This year I was invited to present a remix of Dziga Vertov's classic films "Kino-Glaz" and "Kino Pravda" at the Hermitage museum. The following essay is about the project, followed by the film trailer.
"The film drama is the Opium of the people ... down with Bourgeois fairy-tale scenarios ... Long live life as it is!" --Dziga Vertov
In modern 21st century life, a film is a kind of collection of edited moments given a sequence and soundtrack. They're almost always made using edited digital media software. For me, it's a work process that has slowly blurred the lines between how other artforms (music, architecture, design, etc.) that are based on software editing operate as well -- film editing is a reflection of the collage based aesthetics of digital media, and if you look at the roots of cinema, you almost are always taken directly to a couple of films: Walter Ruttman's "Symphony of A City" (1927) and Dziga Vertov's "Man With a Movie Camera" (1929). For this concert at the Hermitage I wanted to look at some of the "roots of the roots" of this Russian cinema classic -- I ended up looking at some of the more rare versions of films Vertov made that led up to his classic, which led me directly to his early "Kino-Glaz" (1924) and "Kino-Pravda" collections of films. For the concert at the Hermitage, I want to show some of the connections between "revolutionary cinema" and social change from the view point of Dj culture. Russian cinema has always inter-twined everyday life with some of the issues that underly modern culture -- whether it was Sergei Eisenstein's 1925 "Battleship Potemkin," Mikhail Kalatozov's "Soy Cuba" (1964), or Andrei Tarkovsky's 1972 "Solaris," and some of the issues that drove these early film makers will be a starting point for the "Kino-Glaz/Kino-Pravda" remix project.
"Montage" is the French term for "putting together." With my remix of "Kino-Glaz/Kino Pravda" I want to engage the 21st century fascination with realism and synthesis from archival resources and make a connection with some of the historical "montage" with some of the historical concepts that Vertov pioneered -- that is the basis for the Hermitage project. I've re-scored/ and re-mixed the "Kino-Pravda" and "Kino-Glaz" films with a contemporary soundtrack based on a combination of contemporary art's dialectical relationship with video-montage and my work as a composer, artist, and writer. There is also an installation based on my remixes of early prints from Malevich's Constructivist prints, and Aleksandr Rodchenko's film posters that were also made around the same time as Vertov's films. What Vertov liked to call "Kinochestvo" -- the art of organizing the "necessary movements of objects in space as a rhythmical artistic whole, in harmony with the properties of the material," for me, becomes a cinema of rhythm. I look at both the installation and film projects as reflections of a historical search for the roots of what Sergei Eisenstein liked to call "dialectical-montage" -- the main idea is to show the connections between contemporary art practice, and how film has changed the way we think of contemporary digital art and sound composition.
Dziga Vertov is without question one of the more important filmmakers of the early 20th century. Amusingly enough, his real name is Denis Arkadevich Kaufman, and most of the material he made was under his pseudonym, which is the most well known aspect of his work. During the 1920's he pioneered a style of collage-based cinema that documented the every day world of the Soviet Union in a way that was meant to destabilize the norms of what he felt were a kind of prison of story telling. To Vertov, film was a way of showing the Russian people that they needed new ideas and new ways of perceiving the world as a dynamic and completely flux-oriented milieu: in short, that things had changed for good. To be able to appreciate the dynamic, young revolution that had just occurred, Vertov felt that the Russian people needed a new cinema that did not obey the old bourgeois rules of "beginning, middle, and end" or even had normal actors, stage setting and design -- all of that would be taken care of by conditions in the "real world:" He wanted to present the revolution as a kind of "non-linear" project for renewing how people could present humanity and to illuminate the struggle against oppression. He wanted to use cinema to find freedom in a world where anything was possible. To me, Dj culture has inherited that same impulse -- the impulse towards "realism" is part and parcel of many of the musics of the urban landscape. If there's anything that resembles Vertov's obession with realism it's the art of "keeping it real" -- a mantra one hears in hip hop at every level.
Vertov liked to call his style of taking portraits of the everyday world "absolute kinography." One must remember that it took filmmakers in the West many years to catch up with his techniques -- for example, the "Cinéma Vérité" movement of the 1950's and 1960's. Vertov's "Kino-Pravda" simply means -- along with the French -- "cinema of truth." Kino-Glaz, in English, translates as "Cinema-Eye." In both films, Vertoz attempted to come up with a term that reflected language itself as a series of documents that evolved into a dynamic portrait of a rapidly changing world where things like electrification, industrialization, and the achievements of workers through hard labor were to be celebrated as a break with the hardship of the previous era in Russia.
To me, this is a starting point of early modernism in film: in coining "Kino-Pravda" Vertov wanted to use film as a means of getting at "hidden" truth through juxtapositions of images which leads us to a kind of "logic of montage" -- much like a Dj or Vj would today -- the 21st century idea of "Web 2.0" has finally caught up with the super-imposition of film, representation, and the everyday world of websites like youtube, facebook, vimeo, and others. Today's online world resembles what theorist Lev Manovich likes to call the "social data browser" -- it's a place where the search for new material to contextualize leads to a search for new samples and new material from the archives of everyday life, databases, and above all, a collision between the way we live now, and the way film has helped give modern life a kind of continuously transforming mirror of the complexities of our information based digital economy. If one looks at the history of film soundtracks one can see how the "soundtrack" evolved as a core component of film. The "Assassination of the Duke of Guise" (1908) (original French title: "La Mort du duc de Guise") was a French historical film directed by Charles Le Bargy and André Calmettes, adapted by Henri Lavedan, and featuring actors of the Comédie Française and prominent set designers. It is one of the first films to feature an original film score, composed by Camille Saint-Saëns -- it too is an influence on this project. If you look at the two strands of cinema that came out of France at the beginning of the 20th century -- the realism of the the Lumière brothers, versus the theater of magic of Georges Méliès -- you can easily trace a link to the montage techniques of Vertov, and hopefully, to the sound and image collage that I have created for the Kino-Glaz/Kino-Pravda project.
The "Kino-Glaz" and "Kino-Pravda" films are famous for the range of cinematic techniques Vertov invents, deploys or develops, such as double exposure, fast motion, slow motion, freeze frames, jump cuts, split screens, radically juxtaposed camera angles, extreme close-ups, tracking shots, footage played backwards, animations and a self-reflexive style -- the split screen tracking shot. I will explore these kinds of film representations through the filter of how sound interprets cinematic "realism."
At the beginning of his 1929 film "Man with a Movie Camera" Vertov proclaimed
"The film Man with a Movie Camera represents
AN EXPERIMENTATION IN THE CINEMATIC TRANSMISSION
Of visual phenomena
WITHOUT THE USE OF INTERTITLES
(a film without intertitles)
WITHOUT THE HELP OF A SCRIPT
(a film without script)
WITHOUT THE HELP OF A 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 - ABSOLUTE KINOGRAPHY - on the basis of its complete separation from the language of theatre and literature."
He began his 1924 film with a similar kind of statement with an even more direct link between the everyday world of Soviet Culture, and his ideas of realism:
The World's first attempt to create a film-object without the participation of actors, artists, directors; without using a studio, sets, costumes. All members of the cast continue to do what they usually do in life.
The present film represents an assault on our reality by the cameras and prepares the them of creative labor against a background of class contradictions..."
How do we in the 21st century respond to Vertov's "cinema of rhythm?" This project is just a first step along the path to understanding how cinema of the 20th century set the tone for the info-aesthetics of the 21st century.