisenstein used to describe his first film Strike (Stachka, 1925): how “to make film in revolutionary mode” (Kleiman and Somaini 2016: 249). This intensification and extension of means is directly linked to our imagination and conception of revolution itself, which will here not be read simply as violence or a mere rupture in time after which all things return to a normal, or even worse order of things. On the contrary, I follow the Althusserian definition of revolution as a process that starts as a clear rupture with the existing state and triggers a set of unanticipated and strong effects on different levels.[5] The introductory quotation from Deleuze and Guattari (1994) is the thread guiding my analysis of three film figures in this article; it speaks of post-revolutionary fervor, of strong “vibrations,” visions and echoes in art (in this case in early Soviet films), which in turn “instills new bonds” among people, who resume the struggle in the future. These ideas figure centrally in this article, which can be divided into the following elements: first, into a dialectical encounter between revolution and film traced by means of film forms and techniques (montage, camera work, hybrid forms); secondly, the organization of cinematic production/distribution (against a static or dynamic capitalist organization); and finally, the creation and staging of communist subjectivity within/beyond film (as a collective protagonist), which implies a method or standpoint of struggle. To paraphrase Marx’s famous Eleventh Thesis: Film-makers have represented or projected the world; the point is to change it.

Ruptures in film production and distribution: Medvedkino/poezd
The present section analyses the avant-garde invention of film distribution and the production process that had a great effect on (re)-defining film as a weapon in struggle and its connection to working people. It was Dziga Vertov who pioneered new approaches in film production and distribution in the early 1920s,[6] but the major figure who advanced these new approaches the furthest was unquestionably Aleksandr Medvedkin. In the early 1930s he and his team developed a highly inspiring and creative collective project that aimed to dismantle both the capitalist and the centrally organized studio production–distribution system. Kinopoezd, the Film-Train, politicized the production and distribution process according to the Five-Year Plan. Medvedkin first asked Sovkino for permission to realize his project, but this was in vain. Once he directly approached the Ministry of Heavy Industry (Widdis 2005: 23). However, he was skilled enough to frame the aim of the project as “how to avoid delays in production,” which earned him his funding.In the last stage of the first Five-Year Plan everything was subordinated to intensified productivity and this seeped into the cognitive mind-set and work of film-makers.[7]

film train What did the Film-Train look like in reality? Medvedkin gathered a team of 32 people, who were all, in his words, “revolutionary enthusiasts” and who travelled, worked and slept on the train for approximately sixth months—the time that every journey took. Each member of the crew had at his disposal approximately one square meter. They had four carriages: one was dedicated to accommodation; part of the second carriage was turned into a film laboratory with a complex water system on the top, while the other part of this carriage was used as an editing room where ten people could work simultaneously. Another carriage consisted of an animation stand, where the staff inserted the intertitles, made animations and edited newspapers and pamphlets; this was followed by a small projection space, which ended the production cycle. The final carriage also had an automobile and bicycles, so the crew would be mobile.[8] The Film-Train’s crew was extremely productive in terms of its output: during the first journey, which lasted 292 days, they produced 72 films. This roughly makes two films a week and is rightly encapsulated in the central slogan of the Film-Train: “We film today and screen tomorrow.” The Film-Train could stop anywhere, film anyone and show films to anyone. Despite this freedom that entailed a certain “contingency” in what and where they filmed, the crew chose its spaces carefully and travelled mostly between the villages that underwent collectivization in the early 1930s and large factory complexes that were built during the first Five-Year Plan (1928–1932). Furthermore, once they arrived at their shooting location, they sent out a team that would research social circumstances and talk to workers and peasants. As Medvedkin claimed, this would be the essential part of their work, which he named a “direct intervention” and direct criticism of a concrete situation. In this respect the work of the crew was directly activist, attempting to detect the central problems at production and then work on them with the people. All the above-mentioned characteristics of the project fit neatly into the productivist paradigm that subordinated art to the function of the socialist state and production. However, we cannot evaluate Medvedkin’s Film-Train by its initial intentions, but only by the effects and procedural shifts that it entertained and produced.

First of all, the organizational principle of the crew did not follow any plan or special guidelines from the Propaganda Section of the Party. On the contrary, the Film-Train always departed from Lenin’s theoretical slogan of “concrete analysis of a concrete situation.” More than strict Party discipline imposed by commissars, political activism was based on genuine involvement in the community where the Film-Train intervened. As Medvedkin recounts, there were diverse occasions when the crew needed to improvise, or even help to re-negotiate and reconstruct the plan bottom-up within working collectives (Widdis 2005).

Secondly, an important feature that makes Medvedkin’s experiment different from the top-bottom productivist paradigm was the principle that the crew practiced in their production process: the rotation of all tasks without central direction. It is noteworthy that within the crew it was only Medvedkin and Karmazinskii who had previous experience with film, while other members were amateurs. The working process was designed as a learning process, since every member participated in different stages of film production and distribution. In other words, in the Film-Train anyone became a film director, an editor, a projectionist, an interviewer and a discussant. The principle of rotation undermined the division of labor in the established film industry. Instead of professionalism, the Film-Train promoted amateurism. Instead of following a hierarchical principle, where the producer and director command the whole film process, the Film-Train was deeply marked by the idea of collectivist utopia and the avant-garde merging of art and politics. The fundamental thesis operated on the empowerment of the participants with self-managing authority freed from directorial authority.[9] The principle of rotation attempted to abolish the division of labor, but this was achieved only through very intensive collective and individual efforts that bordered on almost constant (self)-exhaustion.[10]

The Film-Train was productive not only in terms of the quantity of films it produced, but also in terms of their distribution and projection. The crew organized a huge number of screenings, and distributed and archived copies.[11] In the first three months of 1931 they organized 105 screenings for more than 35,000 spectators, and these numbers only rose in the following years (Widdis 2005: 24). To my knowledge there are no existing records of how frequently the copies were used by local communities, though Medvedkin recounted that some collectives asked them for a copy for educational purposes. What became clear from the early stages of the project was that the crew could not simply impose directives from above and “educate” the masses; quite to the contrary, due to its research and rotation, the crew members were also involved in the learning process among themselves and with the people. Since the 1920s Medvedkin began to develop an alternative pedagogy that was directed against established propagandistic agitational films. He promoted narrative and visual strategies that were permeated by humor and the satiric use of surrealist elements (“the camel of shame”—a cartoon character superimposed in the film), which were directed against all political instances—and also against political bureaucracy.

The cinematic experience was rather immediate: workers became engaged as actors, and even after the screening remained agents of the process. The films of the Film-Train could be seen as the first kind of political “reality show” avant-la-lettre: spectators were able to see themselves on screen the day after they were filmed. For many of them, this might well have been first time they saw a film, and it was certainly also the first time they saw themselves on film. In certain sense, one could claim that the filming process was reversed with the film-train: the spectators entered the film before they watched it. Consequently, on the one hand, this undermined the division between professional actors and spectators already from the outset and, on the other, between distribution and production. In this respect Medvedkin’s project was in line with Sergei Tretiakov’s 1923 text on art and revolution (2006), which was the source for Chris Marker’s fascination.

Workers-actors-spectators became political and this implied that they stood beyond being involved only in the production process. The Film-Train enhanced and triggered political language and after the screening the “working collective” took the initiative and became political. This allowed for conflicts to become both visible and sayable, contributing to the making of new protagonist. This frequently took place outside the confines of the strict filmic process rather than within the film itself. I argue that we can speak of a new “communist community,” where workers and peasants not only worked, but also spoke about and participated in the filmic and political process; it was a community in struggle, where revolutionary enthusiasts were not merely film-makers documenting workers, but which also took part in and became part of their struggles, sharing their skills and re-appropriating the film. The division of labor was heavily undermined by Medvedkin’s definition and practice of cinema as production: production as much of filmic images as of the new protagonist and community.

The experiment went on from 1931 to 1933 and was in the end terminated. Party representatives wanted films to start presenting the vastness and cultural diversity of the Soviet realm, while Medvedkin went on to film some of the most exciting, critical and satirical films of the 1930s: Happiness (Schast’e, 1934), The Miracle Girl (Chudesnitsa, 1936), and New Moscow (Novaia Moskva, 1938). After this period, he was forced to retreat into more straightforward propaganda film-making in line with state directives.

Eisenstein's montage of communist subjectivity in Strike: workers entering the factory
During the Civil War, Eisenstein had worked on agit-trains; this had a strong influence on him and was a major source of inspiration for his film practice, as can be seen in his engagement in the Proletkult Theater (Goodwin 1993). Eisenstein became active in the Proletkult Theater at the time of its major breakthrough: for the third commemoration of the October Revolution a giant theatrical re-enactment and restaging of the event took place. Vsevolod Meyerhold, a key figure in Proletkult Theater, argued that it should move from the institutional stage to the streets, and later to the factories and other arenas of socialist life. This shift was in line with the complex relationship between forms of life and forms of art, and it would have a major resonance in Eisenstein’s future work. In his Notes for a General History of Cinema Eisenstein argued that it was precisely the restaging and re-enactment of great historical events that was crucial for the transition of (his) cinematic practice into film art. And his very first films, which brought him worldwide acclaim, pointed precisely to what the “re-staging” of great historical events meant.

Elena Vogman (2014) has shown how the Proletkult Theater piece Gas Masks (Protivogazy, 1924), which Eisenstein co-directed a year prior to his first full-length film, Strike, theatricalized both factory and machine, and pointed to the complicated ways in which Taylorism subtracted both machines and workers from the disciplinary apparatus of work. However, Eisenstein soon realized the advantage that the film medium had over theatre, and how the mission of historical re-enactments could be achieved. Films such as Strike (in the wake of 1905), The Battleship Potemkin (the revolution of 1905), and October (the revolution of 1917), but also his subsequent films, can be understood from the perspective of re-interpretation and re-montage of the entire history of the Russian/Soviet working people, extending to other revolutionary events in Mexico and Haiti.

The theoretical method of a “historical re-staging” of an event within film practice immediately brings us to the thin line that blurs the later genres of fiction and documentary, between authenticity—staying loyal to the original event—and its falsification. Retrospectively, this speaks to specific hybrid film forms that combined propagandist, documentary, epic-fictive narrative and visual montage strategies. Eisenstein’s “heroic realism” was there to contribute to the new film-driven historiography from the standpoint of the working classes, which had also clear material effects. In his film The Last Bolshevik (1993) Chris Marker revisits the scene of thelegendary storming of the Winter Palace from October,which had become an important element in the visual documentary archive; this image later appeared on the covers of history books from respected publishers; or, a fortiori, we remember Eisenstein’s representation of the sailor Vakulinchuk, which resulted in the erection of a monument in Odessa that was a precise likeness of the film character. Marker would rightly claim that these cinematic reconstructions are historical falsifications but, one should add, Eisenstein’s initial goal had been achieved: to enhance revolutionary reality, to make fiction based on fact more real than reality, and to disseminate images of revolution from the perspective of the oppressed.

The means that Eisenstein used were not only or directly “propagandistic,” because in his montage a vital role is ascribed not merely to the re-framing of the context or to transmitting the political message of the director, but also to triggering a thought process, a critical response-reception on the part of the spectators. Montage is not concerned just with the “director’s cut,” but it is simultaneously tied to the film’s production and reception process, which avoids any kind of complete control. This was a key theoretical insight that Eisenstein had already had as early as 1925, after Strike. His 1925 manifesto “The Method of Making Workers’ Films” starts from a straightforward demand: film-makers should use a “class approach” with a “specific purpose” (Eisenstein 2014: 27). For Eisenstein this purpose is “a socially useful emotional and psychological affect on the audience; this is to be composed of a chain of suitably directed stimulants. This socially useful affect I call the content of the work”. This means that the director needs to choose these stimulants carefully and to make “a correct appraisal of the class inevitability of their nature, [because] certain stimulants are capable of evoking a certain reaction (affect) only among spectators of a certain class. For a more precise effect the audience must be even more unified...” (Eisenstein 2014: 27; emphasis in the original).

Eisenstein refers to the film audience, but could one expect that this (class) unification to be achieved only by means of the filmic process? Obviously, this ambitious goal entailed that any film fulfilling the task of transformation should include a full study of psychological, sociological, economical and politico-philosophical circumstances, which would be translated into the medium and operating techniques between the tendencies of the new class consciousness. Jacques Rancière (2011) has recently shown where Eisenstein’s montage entered onto highly contradictory ground: it does not have to do with some naïve political pedagogy, but with aesthetic practice. The latter, with its dominant role in the images and emerging representative regime, sets a very closed/hierarchical referential chain of signifiers that leaves little room for the “emancipated spectator” (Baumbach 2016: 302–307). As early as in his first film, Eisenstein was aware that film direction can never completely control the image production and reception process; however, it can trigger a dialectical journey through class positions and various tendencies. Rather than focusing on Eisenstein’s uncompleted film project on Das Kapital, we should underline the fundamental tenet that his practice took from Marx. Primacy lies with the struggle and not the classes, which are only constituted through the struggle.[12] This lesson—the primacy of struggle—has been inscribed into his montage and also in his staging of proletarian subjectivity within and outside film.

Let me turn to a concrete example of Eisenstein’s work, where his position on struggle in montage and his view on new subjectivity first took shape. His film Strike develops a body of cinematic techniques that can be ascribed to Proletkult experiences: from constructivist signs and inter-titles to the film location (the factory) and the use of machines and actors. Some actors, as explicitly stated in the credits, were members of the Proletkult Theater. Furthermore—and most succinctly in terms of his politics of film—Strike was able to reconstruct and re-enact a complex shift of political registers and agencies that go beyond a teleological view of the Bolshevik Party. Eisenstein announces his grand historical scheme of the re-enactment of revolutions in a series of seven films in the cycle “Towards dictatorship” that spans the revolutionary sequence from 1905 and 1917 (for details see Goodwin 1993: 37). Strike was the fifth in this cycle, and theintroductory passages do not start with a commemoration of revolution but make it explicit that the strike—as illegal political and revolutionary action—should be taken as the major cornerstone for the rise of the Soviets and the workers and peasants in mass democratic form. The film was commissioned by Proletkult and produced by Goskino some years after the fall of Kronstadt and the death of Lenin. Strike was the only part of the cycle that was completed, although I would argue that his subsequent films The Battleship Potemkin (Bronenosets Potemkin, 1925) and October (Oktiabr’, 1927) could be seen as a continuation. From 1924 to 1928 Eisenstein made effectively a trilogy of revolutionary sequences: strike (and its failure); the 1905 revolution and its failure; and the bourgeois revolution and the victory of the socialist revolution in 1917.[13]

Eisenstein retrospectively claimed that Strike “was done in the ‘how to make’ a revolution mode” (Kleiman and Somaini 2016: 247) and was a key film, which makes us understand the shift from the “convention of the chronicle” (Kleiman and Somaini 2016: 249). What was so striking about this particular film in “revolution mode”? My hypothesis is threefold: first, Eisenstein shifted from the chronicle format to an artistic “epic” film that brings the masses of working people to the fore. Second, the political complexity is deepened by a historical setting and new space of action, which does not bring us directly to the revolution or to the Bolshevik Party, but to the strike(s) in the factory in Rostov-on-Don in 1902 (Albéra 2016: 279). And finally, Eisenstein used “violent” abrupt montage sequences, which were designed to shock the audience and explore the film medium beyond D.W. Griffith’s pioneering work and its initial applications in the Soviet context by Lev Kuleshov and Vsevolod Pudovkin.

Strike was a breakthrough in so far as it followed a dynamic organization and thought process of a collective protagonist on screen: the working people. By means of this gesture Eisenstein intervened in a long tradition of the individualization of history through important personalities—sovereigns of empires or nation-states—that promoted the cult of personality. This is a sharp turn away from the influential tradition of Aleksandr Pushkin’s Bronze Horseman with its fatalistic feeling in the presentation of the masses.[14] As Eisenstein would later claim:

The peak of achievement in the blossoming of the silent cinema was attained under the broadly expansive slogan of mass, the “mass-hero” and methods of cinematographic portrayal directly derivative therefrom, rejecting narrowly dramaturgical conceptions in favor of epos and lyricism, with “type” and episodic protagonists in place of individual heroes and the consequently inevitable principle of montage as the guiding principle of film expressiveness. (Eisenstein 1977: 122).

eisenstein worker suicideEisenstein’s uprising does not portray the narrative of a savior who would guarantee a transition towards new society: there are no Bolshevik leaders put on display, who know the workers and guide them to the bright future. Instead, the activists and working masses are shown articulating their sense of (in)justice. There is a shift from the representation of repression to emancipation that goes beyond the “moral economy” of the working poor. One could read Strike as a filmic manual of “how to organize a strike,” which brings forward the contradictory and ambivalent dynamics of communist subjectivity, of workers and their families. There is no clear and homogenous class position from the beginning to the end of the film. What is apparent is that not only workers can become communists, and that workers before the strike, and strikers and their families during and after the strike, are no longer the same. Rather, we see them struggle and discuss the timing of the strike, the radicality of their demands, the use(lessness) of the continuation of the strike and the organization of self-defense from class violence. One of the particular strengths of the film is its dynamic visualization of a precarious encounter between spontaneous outbursts of workers’ anger and the long-term political work of the communist underground organization. The latter is presented through a circle of young tough activists who discuss, train and also agitate among other workers. In the early part of the film their calls are not heard. Despite harsh exploitation, the majority of the workers are still not willing to go on strike. The political rupture is only triggered by the personal tragedy of a worker who is pushed to his limits by being wrongfully accused of stealing a micrometer. Unable to pay the fine, he commits suicide. Suicide is often seen as an individual answer, the psychologisation of a crisis, which would then be read as a sign of extreme resignation and frustration. Eisenstein, however, presents this act as an extreme form of protest. The space in which the worker Iakov Strongin chose to end his life was a factory, and when the fellow-workers discover his corpse hanging from a machine, they find attached a small note: “Not guilty.” A declaration of moral judgment and personal tragedy belong to the genre of melodrama that Jane Gaines has brought to our attention. This scene serves to incite identification for fellow workers in the film, as well as among the spectators on the other side of the screen; it devises a dual moral universe that divides the bad from the good. The melos highlights the powerlessness of the innocent poor at the same time as it enacts their moral elevation (Gaines 1996: 66).[15] Although this melodramatic figure can be found in Russian realist literature, for Eisenstein personal tragedy is only the beginning of an intensification of affects, which trigger a radical thought process: the workers assemble and a new era begins for the factory. The machines are stopped and fighting breaks out between lower management and workers. This is a crucial moment in the film, when subjective injustice becomes collectivized. With the strikers taking over the factory, its effects and affects are felt well beyond: on the one hand, by managers and capitalists who in their rage at the events immediately start planning an anti-strike; on the other, in the solidarity and empowerment that extends beyond the working collective—the strike becomes a political event around which an extended community of struggle is formed. The latter consists of workers and their families, women, children and animals. Machines stop their disciplined rhythm and are occupied by animals, while their constant noise is interrupted by silence. The montage of the abrupt movement of workers and the gestures of their hands, their shocked and determined facial expressions extends into a frenzied striking spirit. The montage of these movements highlights a dramatic transformation in the workers’ consciousness, while also creating affect in the spectators. Rather than departing from a moralizing dualist constellation, Eisenstein emphasizes the splits occurring both within the workers and non-workers, and between the workers and the ruling class. The intellectuality of the montage forces us to grasp the re-enactment of the mass strike and the “maturation” of class-consciousness through a dialectical movement between the temporary victory of the workers and their final defeat, which sharpens the difference between class positions. Instead of the moralization and individualization of an historical event, Eisenstein tackles the formation of collective action and its deformation through the violence of the ruling class. For the first time in film history we receive a meticulous visualization of official and underground power networks that are mobilized in order to break the strike: a network of police agents, Cossacks, firemen, policemen, the underground network of “lumpenproletariat”-provocateurs—a veritable moving-image that epitomizes the paranoid and repressive superstructure of the Tsarist regime.
 
In turning attention to the diegetic space of the action, one should first note that Eisenstein’s focus on the factory was fairly novel in Russian and Soviet fiction film. Evidently, editions of Kinopravda and cine-chronicles of the early 1920s documented new factories with new machines and workers; thus there was a specific presence of the factory on the screen. Nevertheless, the factory as a relevant space, where political transformation takes place, here received its first epic visualization outside the theater. The film was based on true events, which Rosa Luxemburg described in her book The Mass Strike (1906), where Rostov-on-Don played an important role in the context of the 1905 revolution. This strike infected the entire city for a few weeks with mass demonstrations, further triggering a series of solidarity strikes in the region. November 1902 was the month in which workers for the first time defended and gained the right to assembly and freedom of speech. Reports speak of instances of open socialist agitation that saw the first broad coalition of workers standing up against Tsarism.[16] Once the strike and unrest spread throughout the region, the authorities sent Cossacks, who killed dozens of protesters and wounded many more, while the main organizers were arrested and some forcefully displaced. The strike ended in defeat, as would the revolution of 1905.

eisenstein strikersThis historical backdrop fuelled Eisenstein’s representation of the solidarity between workers and non-workers, and should reverse Harun Farocki’s fashionable metaphor that reads the entire history of film through the trope of “workers leaving the factory” (Farocki 2002). There exist in the (former) Eastern Bloc films that followed the strong political and aesthetical gesture of “workers entering factory,” first initiated by Eisenstein’s Strike. Could we imagine an underground history of moving images that—rather than disempowering workers or deconstructing them as consumers—attempted to politicize them as more than simply workers? In Strike we see repeated shots of workers and their families, who enter and occupy the premises of the factory, while the spaces of management and lower administration are emptied out. We see an almost poetical nocturnal shot taken in daylight: scattered papers around the floor, the arrested machines, and the empty spaces of production.

Furthermore, in one of the most emblematic sequences of the film we follow the spread of the strike into a foundry, where workers struggle for control over the most important bell—the siren of the factory. The latter usually calls them to work, while after the take-over, workers use it as an alarm: to stop working and start striking. We see the siren pumped alongside steam captured in an image that can be called a “sound-image” which, according to Robert Robertson (2009), is a “visual interception” that in this case makes the politics of the strike both visible and audible. The siren not only represents sound in a silent film, but also silences the time of production. The sound-image of the siren is so strong, because it is deeply paradoxical: on the one hand, its sound announces the occupation of the factory; on the other, it is a signal of standstill, of the end of work, an old dream portrayed through the idle and free time that follows in the subsequent days. The revolutionary dialectics between the dynamization and the arrest of time is important for recent discussions, which usually ascribe avant-garde art, and especially politics, to the side of acceleration only (Harte 2009).

Eisenstein’s punctum here plays with the standstill and is joined by images of idle machines inhabited by animals: the camera captures a pigeon on a machine, a crow on the bell, a lonely cat walking on a paper trail through the administrative halls. New “workers” are now outside the factory not simply selling their labor power, but engaged in a political struggle. After having restored their dignity with the public shaming of the lower management and the take-over of the factory, the workers are joined by their families within the factory premises.

eisenstein antistrikersThe first political moment consists in taking control over (non)-production and is immediately extended into the realm of reproduction. What we see in the following days is the creation of a proto-Soviet, popular political form that would display groups of activists, workers and women discussing and formulating the political demands that would be sent to the factory management. This scene is set in a forest, perhaps because of the spies, perhaps for some more “primitive” representation of organic communism. But this scene of politicized workers thinking on their own is too traumatic for the screen: capitalists drinking alcohol and smoking cigars cannot believe that workers can have the effrontery even to think of their rights, while the assembly is abruptly dispersed by policemen on horses. This montage of events is particularly strong, because we see the cut between the thinking and action processes on the side of the workers and on the side of the capitalists. There is an abrupt shift between class positions, which are inscribed on two different axes: for the workers we see the gradual unison on the horizontal axis, while on the part of the capitalists we see a vertical axis that sets in motion a network of spies, police, capitalists and politicians who stand in defense of capitalism in Tsarist Russia.

The film ends with the slaughter of strikers and their families, and this ending has received influential interpretations in film history due to the shocking montage scene that compares the dead workers to slaughtered animals. Even if this scene had very diverse affects-effects for spectators, I am more interested in how Eisenstein ended the film, namely with the call to a commemorative mapping of the struggles of the oppressed:

—And like bloody unforgettable scars on the body of the proletariat lay the wounds of Lena, Talka, Zlatoust, Yaroslavl, Tsaritsyn and Kostroma.
—Remember proletarians!

Obviously the image of the bleeding wounds of the proletarian body invokes the history and future of the oppressed, which will not be resolved by the October Revolution. However, for Eisenstein this restaging of strikes within the narrative of the October Revolution called for meticulous research on events, newspaper articles and “archives” of the working class that had not yet been written, events that had been largely forgotten—even in the new Soviet state. Furthermore, the achievement of the October Revolution rather than a clear historico-politico-filmic recipe should be seen in the emergence of collective forms of emancipation: strikes and soviets, the precarious encounter between strikers and communist organization. The action, drama, victory and defeat of communist subjectivity became central within the modality of struggle and montage for Eisenstein.

Cine-vision of communism: Vertov’s future communist machinopolis
When Eisenstein’s montage and his epic “heroic realism” is compared to Vertov’s cine-eye method, one can immediately sense a major discontinuity in film style, in the content matter and in the theoretical writing of the two authors. Vertov contributed the most profound aesthetical developments to the medium of film, which promoted a future communist vision and reception that formulates visual hints for the advent of the (post)-human being-with-camera, the chelovek s kino-apparatom. As early as the 1920s, in the collectively produced cine-chronicles and the manifesto of the kinoki published in 1923 the war against other arts that (over-)determined past and present films was most explicitly announced. For these authors, the film medium should be explored in order to introduce a new cinematic vision of the world. However, as Edgar Morin has suggested (2005), Vertov did not profess the end of fiction as form. Rather, Morin argues, it was precisely within the emerging documentary film that the new “fictive” techniques—that manipulated the eye of the spectator, including superimpressions-impositions—underwent most vigorous experimentation. The presupposed division between fictive and factual loses its pertinence once we understand the general aim of the kinoki and their wish to participate in the creation of a new human being structured as a cinematic apparatus:

we introduce creative joy into all mechanical labor,
we bring people into closer kinship with machines,
we foster new people.
The new man, free of unwieldiness and clumsiness, will have the light, precise movements of machines, and he will be the gratifying subject of our films (Vertov 2014: 25; emphasis in the original).

man with moviecameraFurthermore, according to kinoki new cinema should be “the art of inventing movements of things in space in response to the demands of science” and “it is the realization by kinochestvo of that which cannot be realized in life” (Vertov 2014: 26; emphasis in the original). New cinema should not be about the coincidence of the form of life and the art form, but about a certain duplication and invention of new experimental techniques, which attempt to push the limits of reality. This is the locus where Vertov’s avant-garde triangulation between art, politics and theory is so resolutely insistent.[17]

Moreover, the specificity of the film manifesto can be more easily tested in the films themselves. Its fullest practical realization was achieved a few years later in The Man with a Movie Camera (Chelovek s kino-apparatom, 1929). Vertov, even more than Medvedkin, encountered many troubles when making this film. Having already been publicly criticized for the experimental and formal style of his previous films, he had to leave Sovkino and move to the Ukraine, where at that time the most avant-garde art production was taking place. It was there that he was able to convince the authorities to fund his new film on the grounds that it would be a film about “film production” (MacKay 2013). He kept to his promise and made a film that, for almost a century after its release, still produces intense reactions in spectators.

The introductory inter-titles from the film bear a strong imprint from the 1922 manifesto:

The film Man with a Movie Camera represents
AN EXPERIMENTATION IN CINEMATIC COMMUNICATION
Of visual phenomena
WITHOUT THE USE OF INTER-TITLES
(a film without inter-titles)
WITHOUT THE HELP OF A SCENARIO
(a film without a scenario)
WITHOUT THE HELP OF THEATRE
(a film without actors, without sets, etc.)

This new experimentation work by Kino-Eye is directed towards the creation of an authentically international absolute language of cinema on the basis of its complete separation from the language of theatre and literature.

This is the call that defined how film should not be (negative), while in practice it put forward a set of formal techniques for the elaboration of the film medium and its universal language. In this respect, cutting itself off from theater, fiction and the past, it differs radically from Eisenstein’s method of restaging historical events by means of fiction; however, it also—even if in a subtle way—participates in staging the future within the present socialist city. At first glance both the future and actual subject of the film are hard to grasp: is it a wo/man with a movie camera? Is it the coming of new society, communism? Is it a socialist city or rather everyday life in some socialist city?

The film is shot in five different cities and takes the camera from factories to the seaside. It is the first film that is openly dedicated to the topic of production and logistics, machinery and modes of transportation, which have only recently been so forcefully revisited.[18] Is it then a film on political economy or does its mechanistic segment promise a different future? John MacKay (2013) has shown in a fascinating way how Vertov, when thinking about the dynamics of the city and the camera, designed a musical score, which can be seen as a kind of an inter-play, a new symphony of machines, those in the film and of the film itself.

The topic of a film about film is as old as the birth of film; however, this is unquestionably the first film that presented different layers of film production and exhibition in such a detailed way. First, what we see is a recurrent constellation-triangulation of the meticulous work of a cameraman jumping around and finding the best shots, even risking his life; a (female) editor who collects, sorts and assembles the filmic material, bringing to consciousness the link and the difference between photography and film; and a film director who operates between camera and montage, attempting to steer the cine-eye-vision, and deciding on the (final) cuts. There is no center other than an absent center, or the de-centering activity of the filmic practice that takes us on a visual odyssey. What the film provides is all at once dazzling, visionary, experimental, funny and tragic. Without a doubt it is one of the most productive views of everyday life in the socialist city. The sphere of production and reproduction, working men and women, come to the fore in the new pace and rituals of the socialist world; the film promotes what the manifesto claims is “a visual bond between workers of the whole world” (Vertov 1984: 52) through a non-anthropomorphic camera eye.

Jacques Rancière (2011) has brought out an important point with respect to Vertov’s most fruitful politics of aesthetics: Man with a Movie Camera is able to enact the “equality of work” visually. This means that no work is more important than any other, film work included, which breaks both with the capitalist division of labor and with the emerging ideological hierarchy in socialist society, where industrial work was cherished and represented as the ultimate ideal through the shock worker (miner).[19] Vertov’s film establishes a horizontal typology of work: the sewer worker, the industrial worker, the miner, the tram conductor, the telephone operator, the film-maker, women and men frenzied by working with and on different machines. The latter become of vital importance for the coming society. Thus, instead of the commonplace critique of Vertov as a naïve enthusiast of technology and machines, Rancière rather remained clear about his Marxist mission: who has control over technology, and whom does technology serve? For the first it is clearly the working people, while technology shall serve the construction of the new society and the coming of a New Man, who will be post-human; this New Man could be envisioned in the section on “Cameraman and Machines”. Vlada Petric (2012) suggests that once the images of mechanization and the cameraman are superimposed, one sees a gradual fusion of machinery, a visual impression where objects and works merge on the screen. This is not merely a dramaturgically well-constructed scene, but one full of references to constructivism, and—I would add—to futurism. There is a certain vertigo effect from the dazzling pace of the machinery and also a certain awe with respect to the workers who can cope with this spell. Moreover, the film puts forward the idea or speculates on the abolition of the division of labor.

vertov montageAnother striking lesson of this film about the new communist society is the extension of the focus from the sphere of production to the sphere of reproduction with the analysis of the everyday rituals of life, as well as exceptional ones: birth, marriage and divorce, work, and death. Vertov is the first in Soviet/film history to extend the new socialist order and show how it is already establishing opportunities for working people to go on holiday, which was one of the major contributions of the socialist state. Thus Vertov goes beyond the simple display of equality in the production processes that defy the law of profit and mere extraction of surplus value. There seems to be a certain equality on the part of both the working day and the non-working day. The latter can be observed in sleeping, idle times, playing chess in the workers clubs, exercise, social events, drinking and eating, giving birth and dying, and going on holiday. Surely, it is only through this cinematic vision that communism is almost achieved. Thus Vertov participates in accelerating the avant-garde tendency that wants to arrive at the communist Utopia.

Another important contribution—and perhaps a sign that Vertov went even further than the avant-garde—is that his film contains a large degree of self-reflexivity. Vertov’s team used a Brechtian alienation mechanism in order for the spectators to see all the “magic tricks” of the kingdom of shadow-play: from the mechanism that controls the curtains, moving chairs and a hidden orchestra in the movie theater, to the screen and film projector—which is supposedly never to be exposed in the history of film. As already mentioned, Man with a Movie Camera also reveals all the elements and the novelty of the film production process (cameraman, camera with all the objects and subjects at its disposal, editor and film directors), while also highlighting the central actor in this assemblage: the mechanical eye—the camera. In one of the most haunting sequences of the film we see a cameraman, Vertov’s brother Mikhail Kaufman, filming from a car trying to capture a family being driven in a horse-trap. The camera moves and catches the family members unexpectedly, moving from one to another only to record the movement of the horse and the moment when horse turns its head towards the camera. This frozen moment brings us straight to the editing table of Elizaveta Svilova, Vertov’s wife. Her meticulous editing work of the sequences and her cataloguing of the images points to the core of the filmic process: cutting, categorizing and gluing film—the very materiality of the moving images from the screen receives its most precise de/re/construction. It is only after some time that we see images in the real film flip backwards and forwards: the power of montage, the power of editing tables, the thinking process itself.

In Man with a Movie Camera we follow the (post)-revolutionary process in flux: the awakening of women and their empowerment in work, sex, and control over free time; the accelerated movement on the streets with new transport and new media integrated into city life; the mixing of working people, who tirelessly follow the rhythm of work, but also know how to enjoy free time. Without a specific scenario or central textual comment, the unfolding of images functions as a Situationist vignette rather than an expression of the Five-Year Plan and productivism. The new vision and new society demand a New Man, a human being structured as a film machine (camera), announcing the necessary shift to the post-human in communism.[20]

Conclusion: The cinefication of the Eleventh Thesis of Feuerbach
The revolutionary “cinefication” of these three film figures has been discussed here not in terms of the first veritable filmic representation of the October Revolution, which would then help to circulate images of revolution. By contrast, cinefication here is seen as a part of the revolutionary process, which continued with other—filmic and cinematic—means after the October Revolution. I have especially highlighted three revolutionary innovations that marked the future encounters of film and politics: techniques and hybrid film forms (Eisenstein’s montage and restaging; Vertov’s camera eye), innovations within film production (Vertov’s self-reflexivity, Medvedkin’s rotation and direct research and production) and within film distribution (Medvedkin’s film-train, immediate exhibition and discussion of the material). Evidently, their methods were very different, but each had as a goal not merely the representation of reality, past or present, but its transformation from the perspective of the future communist society and new wo/man. One could read this cinematic methodology and practice as a response or a sort of cinematic appropriation of Marx’s Eleventh Thesis of Feuerbach: film-makers have just represented the world; the point is to change it. This did not mean that they abandoned the medium of film or stopped representing the world, but that they represented the change of the world itself and even participated in this transformation. Moreover, it was the standpoint not of the already established communist state, but of emerging communist subjectivity and the primacy of struggle that both filmic processes (montage, experiments) and cinematic production-distribution practiced. So, instead of the all too short-handed assertion that the film-makers would simply start “making politics,” they were making politics within the film by intensifying (visual) bonds between working people and the new society. Their project seems even more radical in the changed circumstances of the rise of Stalin(ism) from the late 1920s onwards, as all three figures struggled to assert a specific political autonomy for their film projects. Much more than a mere propaganda tool, or aesthetic ornament to the Stalinist state, they participated in and continued the avant-garde legacy of remaining political without being completely merged with state cinefication.[21] All these film-makers defined their early films as weapons of change that can agitate, inspire, inform, re-enact the past and enhance new vision and thought; in short, these film practices were projective and helped to construct a new society.

The films that I have considered here all contributed to the new aesthetic, political and theoretical treatment of historical moments and its protagonists: the strike and the working collective (Eisenstein), workers and amateurs building a community in struggle (Medvedkin) and the everyday life of a socialist city on the horizon of a mechanical Utopia (Vertov). Despite their mixture of styles, theoretical approaches and political focuses, the authors produced a genuine communist cinematic vision, which was then refracted in the maxim “to make film politically” in very different revolutionary sequences: from the early Chinese cultural revolution and upheavals in socialist Yugoslavia and Eastern Europe during the 1960s to the aftermath of the events of May ’68 in Italy and France, with the appearance of Medvedkin and Vertov groups that operated in workers collectives, and last but not least to the anti-colonial and guerrilla films and their partisan production within Third Cinema. Even if 1989 signaled the end of a certain encounter of revolutionary art, politics and theory, the legacy of the avant-garde of the October Revolution is still vivid and rich. Even if it is distorted, criticized and demonized, it seems that its remnants are taken more and more seriously. And if there is any major lesson to the avant-garde legacy, it is definitely not to repeat blindly what the avant-garde did. There can be no nostalgic dwelling on or desire for retrograde utopias. Despite the general resignation and cynicism of the current neo-liberal period that turns every element of the avant-garde into a commodity, we must be able to see clearly the differences from the October Revolution, but also productively to repeat the avant-garde gesture. That is, to build visual-sonoric bridges between those surplus places and subjects of resistance and revolt which do not yet exist in reality. It is here that one should start, and only later think of sustaining a revolutionary encounter of politics and the arts. The role of progressive art should again become ambitious, something Sergei Tretiakov noted already in 1923.

We learned from verses that the revolution is great, red, and worldwide; that it is a blast, an explosion, sacred, etc. But hardly anyone showed us what kinds of words could be used to name all of the objects that surround the person who is illuminated by the revolution: the stones, the sun, one's own body, the grasses, the metals, love, instruments. And indeed, giving a new face to one's relations to the entire world is a precondition for revolutionary creation. (Tretiakov 2006)

This position of the revolutionary film is therefore dialectical and undermines the above-mentioned neat binaries between the aesthetical and the political, or even those suggested by the otherwise excellent study on avant-garde art, politics and utopia by Susan Buck-Morss (2002). According to Buck-Morss, the Soviet post-revolutionary period can be summed up in two trajectories that produced a major division on the revolutionary left: on the one hand, there was a political avant-garde (Bolsheviks) that fully embraced the continuation of revolution through (economic) “progress,” while on the other hand there was a cultural avant-garde that saw such progress as the enemy. However, even if these theoretical and political fractures occurred in the early Soviet context, this article has shown that the study of early Soviet films highlights the fact that very different film-makers actually belonged to both “camps” at the same time: being enthusiastic about the present and future of the socialist state, while experimenting with the new media, production and circulation of film in avant-garde fashion. There was no contradiction between those two poles up until the mid-1930s, when the political situation worsened. Revolutionary cinefication therefore deals with the new procedures immanent to film and its exploration of a “dialectics of repression and emancipation” (Barrot 2009), which imagined a new communist subjectivity from different standpoints that does not allow for some easy identification (not in all cases, at least), while contributing to the organizational efforts on the level of cinematic production (and the critique of) state policy. These film-makers continued revolution with other means, but invested their energies around identifying with the struggle rather than the concrete project, agitating for the future rather than the established present. To conclude with a citation from China Mieville: "The revolutionaries want a new country in a new world, one they cannot see but believe they can build. And they believe that in so doing, the builders will also build themselves anew" (2017: 317). Our film-builders taught us through historical re-staging how to remember the revolutionary past (Eisenstein), how to engage in the present through revolutionary newsreels (Medvedkin), and how to project memory on to the future of not-yet-existing communism (Vertov). October has lived through these figures long after the revolution had been buried by the Stalinist reaction. 

Acknowledgments:
I would like to thank Professors Sandra Bašić and Ernst Ženko for their invitation to the Department of Media Studies, University of Primorska, to Elena Vogman for commenting on the first draft, and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation for their support in conducting a lecture series in the 2016/17 summer semester on the topic of revolutionary encounters in film history.

Gal Kirn, TU Dresden (Germany)


Notes

1] Such events include a series organized by the Calvert Foundation in London (exhibition, conferences and talks, and a curated journal issue “Revisiting Revolution”); several conferences have been scheduled for late October and early November; there are also artistic and archival projects as well as cruises that allow tourists to revisit locations; and there is a conference-festival in Edinburgh “Representing the Revolution” about films that commemorated the revolution.

2] Groys’s dominant trope ignores the changing reality of the socialist state under Stalin, and its neutralization of everything that avant-garde stood for. I have criticized this view (Kirn 2016).

3] Memory, and a general occupation with archives, has become one of the dominant practices of artists and curators, but also cultural studies and history scholars. A few decades ago Jacques Derrida has already spoken of “archive fever.” Unquestionably within this turn to the archive come diverse approaches. It is vital with any returns to the avant-garde to see different re-enactments and re-appropriations of bringing new light to the “past” rather than merely culturalizing or even neutralizing its radical core.

4] Sergei Tretiakov’s text on the relation between art and revolution (2006) was one of the first and most systematic attempts in the Soviet context, which connected this question to the field of political economy, especially to the conditions of production and circulation. Walter Benjamin (1998) takes this up in his 1934 essay “The Author as Producer.”

5] It would take too much space to define revolution, but I take my major theoretical argument from the work of Louis Althusser (1999), whose insistence on the lasting encounter brought out the idea of a “rupture with strong consequences.”

6] Vertov’s newsreels—from Kinonedelia to Kinopravda—consisted of engaged reports from different corners of the nascent union of Soviet states, and aimed at reaching a new audience: the working masses. Cine-chronicles presented a mixture of different subjects and the structure of feelings in the nascent (post)-revolutionary Soviet context: revolutionary figures/leaders and ordinary people, their expressions and mimicry, bringing to light the political and everyday life of very diverse people and nationalities. These images were edited with short inter-titles that would frame them with clear political slogans designed to agitate class awareness. When it comes to the distribution of film material, one should mention first the attempts to develop a well-functioning mobile cinema. The latter was not used only as a transport infrastructure that brought film material to distant places, but also used the train as the space to develop film material (Heftberger 2015; Gunning 2016). Furthermore, screenings of newsreels would be organized on public squares as soon as the material was ready for dissemination, thus anticipating the function of a television broadcast to the masses.

7] I have written a more detailed overview with some concise analysis of the cine-train chronicles (Kirn 2015); see also The Alexander Medvedkin Reader (Gunning 2016: 27–96).

8] For a detailed filmic reconstruction through an interview with Medvedkin see Chris Marker’s The Train Rolls On (Le Train en Marche, France, 1971).

9] The cine-train employed a similar criticism and principle of work to that which was practiced by Persimfans, the orchestra that preformed without a conductor, where all members managed the orchestra and shared the income in an egalitarian way (Stites 1991: 135–140).

10] Medvedkin used this shock-worker-method by instructing teams of soldiers—also complete amateurs—to film on the Front towards the end of World War II (Gunning 2016: 96–104).

11] Usually they made five copies of each film. A few were sent to the Propaganda Section of the Communist Party in the region concerned, some were left with the working collectives and others remained on the train.

12] This is the central lesson taken by Althusser’s interpretation of Marx in his Elements of Self-Criticism (1973).

13] Other films on the peasant questions and collectivisation extended beyond the year 1917, but would fit into the (post)revolutionary struggle: The General Line (General’naia liniia, 1929), and the unfinished Bezhin Meadow (Bezhin lug, 1937).

14] See Evgenii Margolit’s excellent text (2009) that elaborates on the changing monuments and commemorative practices in early Soviet film, which has a substantial section devoted to Pushkin’s The Bronze Horseman.

15] Eisenstein refers to this worker by his proper name. Documentation from the Rostov strike, however, does not refer to the suicide as the catalyst for the events that ensued, but a harsher exploitation imposed on the workers.

16] Lenin wrote of the strikes in 1902 as the most important step in the radicalization of the working class: “The political movement of the proletariat was no longer an adjunct of the movement of the intellectuals, of the students, but grew directly out of the strike. The participation of organized revolutionary Social-Democrats became still more active. The proletariat won for itself and for the revolutionary Social-Democrats of its committee the right to hold mass meetings in the streets. For the first time the proletariat stood as a class against all other classes and against the tsarist government. 1903—again strikes merged with political demonstrations, but now on a still broader basis. The strikes involved an entire district and more than a hundred thousand workers; in a number of cities political mass meetings were repeatedly held in the course of the strikes.” (Lenin 1905).

17] The question if it was the specificity of film theory and practice that crystallizes best the complexity of these relationships remains open, but it can nevertheless be tested in the various cinematic experiments throughout the 20th century.

18] For example, Patrick Keiller’s films or Allan Sekula’s work.

19] Stakhanovism as a doctrine emerged in November 1935, but the “cult of labor” was very much part of the first Five-Year Plan in 1928.

20] There is one major difference from Vertov’s contemporary Walter Ruttmann, who made the film Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (Berlin: Die Sinfonie der Großstadt, 1927), and whose vision of the capitalist city also followed the rhythm of the orchestra and mechanical movements in the city’s everyday life. Ruttmann, however, externalizes this rhythm to an almost mystical level in the powers of cities, factories, and the modernization process itself, which also demands sacrifice and efforts on the one hand, and on the other brings satisfaction and release—Utopia. However, Vertov takes us through an internal logic of enthusiasm and invites our participation in the construction of a new life, with workers and machines at the centre of this process. The city in socialism is designed for the coming of a new post-human being. The protagonist is not the modern city, but a new form of perception.

21] There is a strong relationship between the avant-garde and the demand for a specific type of realism. To put it crudely: Vertov’s factography of the cine-eye makes him become the most formal realist of all, while Medvedkin’s cine-train is close to Vertov’s early work on newsreels. His work on fiction films such as Happiness brings him closer to a kind of magic realism of rural ideological tenor. Finally for Eisenstein, his insistence on restaging grand historical events brought him close to heroic-epic realism.


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Gal Kirn © 2017

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Updated: 2017