EYE Kino-Eye (1924)

Kino Eye (Kino-Glaz, Dziga Vertov, 1924)

Gezien op 7 oktober 2013, in Eye, in het kader van filmcollege Russische cinema, gegeven door universitair hoofddocent Russische literatuur Otto Boele (Universiteit Leiden).
Voorfilm: Schaakkoort (1925). Muzikale begeleiding: Yvo Verchoor (piano).

Dziga Vertov wilde de hogere essentie van het leven doorgronden, met behulp van de camerablik. Hij wilde het leven tonen zoals het werkelijk is. In de documentaire KinoGlaz maakt hij een participerend journalistieke reportage over een groep kinderen die in1924 op het Russische platteland een vakantiekamp houden. We zien ze een tent opzetten, opstaan en zich wassen, naar de markt gaan en dat soort dingen. Aandoenlijke kinderen zijn een tijdloos en universeel gegeven, maar deze kinderen zijn wel Sovjet Pioniers. Zodra deze ideologie doorschemert gaat het jeuken bij me, bijvoorbeeld als een fris ventje posters met de afbeelding van Grote Leider Lenin gaat uitdelen aan de dorpskinderen, of als ze opgewekt achter vaandels gaan marcheren. Het hele pakket van jeugdige indoctrinatie passeert het camera-oog. Iedereen moet zijn boodschappen kopen bij de coöperatie, in plaats van bij de uitbuiters. Dat soort schematisch dogmatisch denken.
De film krijgt meer lucht als het KinoGlaz toekijkt bij de act van een Chinese goochelaar, of zich richt op het vastleggen van mensen die in het water duiken, dan kun je lekker spelen met het terugdraaien van de film. Of kijk hoe de filmploeg bij hun thuiskomst achter een olifant aanloopt, die toevallig op hetzelfde moment op het station van Moskou arriveert. De filmploeg is op de beste momenten ook een beetje speels en hak op de tak spontaan bezig, net als al die kinderen.
Het is een dappere programmering om deze onbekende film te programmeren. Van Vertov&co is vaak ‘De man met de camera’ te zien, en het is ook hun beste film, maar bij Kino Eye zien we waar ze vandaan komen, wat hun impulsen en innerlijke drijfveren waren. Het is een goede illustratie bij het college.
Dziga Vertov: The Factories of Facts
program notes by YURI TSIVIAN, Pordenone 2004.
URL: http://www.cinetecadelfriuli.org/gcm/edizione2004/Vertov.html
Kino-Glaz is Vertov’s first feature-length documentary made not of found-footage but of purpose-filmed shots. Life Off-Guard is not its alternative title — it’s a subtitle. It points to two things at once: the title of a 6-part documentary series which Kino-Eyewasoriginallysupposed to set off(which is why Vertov’s writings often call it "Kino-Eye, Part One"), and to the off-guard method of filmmaking — defiantly so, as we learn from Vertov’s introductory speech at the screening that took place on 13 October 1924:
"You will be disappointed if you have come here to see an enthralling love story. You will be disappointed if you are expecting an absorbing detective story, disappointed too if you think you are going to see some extraordinary tricks and stunts. But it you take note that what we are going to show you now is just a reconnaissance by a single movie camera feeling its way, if you bear in mind that it’s only the first part, one-sixth of the first journey of the Kino-Eye, then even these simple little pieces of life, filmed as they are and not acted out, will give you a certain satisfaction."

The underlying strategy of catching life off-guard was to do as little pre-planning as possible — which entailed that Vertov and his crew were themselves exposed to being caught off-guard by the very life they were after. This was part of the game, part of Vertov’s experiment. Here is how the rules of this game wereannouncedby the newspaperTrud (Labor) on 27 September 1924, shortly before the film’s release:
"The kinocs Vertov and his cameraman Kaufman have spent two weeks in a randomly chosen Pioneer camp, following the entire active working day of a Young Pioneer with a movie camera. Their eye — a movie camera, which has the wonderful capacity to see, to capture what it sees, and to reproduce it as it saw it — got up at the same time as the people it was observing, rushed off to have a wash, cooked its breakfast, did its morning exercises, went to work, attended the other games, and so on. No scriptwriter can invent something greater than what happens in real life. … And the Kino-Eye — the movie camera and two or three people — has gone off on a journey from the Pioneer camp, through the peasant courtyards, through the fields, through the markets and slums of the town, with an ambulance car to a dying man, from there to workers’ sports grounds, and so on and so forth, peering into all the little corners of social life. It has looked at and captured life, which has not been changed by its presence, has not smoothed down its hair or taken up a pose, because it has not noticed it."

Is this film as unscripted as the above announcement makes it sound? On one hand it is, and this explains why its narrative is so rambling. Take the murdered night watchman, or the Chinese conjurer, or the elephant sequence. An elephant walking in the streets of Moscow — a delightful attraction! — was not something pre-planned; it just happened to arrive on the same train as the Pioneer unit.
On the other hand, you will hardly find a movie with a conceptual structure more rigid than Kino-Eye. Much like your regular melodrama, its story is structured around the opposition of "bad guys / good guys" — but these, of course, are not the natural-born villains and heroes of the good old days. Amazingly, Vertov actually believed that bad or unhappy people have been turned so by bad and unjust societies, and, conversely, that if a society is just, all its members will be good and honest. This simple thought (today some will call it naïve, but in 1924 such simplistic thoughts were "in") gave structure to Kino-Eye.

There are two poles to the life which Vertov’s Kino-Eye catches off-guard. At one pole are people of the "New" Russia: Soviet kids organized into Pioneer units (a non-gendered, politicized equivalent of the West’s Boy and Girl Scouts). At the other pole are people exemplifying the "Old" life — drunken peasant women dancing; a bunch of lunatics in a mental asylum (in keeping with then-widespread views, Vertov — formerly a student at the Petrograd Institute of Psycho-Neurology — thought that mental illnesses had social causes); shady black market dealers; an addict sniffing cocaine, and the like. In the film, the heart of all evil is the market where small private traders (allowed under the New Economic Policy) sell their produce. This is how critic Aleksandr Belenson, writing in 1925, described the sequence shot at the marketplace:
"In the town the Young Leninists, the children of workers, in their struggle for the co-operative, take on the inspection of a little corner of the Old World, the inspection of the market. ‘Little Smoked Sprat’ and ‘The Gypsy Kid’ (these are their nicknames) hang up posters everywhere, calling for support for the cause of the co-operatives. ‘Little Smoked Sprat’ has hung up one of the posters in the Tishinsky Market, where her mother has come to buy meat. The mother of ‘Little Smoked Sprat’ has gone round a number of private traders looking for meat, but hasn’t bought any: it’s either too expensive, or the meat isn’t fresh. She approaches the poster that her daughter has hung up: ‘Don’t give profits to the merchants; buy in the co-operative.’ The effect of the poster on the woman turns out to be so powerful that she rushes backwards to the co-operative. Kino-Eye shows us that the co-operative gets its meat straight from the abattoir, and putting time into reverse, it turns the meat into a bull and sends it off to graze in the country."

In addition to time tricks like the one described above, there is a remarkable spatial trick in Kino-Eye which is rather difficult to figure out, until you have seen the film a couple of times. An extreme long shot of a street, seen from above — taken in the late afternoon, judging by the long shadows cast by the people walking along it — is followed by the intertitle "The same street, as seen from a different camera set-up." The next shot shows the street lying on its side. Motivation? Look at the shadows: they are now walking vertically, as people do, while the people casting them now appear to be gliding behind their shadows. A little perceptual experiment — we can recall the same trick in Rodchenko’s still photographs from around the same time.”
(Goskino, USSR 1924).
Author-Dir: Dziga Vertov; ph: Mikhail Kaufman; ed: Elizaveta Svilova; film organizer: Abram Kagarlitsky;
Released: 31.10.1924; original length: 1627 m.; 35mm, 1593 m., 70’ (20 fps), Österreichisches Filmmuseum. Russian intertitles.

Dziga Vertov (1896-1954)