1931 __ Entuziazm
‣ Comment : The Poetic Structure of Enthusiasm. — Vertov’s Æsthetic: 1) A camera with no fixed reference point. Denial of a secure POV for the audience. Complete mobility of the camera/eye. 2) Repetition and Variation for the sake of kinetic/æsthetic pleasure. 3) Each shifting angle gives a new contextually based vision of an object. - Formal Tropes of Enthusiasm: 1) Vertovian Parades of Humans (Masses); 2) Synchronous Group Activity (Exercises); 3) Machine-like Human Behaviour (Repetitions); 4) Transports – Linking Shots – Trains, Coal Cars, Wagons; 5) Reactions of Human Faces – Listening, Speaking, Watching. The film opens with some of Vertov’s trademark reflexivity: a young woman, fresh clean, pure, the very image of the new man, sits under a bizarre installation, a bacchic grove with a propeller hanging from the tree, and listens to a radio on a pair of headphones. She is ordered to tune in to hear a piece of music, “The Last Sunday”, by the composer Nikolai Timofeyev from the film The Donbass Symphony. Vertov then cuts to Timofeyev conducting the recording of the same piece of music, gesturing in real time to the music as we hear it. Then Vertov cuts from her to the old man of bourgeois society: aged, decrepit, shuffling, broken, bowing foolishly before icons and the crucified Christ. The wretched old people kiss the feet of the image. Drunks wallow in filth, tilting bottles of transparent poison skyward. A cascade of tsarist and religious images … but wait, there is a bell tolling somewhere for that old world. This is the realm of the impure. The masses are doing their peculiar thing: they are massing. The church bells ring more frantically than ever, so frantically that there is a doppler shift in the sound: the bells de-tune, bend and wail. Choral music gives way to the faint human wailing known as prayer. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, religion is the opium, vodka, poison and cinema of the masses. There is a cleansing shriek of a steam whistle – framed, of course, by the wires of the electric god. A band of young pioneers marches in the town square. The image is in long-shot, but we hear the sound in “close-up” – a classic Vertovian transformation of reality, because Vertov was not after the truth, as the clumsy translation of kino-pravda into cinéma vérité suggests. Vertov’s pravda is a sur-realist construct. Not “truth” but film-truth. Using the real as raw material for a new world. A camera lends us an experience without a mind – an experience we could not have in reality, because it is not filtered through a consciousness. Its automatism is its strength. Vertov wanted to manufacture the memories of a mechanical eye and ear, which in turn, at the editor’s behest, would construct the new socialist reality, using découpage to break the world apart to materialize it on film: perfection, efficiency. Vertov’s idea is not objectivity, but mechanical subjectivity, the camera more specific, more obstinate, more Marxist-scientific. Drones of Metal Machine Music enter the sound montage for the first time. Tones and percussion. Revolutionary marches play – chopped by the bleak tolling of the incessant church bells. But with each cut, the structures of the past are crumbling, melting, falling into themselves. The masses arrive at the church. We learn that “the Pope is chained to Capital’s moneybag” and a carnival grotesque of a Metropolitan holds us up with a revolver like the cowboy in The Great Train Robbery (1903), while on the soundtrack we hear the chanting voice of an unlucky Ukrainian priest – perhaps already dead in the brutal repression of the church that we watch on Vertov’s almost comically joyful images. The crowd demands: “Away with the steeples!” The Masses cheer. Drunken music pours over the Timofeyev piece, and gives way to a mad reel as the people parade the icons out of the church, whose arrogant steeples are being dragged earthward so that they no longer rival the smokestacks of the Donbass in the visible distance. With each crashing steeple, a gunshot rings out that sounds like an explosion. The ghosts of murdered priests are drowned out by the cheers of the workers and the joyful noise of the pioneer band. In a flurry of optical effects, the churches collapse into themselves. More revolutionary music: “The Internationale”. A grinning worker from the steelworks “watches” a motorized diorama that shows the promises of socialism. Toy products whirl around a city-factory made of cardboard. A lateral tracking shot, slow and ponderous, introduces the factory “theme” of the next movement. Loudspeakers blare, as a church, cut out of the sky at cosmic angles, is converted through fast cutting into a young worker’s club. The youths stare at the transformed building with bright smiles. Did I mention they are young and pure? You could almost eat your breakfast off their faces. The movement ends with a stunning optical: an explosive multiple exposure recapitulation of the visual themes introduced so far in the film. The images cameo around the space in the reconfigured and repurposed church. Vertov then decodes the alien machine sound for us. We now recognize the drone tone from earlier as the sound of the colliery elevator wheel, now crowned by the Red Star. The next movement begins with the acousmetre telling us, rather strangely, that “it happened in the Donbass, during the Five Year Plan in 1930”. Which means we are watching “history” – but as actuality. A temporal displacement. Workers in abstract compositions – black figures cut out against the sky – walk away from their place of work. A whistle shrieks again, this time in an odd, emergency rhythm. The voice tells us: “There is no more coal.” Vertov’s camera pans over empty coal boxes. The whistle changes key, shrieking, conveying more alarm in a lower key. The alert goes out – electric noise, telegraphic – nervous excitement. The acousmetre states the problem of this cinematic movement in the symphony: “The country needs to be given coal.” A crowd stands and sings “The Internationale”. We hear the sounds of a train and the marching band. The whistle of alarm again beats out its rhythm. Vertov gives us another sonic “angle” on “The Internationale”: another group singing the holy anthem in a different acoustical space. And an earnest party organizer in a white coat stands in a field of white flowers and asks the workers: “What are we going to do now?” The whole country must be mobilised in a military fashion for the five-year plan to succeed. This new crisis demands a new type of worker: the UDARNIK – the shock worker of the first five-year plan. Another lateral shot breaks up the montage rhythm. A horse-driven mine-cart drives across the frame. We hear the real sound of the mine interior. Engine noises fade in over this human mobilisation: pistons and rhythmic noise, as mine workers practice their moves in comical drills. They swing axes robotically, but the wooden stump is untouched. Vertov intercuts the drilling workers in the open space with their black-faced comrades in the mine. We hear the sound of hammering and pumping. From the top of the colliery elevator, the drive wheel starts up. There is the distinctive drone sound again, but from a new sonic “angle”; the wheel seems to respond to the calls of the workers who pledge to deliver 28,000 tons of coal for the hungry steel factory. The udarnik woman stands with the colliery elevator over her shoulder. She, too, promises to exceed the quota and, as if by magic, another elevator starts up. And suddenly a rain of coal drops from the conveyor onto the sorting belt as women continue the separation process. A voice reminds us that all Russia depends on the efforts of the coal workers. A train passes two workers on a stairway. “We workers go to the Donbass Front!” The coal problem solved, the next movement shows the udarniki heeding the call of the Donbass factories to the sound and image of marching bands. Revolutionary marches alternate with rain-like black-mine noise as the acousmetre tells us what we are seeing ... “Here come the Udarniki!” “Here come the Enthusiasts!” Here some of the least-enthusiastic workers in the long history of enthusiasm trudge toward their misery. Not even the red flag can stir them. “Here comes the Metal!” “Here comes the Coal!” The non-human material flows more enthusiastically. The acousmetre says that “Donbass launches the attack!” Hot molten pig-iron flows into the furnaces. Coal again rattles on the conveyor. More flags and workers flutter under stirring music. Industrial pounding, abstract and sourceless, and men yelling over the din. More rattling coal conveyors. The acousmetre is proud to announce that “the quota was met in the plan’s decisive year!” Piston sounds give way to rhythmic whistles. Steam vents into the sky. Trains pull out of mines and we know without a doubt that “Coal for the factories” is on its way. — Visual Musique Concrete. — At about the 40th minute of the film, Vertov’s images explode into purely abstract visual lyricism in a song for Stalinism. This, not coincidentally, coincides with the segment of the film that shows us the making of steel. The images – trams in the sky bearing iron scrap for the factory intercut with three men working in unison to bring a massive sledgehammer down – Vertov syncs with a gunshot/explosion sound. Each hammer blow is reinforced by the acousmetre’s slogans: “An Affair of Honour!” -- CLANG!! “A Point of Glory” -- CLANG!! “A Matter of Courage and Heroism” -- BLAM!! Steam whistles shriek. Someone says: “We are fighters on the front line of fire.” We seem to be in hell. Workers tend flame-belching holes in the roof of the factory. The montage repeats in infinite, beautiful variation: the trams in the sky, the workers and the hammer, and the men tending the fire. If the standard practice of the 30-degree rule represents visually consonant “thirds” or “fifths” in interval theory, in his parallel cutting Vertov often returns to the “same” object with a ten-degree shift (often more) in two dimensions, doubly forcing us out of our previous fixed or “objectified” POV in regard of the object. This is cinematic cubism. While this seems to argue against the Marxist-scientific power of Vertov’s images, there is an oppressive reinforcing effect to the repetitions that feels like brainwashing. Vertov’s views of things are more complex than Eisenstein’s ideograms, but ultimately the reductive effect is the same – particularly if you only watch the film one time. And, certainly, Vertov often re-used footage as if he had found some perfect actualisation of a certain type of event. The whistle blows again – we go inside the massive sheds of the factory – light pours down through the smoke of the shops in the Cathedral of Stalinism. The segment moves into a frenetic ballet. Vertov’s kinoks start undercranking their machines – white-hot steel flies out of the forge machines at impossible speeds. The montage reaches MTV velocity. Stokers throw coal into the furnaces, a power shovel drives again and again into the open mouth of the blast furnace. The danger and harshness of the work of the steelworker gives him the heroic stature in Vertov’s scheme. This is the paradigm of the Udarnik that all who watch must follow. The iron keeps coming on the skyway; rivers of molten metal flow down into the forge. Gears push out a white-hot steel bar out of a machine and then back in. A female udarnik waits for her turn to pull a chain. Industrial bells ring. The power shover turns. The woman pulls on the chain, smiling, self-conscious before the camera eye. The shovel turns. Glowing metal pours out. The power shovel returns to the bowel of the furnace. A machine spits out a glowing slab of steel. Stokers throw more coal into the furnace. An ironworker grabs a glowing snake of steel with tongs, and turns and deftly feeds it into another part of the machine. He does this again and again without fail. The sequence repeats according to Vertov’s scheme of interval variation. The stoker. The “snake handler” with the tongs. The power shovel. A new element. A man with large tongs wields a hot steel girder just inches from his feet. Other men grab new blocks of steel with mechanical fingers. Men working at the edge of the furnace push a piece of iron or steel into the heat. This is heroism, Vertov seems to say. But let’s pause here to note that, despite the tremendous fluidity and skill of the execution, Enthusiasm really is Fascist filmmaking of a different, more subtle order than Riefenstahl’s. Enthusiasm is quite literally a film about Stalinism. I didn’t fully realize this until I noticed that the film is structured around a visual pun. At a certain point, over shots of trains leaving the Donbass, the acousmetre announces: “Fully loaded wagons leave the Donbass – wagons loaded with coal and ‘Stalin’” (or, as we say in English, “steel”). In Triumph of the Will, the godlike leader is the answer from on high, the personification of the people’s will. It is clearly idealism. In Enthusiasm, in accordance with the doctrine of Marx, the leader is MATERIALIZED, transubstantiated into the Bessemer-Siemens process. What does the Soviet society need? Toward what does all the noise and thunder of the Five Year Plan tend? For what do we need the coal and iron and fire? What does the whole Donbass region finally produce? STALIN. And where does this “material” go? In trains, wagons and cars – into the structure of everything, the armature of the Soviet state – into tanks, guns, buildings and finally into tractors for the peasants. Soviet society cannot function without “Stalin”. It needs more Stalin because … STALIN is EVERYWHERE. Vertov’s additional political goal, according to his theoretical program, was to show the workers in each segment of the socialist reality their place in the “big picture”. The role of kino-eye was to use the camera to de-alienate the worker from his own labour and that of his fellows. He uses montage to sew the workers in the mines, railroads and factories into a braid of production. Vertov: “The textile worker ought to see the worker in a factory making a machine essential to the textile worker. The worker at the machine tool plant ought to see the miner who gives the factory its essential fuel, coal. The coal miner ought to see the peasant who produces the bread that is essential to him.” But to do this with any kind of practical success, Vertov needs to establish a Utopian role for the camera and microphone in the socialist reality. (Carlos James Chamberlin, “Dziga Vertov: The Idiot”) — Despite his thwarted early ventures in sound, once he embarked upon a career in cinema he did not wait for proper sound film technology to begin realizing his ideas of sound. From the moment he began filmmaking until his first sound film, Enthusiasm (1931), he engaged in virtual sound, to prepare for the inevitable advent of sound in Russian film. He did this, by the way, before sound had come to American film. He introduced this “implied sound" into his films, argued theoretically concerning sound, championed an expanded concept of radio and argued against the dogma of asynchronicity between sound and image set forth by Eisenstein, Alexandrov and Pudovkin -- A Statement. He also argued against the “theory of caterwauling." In 1929, while Vertov embarked upon Enthusiasm, the film critic Ippolit Sokolov wrote in “On the Possibilities of Sound Cinema” that the natural world of sound was not conducive to recording. The outdoors and the remote, the sounds of work, industry, celebration, public gatherings -- that is a large part of the domain of documentary -- was not “audiogenic": “Agitational and scientific films will be produced not in the lap of nature, not in the noise of the streets, but within the soundproof walls of the film studio, where no outside sound can penetrate. The sound movie camera will least of all film “life caught unawares." The unorganized and accidental sounds of our streets and buildings would become a genuine cacophony, a literally caterwauling concert.” Vertov understood Sokolov's “theory of caterwauling" to be “anti-newsreel," i.e., very much within the mold of formalist critics who preferred only actors and acting upon the screen -- in the vernacular: played films. Vertov also understood it as a symptomatic of an exclusivist conceit derived from music. “everything which is not “sharp" or “flat," in a word, everything which does not “doremifasolize" was unconditionally labeled “cacaphony."”Vertov considered the true refutation of Sokolov's ``theory of caterwauling" to be Enthusiasm itself. There was nothing do-re-mi in the ``setting of din and clanging, amidst fire and iron, among factory workshops vibrating from the sound." Vertov “penetrated into mines deep beneath the earth," much like Nadar in the catacombs, and rode atop “the roofs of speeding trains" lugging twenty-seven hundred pounds of recording equipment, developed specifically for the film, and: “for the first time in history recorded, in documentary fashion, the basic sounds of an industrial region (the sound of mines, factories, trains, etc).” Vertov may have rejected Sokolov's music-like exclusivity but he didn't reject music, nor could he with his background and approach. He often referred to his role in filmmaking, not as director, but as composer. He called Enthusiasm a “symphony of noises" and the film's second name, under which it is known in Russia, is “Symphony of the Donbas." “Symphony" as a figure is, in one of the many aurally reflexive moments of the film, extended to signal the “harmonic" organization of the activities of the Five-Year Plan in the Don Basin region, and its parallel in the structure and process of the film itself. In a note sent to Vertov from London (Nov. 1931), Charlie Chaplin wrote: “Never had I known that these mechanical sounds could be arranged to sound so beautiful. I regard it as one of the most exhilarating symphonies I have heard. Mr. Dziga Vertov is a musician.” Vertov invoked musical metaphor without the reduction, regularization or aestheticization it had come to impose in general cultural discourse, because the metaphor had to interact within a documentary context that Vertov called an “enthusiasm of facts" and a literary process wherein sounds themselves were scripted; with Enthusiasm, the sound was scripted prior to the visuals. (Douglas Kahn, “Audio Art in the Deaf Century”)
‣ Source : Kahn, Douglas (1990), “Audio Art in the Deaf Century”, In “Sound by Artists”, edited by Dan Lander and Micah Lexier, Toronto : Art Metropole : Banff : Walter Phillips Gallery, 1990, pp. 301-309.
‣ Source : Vertov, Dziga (1931), “First Steps”, In “Kino-Eye - the Writings of Dziga Vertov”, ed. Annette Michelson, Translated by Kevin O’Brien, Berkeley : University of California, 1984.
‣ Urls : http://www.soundtoys.net/journals/audio-art-in-the (last visited ) http://archive.sensesofcinema.com/contents/06/41/dziga-vertov-enthusiasm.html (last visited )
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