Machine Age Poet, Born in Revolution, Stifled Under Stalin





IN many ways the Soviet filmmaker Dziga Vertov (1896-1954) was an artist of his time. A kindred spirit of the Constructivist artists who thrived in the wake of the 1917 October Revolution only to be stifled by the Stalinist policies of the 1930s, Vertov was a futurist at heart, a poet of the machine age. For a filmmaker in the reborn Russia the thrill of the new was palpable. Vertov, who saw theory and practice as inseparable, sought to uncover what made the young medium of moving images distinct from the other arts. Every film and every manifesto was an opportunity to examine the latent possibilities and harness the untapped power of cinema.

But in some crucial respects Vertov was also at odds with his environment: a propagandist who sometimes drifted off message, a stubborn individualist within a vast bureaucratic system, a tireless innovator of film form at a time when “formalism” was an all-purpose term of censure.

The subject of a career-spanning retrospective that begins Friday at the Museum of Modern Art and continues through June 4, Vertov is at once a central and an elusive figure in film history. His 1929 masterpiece, “Man With a Movie Camera,” a dizzying city symphony that evokes the cycles of urban existence and human life, is a bravura feat of editing and camera trickery that routinely turns up on all-time-best lists and film-school syllabuses. But the density and intricacy of his work call for close attention, and many of his films have long gone unseen....


comments powered by Disqus