TABLE OF CONTENTS

PRINT March 1972

From the Notebooks of Dziga Vertov

Dziga Vertov was born Denis Arkadyevitch Kaufman in 1896, in Bialystok, then Russian territory. His parents were librarians. His younger brothers, Mikhail and Boris, were later to work in the cinema — Mikhail as his cameraman and as director, Boris also as cameraman (emigrating to California by way of Paris where he worked for a time with Jean Vigo.). Denis Kaufman studied music at the Bialystok Conservatory, interrupting his studies when obliged to flee, with his parents, from the invading German army. The family settled in Moscow. There, as a very young man, he began to write verse and science fiction. In 1916 and 1917 he studied medicine in St. Petersburg. He had, during his period of youthful literary activity, been impressed and influenced like many of the artists and intellectuals of his generation, by Futurism, and it was then (between 1914 and 1916) that he adopted the pseudonym of Dziga Vertov. While pursuing his medical studies Vertov began experiments with sound-recording and assemblage. He also produced verbal montage structures.

In 1918 Vertov joined the Film Committee of the People’s Commissariat of Public Education in Gnezdikovsky Street in Moscow, becoming editor of the first newsreel programs produced by the Soviet Government: the Cine-Week. In 1919 he was at work on the front near Tsaritsyn, working as a war correspondent and reporting on the fighting with the counterrevolutionary white armies. In 1920 he toured the battle fronts of the Southwest on a propaganda train known as The October Revolution, with President Kalinin, returning with a series of documentary films.

Vertov’s Kino-Pravda films, named in honor of the Soviet daily newspaper Pravda, founded by Lenin, constituted a newsreel magazine. Issued irregularly they presented reportages on an extremely wide variety of subjects and acted as a laboratory for the constitution of a filmic vocabulary. Georges Sadoul gives 1922 (see the biofilmography, Editions Champ Libre, Paris, 1971) as the date of the constitution of the Council of Three by Vertov, Elizaveta Svilova, and Mikhail Kaufman, recently demobilized and working first as a cameraman in newsreel, and later in documentary film. With the production of Kino-Pravda No. 6, Kaufman became Vertov’s principal cameraman. In December of that year, the Council of Three issued an appeal to Soviet film makers, published the following year under the title Appeal for a Beginning in the magazine known as Lef. In December of that year, Vertov completed the theoretical manifesto published in June, 1923, in Lef under the title of Kinoks-Revolution.

The use of the candid camera was adopted by the Kinoks in 1923 or 1924, possibly as a result of Mikhail Kaufman’s filming experience, since Vertov was primarily an editor, not a cameraman. Vertov’s Kino-Eye film was made in 1924, and in 1926 he began the preparation of The Eleventh Year in celebration of the tenth anniversary of the revolution. In 1926, Mikhail Kaufman made a documentary film, Moscow, whose structure, relating the life of a great industrial city from dawn to dusk, was used by Walter Ruttman in Berlin, Symphony of a Great City, and later by Vertov and his brother in The Man with the Movie Camera (1929). Vertov’s break with Goskino production studio and his departure with Mikhail Kaufman to work with VUFKU, the Pan-Ukrainian film production unit, seems to have facilitated his work. Here, in relative freedom, in an atmosphere of encouragement and experiment, he produced three of his greatest films: The Eleventh Year (1928), The Man With the Movie Camera (1929), and Enthusiasm, or Symphony of the Don Basin (1930), his first sound film. Vertov continued to work under the circumstances described in his journal until 1954. The last decade of his life seems to have been one of increasingly intermittent assignments, principally in the making of newsreels.

The following passages from the notebooks of Dziga Vertov have been selected from Vertov’s Articles, Journals, Projects (Stari, Dnevniki, Zamysly) published in 1966 by Iskusstvo in Moscow.

—A. M.

1924

OUR MOVEMENT IS CALLED KINO-EYE. We who fight for the Kino-Eye idea call ourselves “kinoks.“ We hardly ever use the term kinochestvo1 since it is a meaningless and accidental derivation. For some reason our enemies are fond of using that term.

We have many enemies. It could hardly be otherwise. They hinder the realization of our ideas, of course, but they do serve to temper us in battle and to sharpen our ideas.

We oppose the art cinema. With the crumbs remaining from the means of the art cinema, and with no means at all, sometimes we construct our short films.

Kino-Pravda has been kept out of the theaters, but it cannot be concealed from public opinion or from the opinion of the independent press. Kino-Pravda has been unequivocally recognized as a turning point in Russian cinema.

The success or failure of any of our films has a merely commercial significance which does not affect the strength of our aspirations and ideas. For us all our films—whether successful or not—have equal value, since they further the Kino-Eye idea, and every unsuccessful shot is a lesson for the next—successful—shot.

All people, to some extent, are poets, artists, or musicians.

Either that or poets, artists, or musicians do not exist.

Man’s inventiveness in his daily work contains an element of art, if we are to use that designation.

We, of course, prefer dry newsreels to the interference of the scenario in the daily rounds of living people. We don’t interfere in anyone’s life. We film facts, organize them, and introduce them through the screen into the consciousness of workers. Our main task, as we see it, is the interpretation of life.

Kino-Eye has succeeded in bringing the struggle with bourgeois cinema out into the open and we seriously doubt whether the latter (despite its worldwide domination today) can long withstand our revolutionary onslaught.

There’s another danger—that our ideas will be distorted. A danger of substitutes and intermediary trends, which like soap bubbles swell and, for now at least, burst.

All workers must be on the alert for the coming battle, must distinguish the real from the false, saccharine surrogates from the rigorous originals.

1926
12 April

Saw Paris Qui Dort. It pained me. Two years ago I formed a plan the technical design of which completely coincided with this picture. I continually sought a chance to implement it. The opportunity never came. Now they’ve done it abroad.

Kino-Eye has lost a chance for offensive action. Too long between conception and realization. If we aren’t allowed to implement our innovations as soon as we come up with them, we may be in danger of always inventing and never practicing.

Soviet cinema is at a turning point. Having generated so many trends, movements, and groupings in Soviet and to a lesser extent in foreign cinema, Kino-Eye has broken down all obstacles, climbed out of the dungeon, made its way past the barbed wire of administrators and distributors, forced its way through the ranks of theater managers, and emerged onto the screen.

Everything worked against success. New Year’s Eve. A frost of 25° centigrade. A 100% frost of mistrust from distributors. A 100% frost in those at the top of the administrative ladder.

Now those who drowned Kino-Eye in their mistrust, suffocated Leninst Kino-Pravda with their obtuse indifference, and let Stride (Forward) Soviet! rot, have to face the fact that A Sixth of the Earth is sold out at Malaya Dmitrovka despite the unfavorable time.

No matter what the box-office receipts are later, we already have thirteen days of screenings. At a time when so many art films are failing, this is something to be proud of.

This is our first major victory, a double victory because we have broken through to the screen and won a commercial success.

Our second victory is that filmmakers have stopped abandoning the nonacted film for the art film. In fact, we are witnessing a flow of workers from the studio to the newsreel and the scientific film. This can only be interpreted as a sign that our position is secure and our line correct.

It must be admitted that the large number of deserters from the play-film threatens to clutter up our nonplay film. The danger is difficult to avoid. We shall have to face it. We shall continue to expose semidramatic films and stand for a 100% film of fact.

Finally, our third and most important victory is the growing sympathy for our work throughout the Soviet Union. Photo-Eye and Kino-Eye groups are being started; people in these groups are beginning to work independently, and we are receiving responses, reviews, and letters from all parts of the country.

Most important of all, we are beginning to be understood. People want to help us with our difficult job, and this strengthens and encourages us for further struggles.

1927
15 March

Reply to A. R.

Merciless exposure of present shortcomings and brisk revolutionary conclusions for the future are not pessimism, but true revolutionary optimism.

To close your eyes to outrages, smile blissfully when you are mocked, scrape and bow gratefully when handed a pittance in the form of an assignment to shoot or edit a film—that is neither optimism nor pessimism, but toadyism.

No matter how high they climb, lickspittles of this sort cannot become revolutionaries either in life or in the cinema.

Their pseudo-optimism, their temporary sense of well-being, and their play at revolution must be exposed. For the kinok demystification is equally important on the screen and in life. To expose persistently the hidden ulcers of film production, to reveal deficiencies, injustice, crime, and hindrances, and to discuss them openly for the sake of overcoming and destroying them—this is a truly revolutionary task, creating a springboard to courage, optimism, and the will to continue the struggle.

Because we invariably overcome “tragic” situations and difficulties you think we must be exaggerating our difficulties.

No, we’re not exaggerating. Here lies our strength. Here is the difference between faked and real optimism: overcoming the most difficult obstacles in our way, we emerge victorious in the arena of the new struggle. The true optimism of revolutionary struggle we oppose to the stupid mask of imaginary well-being.

20 March

We leave the film studio for life, that maelstrom of colliding phenomena where everything is real, where people, trolleys, motorcycles, and trains come together and draw apart, where every bus has its own route, where cars scurry about their business, where smiles, tears, death, and taxes do not obey the director’s megaphone.

You enter the whirlpool with your movie camera, and life goes on. The flow does not stop. No one obeys you. You must adapt yourself so that your work does not interfere with others.

First failures. People stare at you, children surround you, your subjects peer into the camera. You gain experience. You use all sorts of tricks to go unnoticed.

Every attempt to film people walking, dining, or working ends in failure. Girls fix their hair; men make Douglas Fairbanks’ faces.

Everyone smiles politely at the camera. Movement ceases. Curiosity-seekers crowd around the camera and block the subject.

It’s even worse in the evenings, when the lights attract throngs of onlookers.

The cameraman has to be very inventive. He must abandon the immobile camera and develop maximum mobility and resourcefulness.

22 June, Zaporozhe

Completing the filming of the Dzerzhinsky Plant. Covered with red rust and slivers of cast iron, tired and soaked to the skin, we become familiar with the blast furnaces, the Bessemer converters, the molten metal, the rivers of fire,the white-hot rails, the spinning fiery wheels, and the glowing wires that rise, bend, turn, slice through the air like lightning and finally obediently spiral into neat piles.

Our shoes are charred, our throats dry, our eyes strained, but we can’t tear away from the blast engines; we can’t wait for the next batch of cast iron.

Four o’clock. Up above, dawn must be breaking. We feel the effects of having spent almost twenty-four hours underground. We’re tired and chilled. Some of us are feverish. We’re shooting under a cold shower. We can turn our cameras on only when the water pumps stop for a moment. We spend hours waiting for those moments, shifting from one foot to another, shivering. Kaufman sleeps standing up. Barantsevich is trying to warm himself by wrapping his arms around a still hot rheostat. Kagarlitsky is sitting on the other rheostat, thinking of Moscow and steam heat and expressing a firm desire to eat a sandwich.

The sun is high over the horizon. We have just come up to the surface and rejoice in every ray of sunlight.

I hesitate to say “love” when talking of my feelings about this plant. And yet I really want to embrace and caress these gigantic smokestacks and black storage tanks.

1931
10 November

Arrived in London from Berlin via Holland today. Stormy passage. Spending the night at an architect’s. Cold. Gas fireplace. Headache. Very tired.

11 November

Still have headache, but shaving helped as always. Made a plan of action. Except for the lady of the house, no one here speaks a word of German, French, or Russian. I walk about with a dictionary, pointing.

Drafty window. Fingers freezing. Fog and clouds drift past the window.

12 November

Can’t understand a single word. No interpreter. Saw a nightmarish film about a sinking submarine: hack work. Theater decorated with blue sky, twinkling stars, and other sentimentalities. The theater with the variety program was better. Mickey Mouse, newsreels, etc.

15 November

Showing of Enthusiasm. Interesting sound control. Not signals, but direct control with a dial in the auditorium. Opening speech by Montagu.2

17 November

Meeting with Charlie Chaplin. Jumps about during the showing. Exclaims something. Says a lot about the film. Sends a note about Enthusiasm through Montagu:

“Never had I known that these mechanical sounds could be arranged to sound so beautiful. Regard it as one of the most exhilarating symphonies I have heard. Mr. Dziga Vertov is a musician. The professors should learn from him, not quarrel with him. Congratulations.”
—Charles Chaplin3

1933
13 June, Tashkent

Lenin is when an Uzbek woman on a tractor starts spring by plowing.

Lenin is when the melancholy songs of slavery become gay and cheerful.

Lenin is a hydroelectric station on the Dnieper. Ukrainian girls with awards, an Uzbek farmhand at the head of a government, a Turkmenian woman who has thrown off her yashmak, an orchestra of Uzbek Pioneers (former waifs), playing in a tearoom, the newspaper Leninist Way, a daycare center in a collective farm.

Lenin is honesty, uprightness, selflessness, enthusiasm, and plain dealing.

15 July, Moscow

Most important: concentrate. They’re always keeping me from film work. Either there’s no camera, or the stock is no good, or the laboratory doesn’t process the footage, or there’s no lighting. . . . They never keep deadlines or promises. . . . They call me in, ask “Why, why, why?” They harass me, harass me, harass me. Cameraman Shtro, the only enthusiastic worker, they try to take away for another film. Svilova4 works by day at the Lenin Institute, by night in the Mezhrabpom editing room. Indefatigable. If the others were equally committed to the job, victory would be assured.

1934

Once in school a classmate copied my composition. I flunked (for copying); he got the highest grade. He was a pert and cheerful boy. Couldn’t stand being serious about anything and behaved like a juvenile delinquent. Everything was easy for him, and he was very satisfied with the composition he had copied from me.

In Germany the last reel of my film The Eleventh Year was shown under a different title and with a different author in the credits. When I showed the entire film in Germany a year later I was accused of plagiarism. Barely managed to establish the truth.

10 April

I am always doing something, but never what I should be. When a lesson was assigned in school I would read everything in the book except the lesson. When I forced myself to read the assignment I couldn’t understand a thing.

Two I’s. One observes the other. One is a critic, the other a poet. But then a third I seems to be observing the other two.

First I: “You were told to study the lesson.” Second I: “Why was I told? Who told me? I don’t want orders to read such and such pages. I want to write poetry, to play the violin, to work out mathematical problems.”

Then the third I joins in the argument: “Enough discussion! I, the conqueror of nature, the conqueror of desires, the conqueror of chaos, throw the switch: heart, beat even! Brain cells, dress ranks! Off to work in a single front! Forward march!”

The most important thing is to concentrate attention on the main thing, the decisive point.

Give up smoking. Eat little. Get up earlier. Do not what you want to do, but what you have to. You must do that which is necessary. A plan for every day and a long-range plan for the next five years.

Laziness is doing what you want to instead of what you have to. Fight laziness.

16 April

My attitude toward my previous films is that of an inventor toward his inventions. Much is outdated and looks funny, like Buster Keaton’s train. But in their own time these experiments evoked not laughter, but a storm of arguments, ideas, plans, and possibilities. These were not films for mass consumption so much as “films that beget films.”

Ilya Ehrenburg under the influence of the first series of Kino-Eye, once wrote:

“Vertov’s work . . . is a laboratory analysis of the world, agonizing and complex. . . .”

“The Kinoks take reality and transform it into primary elements, an alphabet of the cinema, if you will. . . .”

Everyone now understands that the makers of Kino-Eye and Kino-Pravda created a film alphabet not for the sake of the alphabet itself, but in order to show the truth.

We were not content to make invisible shots visible, masked shots open, staged shots unstaged. We were not satisfied to reveal truth in isolated fragments. We set ourselves a broader task: editing, organizing, and joining together individual shots in such a way as to completely avoid falseness, to make every montage phrase and every creation in its entirety show us the truth.

I am accused of corrupting Dos Passos, of infecting him with Kino-Eye. Otherwise he might have been a good writer, some say. Others disagree and say that if not for Kino-Eye, Dos Passos would not even have been heard of.

Dos Passos translates from film vision into literary language. The terminology and the construction are that of Kino-Eye.

17 May

About four months have passed since Three Songs of Lenin was completed.

Torture by waiting. My body is like a taut bow. Anxiety day and night. The tense springs can’t be released. Better any other form of torture: needles inserted under fingernails or burning at the stake! I used to think that I would always be tireless. Not so. They’ve exhausted me. My brain is so tired that a breeze knocks me down. I walk like the hobbling Eastern woman in the first Song of Lenin.

18 May

Rode about on a bicycle. Even at intersections I thought not about the traffic signals, but about the film. My mind is dull. Reduced to despair. In comparison with these trials school exams are nothing—merely a few hours of anxiety. No rest and no work. The hours, the days, the weeks, the months of my life are crossed off. Who needs this? What am I doing? Waiting. Hanging above the abyss, holding onto the branch of life with one hand. “To live means to die.“ You are stealing the last hours of my life from me; you don’t permit me to be active; you order me to wait patiently. Yet “victory does not come of itself.” It must be organized. Politics? But the most correct politics are the politics of principle. So said Lenin. And our film is about Lenin. Here one must take especial care to be principled.

19 May

I no longer know whether I am a living man or a scheme invented by critics. I have forgotten how to speak, how to appear in public, and how to write ever since I noticed that my words do not express my ideas. I speak, listen, and control myself. The words do not convey the ideas. Even now I ought to stop writing because I am thinking about something quite different from what I am writing.

I stop.

Thoughts can be most readily conveyed by means of montage in film; yet I am required to make not a film of ideas, but a film about incidents, events, or adventures.

And yet I could think on celluloid, if such an opportunity should ever present itself. . . .

26 May

For ten years I didn’t take a vacation. The trip abroad (23 speeches in a foreign language) only added to my fatigue. Then right into Three Songs of Lenin with no break. In extremely difficult conditions, no days off. And still I could have continued to work if only the submission of the film weren’t delayed. If only someone had smiled and said, “Thank you.” If only I had been cursed. Or praised. If only I had been encouraged. Or beaten with sticks.

But I spent the last three months in the corridors of the studio. Continuously waiting. Continuously tense. Torture by uncertainty. No possibility of answering questions. Anonymous telephone calls. And gossip. Suffocating mountains of gossip. Even trifles like not being invited to the dedication of Cinema House or the refusal of Mezhrabpomfilm to send my photograph to the photo gallery at Cinema House are involved in the most insane and disgusting fabrications.

It’s hardly surprising, then, that I long to be out of here. The torture by waiting has shaken my nerves so badly that I can barely speak. I must be released. Sent out for repairs. Where there’s air, sun, and water.

Three Songs of Lenin was made on an empty site. And with bare hands. On an empty site: there was no foundation of creative experiments on film (montage material) because I had not previously worked at Mezhrabpomfilm. With bare hands: there was no well-equipped and specially trained cameraman who could, without retraining, join in our work.

Some comrades think the materials left over from Three Songs are either outtakes or retakes which should be handed over to the film archives.

This is a mistake. There are neither outtakes nor retakes.

They are my creative preparations for subsequent films.

They are a guarantee of better quality and lower costs in subsequent work.

A good poetic piece can be handed in on time only if there is a large supply of poetic preparations.

The Kino-Eye system makes them absolutely essential.

Work on Three Songs of Lenin took up almost all of 1933. During this time our group did the following things:

1. Comrade Svilova (my assistant) tirelessly searched and studied archival material in Moscow, Tiflis, Kiev, Baku, and other cities, and in one year accomplished what we had not been able to accomplish in the nine years following Lenin’s death. During those nine years we discovered only one new film document about Lenin (in America). Yet on the tenth anniversary of his death we were able to report that Comrade Svilova had located ten new film documents:

Lenin bent over a notebook, thinking with a pencil in his hand (original negative—2.5 m.);

Lenin writing (original negative—2.2 m.);

Lenin speaking with a piece of paper in his hands (original negative—3.25 m.);

Lenin in a medium shot, writing in a notebook (original negative—9 m.);

Lenin leaning on his elbows, gazing aside and thinking (original negative—9 m.);

Lenin at Yelizarov’s coffin (original negative 2 m.);

Lenin walking behind Yelizarov’s coffin (original negative—2 m.);

Lenin hurrying past a window to a session of the Comintern Congress (original negative—3 m.);

Lenin in Red Square, Spassky Tower in the background, speaking heatedly (original negative — 61 frames);

A new shot of Lenin in the Kremlin courtyard, walking swiftly, talking, and laughing (positive—5.2m.).

These documents were submitted by Comrade Svilova to the Lenin Institute. In part they were made public in Three Songs of Lenin. They will also be edited into a single release.

2. We had tried to rerecord Lenin’s voice on film in Leningrad back in 1931. The results were not satisfactory. Our work was much more successful in 1933, when soundman Shtro was actually able to improve the quality over the gramophone record. Thus we are now able to hear Lenin speaking on film, to hear his speech to the Red Army soldiers.

3. Native songs about Lenin were recorded in Azerbaidzhan, Turkmenia, and Uzbekistan. Songs about Lenin, “the friend and redeemer of every enslaved man,” are sung throughout the world, from Europe and America to Africa and the Arctic Circle. The authors of the songs are nameless, but the songs themselves are passed on by word of mouth, from hut to hut, and from village to village. We have included the songs of the Soviet East in the film. Some are on the soundtrack; others are reflected in the visual images; still others are expressed in the titles.

If an artist is so creatively hungry that he can no longer endure the torture of being made to wait idly, if he lowers his eyes and agrees to produce a film in obviously hopeless conditions, he is making a mistake.

I made such a mistake when I gave way and submitted to the executive demands that I edit Enthusiasm, even though I was well aware that all the footage of people had been lost for technical reasons. Each time you make concessions to the executives, each time you compromise, each time you hope that with some superhuman effort you will break through the organizational impasse, you face the threat of Formalism, a Formalism that is forced on you in the teeth of all your artistic intentions.

In contrast to literature, the cinema does not preserve poetic (in part, poetic documentary) films in the author’s original cut. The test of time is not applied to these films. Even Three Songs of Lenin has not escaped the common fate. Already we are unable to show Comrade Kerzhentsev a complete director’s cut of the film. The struggle to save these author’s versions, these “manuscripts,” has so far proved fruitless.

So has the struggle for uncompromising production conditions.

We, the makers of poetic documentary film, long for work. We are artistically deprived. We must make every effort to explain to the executives of our studios that the good author or director is not the one who unconditionally accepts antiquated standards of film production. We must cite Mayakovsky as an example to show that even a great poet can be excluded from film production if these standards are followed.

Organizational and technical compromises, unqualified willingness on the part of a director to accept work of any kind, should be viewed with suspicion. Either that director is completely indifferent to the results of his work or he is so artistically deprived that he’s given in in order to have access to the shooting equipment.

I myself am incredibly starved right now. Artistically, of course. There’s food all around me. If I had to depend only on paper and pen, I would write day and night—write, write, and write. But I have to write with a movie camera. Not on paper, but on celluloid. My work depends on a whole number of organizational and technical considerations.

I have to fight for my rights on the job. If I don’t get what I want from the executives, I still will not give up. We all remember Mayakovsky’s observation in an analogous situation:

“Governments depart, art remains.”

I am firm in the basic line of my work but soft and yielding in little things. I ought, perhaps, to fight like Mayakovsky over every little thing. Mayakovsky submits a poem to a newspaper and asks, “How much will you pay me?”

“Forty-five kopecks a line.”

“How much do you pay others?”

“Everybody gets forty-five kopecks a line.”

“Then pay me forty-six kopecks a line.”

He demands respect for his poetry—at least a kopeck’s worth of respect more than for ordinary poems. Obviously the important thing is not the extra money; it’s the respect for a man.

MY ILLNESS

I began preparations for Three Songs of Lenin while being savagely persecuted by the film department of RAPP. They hoped that their administrative measures would force me to give up documentaries. The film was shot in Central Asia in abnormal conditions, in the midst of spotted fever, with no means of transportation and irregular pay. Sometimes we didn’t eat for three days at a time. Sometimes we repaired watches for the local people in order to earn money for a meager dinner. We walked about covered from head to foot with naphthalene, our irritated skins greased with smelly liquids to ward off lice. We kept up our spirits with will power. We did not want to give up. We had decided to fight to the finish.

Editing and dubbing took place in an incredibly tense situation. We didn’t sleep for weeks at a time. Did everything we could to have the film ready for showing at the Bolshoi Theater on the tenth anniversary of Comrade Lenin’s death.

The first severe blow to my nervous system was the refusal to show the film in the Bolshoi Theater on that day, even though the film was ready.

There began a struggle for the film which ended in glorious victory. I paid a high price for the victory. It wasn’t just the matter of the film. It was a question of survival for the cause to which I had dedicated my life.

All this was accompanied by humiliation, insults, lack of consideration, mockery, and mosquito bites from petty but dangerous and unprincipled people. I had to restrain myself, curb my feelings, appear cool and composed.

As tests made in Professor Speransky’s laboratory determined, “damage to the trifacial nerve and various other nervous traumas resulted in a dystrophic process in various tissues and organs.”

My illness was caused by numerous blows to the nervous system. Its history is one of “inconveniences,” humiliation, and nervous shocks because of my refusal to give up work on documentary poetic film. At the time of the struggle for Three Songs of Lenin the illness was externally expressed in the loss of many healthy teeth.

The illness came to an end simultaneously with the calming of the nervous system after the final resolution of the film’s status and especially with the recognition given me by the Party and the Government on the 15th anniversary of the Soviet cinema.

Professor Speransky further states that “with a second blow to any part of the nervous system, given the continuing irritation of the corresponding elements, the predisposition of the tissues to dystrophy becomes manifest.”

Until the liquidation of RAPP the blows were frontal. Proletarian Cinema, the official organ of the film industry, openly declared either you go over to play-films or “your mother and father will suffer.” Either you give up documentary film or we will destroy you with administrative measures.

Now, since the victorious march of Three Songs of Lenin, since I have been awarded the order of the Red Star, the blows are dealt more subtly.

You wish to continue working in the field of documentary poetic film? Go right ahead. You have our complete permission. But we cannot grant you equal consideration when you compete with other directors. You’ll have to compete with them in unfavorable conditions. They will receive better working and living conditions: apartments, cars, trips abroad, valuable gifts, and so forth. You’ll get the finger. Sit in your damp hole with the water tank over your head and the sobering station below. Stand in line for the toilet, the kitchen burner, the sink faucet, the trolley, and the bath. Climb up to the sixth floor ten times a day. Work in the kitchen fumes, under the leaking ceiling, with the noisy water pump and the shouts of the drunkards. You will have neither rest nor quiet. And expect neither attention or love from us.

They say you are dependent on people you have trained. But the faith of those people in you will be undermined. Through the cameraman whose interests you will not be able to defend. Through your closest friend and coworker, Comrade Svilova, whose interests and accomplishments you will be unable to uphold.

Comrade Svilova is the daughter of a working man who died at the front in the Civil War. She has twenty-five years of film work and several hundred films to her credit. She took part in the nationalization of the film industry. She can claim among her achievements the creation of our film heritage about Lenin. She is the best film editor in the Soviet Union. On the 15th anniversary of the Soviet cinema, when all her pupils and coworkers were rewarded, she was punished by a conspicuous lack of attention, receiving not even a certificate. Only a serious offense could justify this lack of recognition. Yet Comrade Svilova’s only offense is her modesty.5

“You are not loved!” says an executive of our film industry in reply to my bewildered questions.

The renewed dystrophic symptoms in the area of the mouth are only the beginning of a complex process. That process must be halted, but how?

First of all, the conditions responsible for it must be liquidated. It is not enough to eliminate the external manifestations of the nervous condition, as I am trying to do, through will power. The blockade proposed by Professor Speransky will not suffice. Nor will other therapeutic measures—change of climate, rest, change of diet, salt baths—wholly suffice. What is needed (and this is essential) is to eliminate the source of all these shocks, the attitude summed up by the executive when he says, “You are not loved.”

By whom am I not loved?

The Party and the Government? No, the Party and the Government have given me awards.

The press? No, the press, from Pravda to the newspapers of the Arctic Circle, has spoken very highly of me.

The public? No, the public, through its representatives—important writers, workers’ collectives, artists, etc., has lauded my film work.

Who is it, then, that denies me love?

I am a living man. Love is absolutely essential to me. So is care and attention. It is essential that promises made me be kept. Only then will the measures recommended by Professor Speransky have any effect.

1936
26 August

Time to work. Every minute brings me closer to the end.

I awoke with this thought and still went down, as always, to the sea. I regret every moment stolen from the sea. I must work, however, I must write the proposal. My thoughts are in Spain, where the war against the Fascists is going on. My thoughts are still in Abyssinia. My thoughts are still with the aborted film On Woman. Must work. Must start over again from the beginning. Must concentrate on one thing.

Man’s behavior. Under the conditions of our country. Where there is a right to work, a right to rest, a right to education. From birth. First steps.

In school. At the Pioneer camp. Exam. Childhood, adolescence. Youth. Love. Marriage. Birth again.

These observations on celluloid will be intelligible if the method of comparison and juxtaposition is applied. Comparison with what? With man’s behavior in the capitalist countries.

LULLABY

Lullaby is the fourth song I have based on folk art. The first three were dedicated to Lenin. The fourth is the first in the cycle of songs dedicated to the Free Woman, who knows no unemployment, who is not subject to rape, hunger, torture, or the executioner’s axe, to the woman who rests assured about her children, to the woman who has free access to learning, art, and joyous labor.

1937
17 January

Is it possible that I too am acting out a role? The role of a seeker after film truth? Am I truly seeking truth? Is even a mask invisible to me?

Hardly. I love people—not all people, but those who speak the truth. That is why I love little children. I am attracted to such people.

That is why I love folk art. Truth is our object. All our devices, modes, and genres are means. The ways are various but the end must be one—truth.

Living conditions, working conditions, means of transportation, creative plans, requirements for particular equipment or film stock are all means. What need is there for films which don’t attempt to reveal the truth? If you cannot make a film which bears the truth, make no films at all. No need for such pictures. All means for the truth. Demand these possibilities and means. In this situation, an unassuming attitude is dangerous and inappropriate.

The truth is not pleasing to everyone. You speak an unpleasant truth; they smile and conceal their malice.

The hatred of pleasant falsehoods. Few possess this hatred.

When critics write, they tend to present our means as the end. They then attack the means, thinking that they’re attacking the ends. The inability to distinguish the means from the end—that’s the trouble with our film critics.

You stand in line for the bath and wonder, “How is it that other directors contrive not to stand in line?”

This must be a special talent: getting an apartment with a bath, the use of a car, the necessary equipment for shooting.

To be modest and unassuming is nice, of course. But you notice how other comrades, who are better off, look down upon you, a pedestrian.

The neighbors who share our apartment (there are a great many) are beginning to be scornful. Even suspicious. They had been counting on getting my room after I received the award. They read in the papers that award-winners receive apartments and other things. There must be something wrong if I’m still in this room. My neighbors still prefer not to look out from behind their masks. Their masks are indifferent. They’d be better off without them.

The worst truth is still the truth.

12 February

The heart. No one knew where it was. And then it couldn’t hold out anymore. Here it is. Aching. Nights with eyes wide open. The heart. Here it is. Rattling. And yet I’m cheerful. Only my cheerfulness is under lock and key. Am I happy? Yes. Not for myself. Happy for others. I am the exception that proves the rule.

The heart. Whence? Whither? It doesn’t want to remain in the body. It begs to be taken out. It wants to leave. But no envy. Killed it. Happy when others are happy. My turn will come. “Ye shall sow, but not reap.” My turn will come. Sow! Sow! Sow!

Heart! Rest, slow down. Don’t tear away. Be calm. Happiness will come. Work will come. Joy will come. If it weren’t for this fatigue. If only the heart endures. . . .

The fact that in reworking Girls of Two Worlds into a completely different composition (Lullaby) I managed to save over 300 lines out of 2,000, must be an achievement and not a failing. For the chief merit of the new song is that despite radical revision of theme and construction, the best parts of the old film could be reused. The whole point was to save the folk art instead of substituting imitations. I would have saved even more lines—500, 600—had that been possible. It takes the people decades and centuries to create some art images. It would be an unforgivable mistake to think I could casually compose such art in three months of research in film archives.

I do not work for money. This must be understood. If I worked for the money I wouldn’t be earning less than the average director, less even than many of the girls who do our film splicing. My films are my children. No one can be more concerned about the health of a child than its mother.

By now, I no longer edit a film by parts, titles, or episodes. I edit the whole film all at once, that is to say, I let all the pieces at my disposal interact with each other.

Each shot is continually shifted until the very end of the editing process, which recapitulates all previous stages—from the primitive Pathé newsreel to very complex modern structures.

My supervisors have always been upset because the “scaffolding” was not removed until the last moment. The more experienced executives who know my work are not alarmed. They understand that Svilova and I have already studied the nuances and possibilities of the material so thoroughly that we can make all necessary adjustments in just a few hours.

So there’s no point in rejecting more advanced forms of production and returning to primitive methods for the sake of a prematurely visible effect. Not the effects, but the necessary results of the work must be ensured.

Sunlight falls on the neighbors in the house across the street. A slender young woman stands in front of a mirror, wholly unaware that I am looking at her from across the way. She drops her dressing gown to admire her body, turning back and forth and fixing her hair. She is bathed in sunlight, her eyes blinded, as if by the bright lights of a stage, and she cannot see the audience, but they can see her. Shading her eyes with her hands, she continues to look in the mirror.

Moments of such intimacy in peoples’ lives can be observed without any special devices or preparations. I remember the wife of the watchman who drowned in the well. I remember the widower who cried for two days when his wife died. The third day he brought a girl home off the street, locked the door, turned on all the lights, and then stared at the girl for a long time, but never touched her. I remember the girl’s bewilderment and then her attempts to arouse him, and the widower’s face and eyes—blank, as if the girl’s body was unfocused or broken in a prism, as if he were seeing many bodies. It was very strange. The girl waited another moment, then dressed quietly and tiptoed out the door. I could see her come out on the street and glance up at the brightly lit window. In the morning, when I was going to work, I noticed the man still sitting in the same position.

I remember the husband and wife in the carriage. She was chattering away as he smiled and stroked her hand. Suddenly the man turned pale and began to gasp for air. His wife blithely went on chattering and laughing. The man grasped her hand. The carriage stopped, a crowd gathered. The woman screamed, entreated, called her husband tender names, embraced him, whispered in his ear, and kissed him, but the man was dead.

I remember many such incidents which are inaccessible to the camera if they are described beforehand.

—Translated by Marco Carynnyk

—————————

NOTES

1. Kinochestvo, a collective noun for which no equivalent in English exists. Its suffix denotes a movement or tendency, and the word’s general connotation is slightly derogatory.

2. This screening of Enthusiasm, or Symphony of the Don Basin, Vertov’s first sound film completed in 1930, is recounted by Thorold Dickinson, Soviet Cinema, London, 1948, and Dickinson’s account is quoted by Jay Leyda, Kino: A History of the Russian and Soviet Film, London, 1960, p. 282:

When Vertov attended the presentation of his first sound film, Enthusiasm, to the Film Society of London on November 15, 1931, he insisted on controlling the sound projection. During the rehearsal he kept it at a normal level, but at the performance, flanked on either side by the sound manager of the Tivoli Theatre and an officer of the Society, he raised the volume at the climaxes to an ear-splitting level. Begged to desist, he refused and finished the performance fighting for possession of the instrument of control, while the building seemed to tremble with the flood of noise coming from behind the screen.

This incident, presented by Dickinson as evidence that Vertov “was the most obstinate film personality of all time,” raises questions for those familiar with Enthusiasm (a film unique in its sustained and thorough-going radicalization of concrete sound recording and composition) as to the receptiveness of spectators nurtured on the doctrine of the primacy of the image and, conceivably, disturbed by its intensity of challenge. One must not forget that this English audience of 1931 had not that expectation or tolerance of amplification induced by later perfection of recording technique. These spectators were not, in any case, predisposed by training or custom to accept the intensity of presence which Vertov extended to the new.film parameter. Reactions in the Soviet Union were also hostile—though formulated, of course, in more theoretical terms.

3. “To counter the severe criticism of his film at home, Vertov marshaled all the compliments that he and Enthusiasm received on their European tour in a defensive article entitled Charlie Chaplin, The Hamburg Workers and The Injunctions of Dr. Wirth, but this did not protect him from the attacks that had grown harsher ever since The Man with the Movie Camera. It was three years before Vertov showed his second sound film.” (Leyda, Kino, p. 282.)

4. Elizaveta Ignatvyevna Svilova, Vertov’s wife and active collaborator, was born on September 5, 1900. She began her career in film as a photographic printer and editor for Pathé Frères in Moscow, working as well for other foreign film companies represented at the time in Czarist Russia. In 1919 she took part in the nationalization of the cinema industry, and in 1921 began work on a long-term project of collecting all available film material on Lenin. From the results of the first year’s research she made a compilation film, released in 1922 as a special issue of the Goskino Calendar series in celebration of the anniversary of Lenin’s birth. From 1922 to 1924, she was chief editor for Goskino. She worked as assistant director in the Mezhrabpom Studios, at VUFKU, and finally, from 1940 to 1941, acted as the director of Soyuzkino-Khronika. In 1944 and 1945, she directed the Central State Studio of Documentary Film. Svilova was a creative collaborator and chief editor for some of Vertov’s major work. She acted, too, as codirector on four of Vertov’s later films made during the 1940s, and the filmography of her work lists a great many directorial assignments. She is a prime example of the interesting development and realization of careers for women in a cinematic tradition originating in an esthetically and politically revolutionary context.

5. Vertov is referring to the All-Union Creative Conference of Workers in Soviet Cinematography held in Moscow from January 8th to 13th, 1935, to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the Soviet film industry and discussed above. It had awarded a fourth-class prize to Eisenstein and although Vertov received the Order of the Red Banner, together with Alexandrov and Plenyov, Svilova’s work went unrecognized on that important occasion.

—Annette Michelson