Director: Dziga Vertov
The erstwhile Denis Kaufman and I don’t have a spectacular track record, so this was the film in the Soviet cinema box I was least looking forward to checking out. And for the most part, the film kind of lived up to my apprehensions… Vertov was hired by the Moscow Soviet to make this as a kind of promotional piece in the run up to the 1926 local election, basically to say “hey, wartime was shit and the NEP period wasn’t much better, but look how good we’re doing now”. In other words, the propagandistic imperative was blunt (although apparently the Moscow Soviet weren’t thrilled by the way the end result actually barely mentions them) and the film itself kind of dry and flavourless. I don’t know, maybe it’s just that me and Vertov don’t really get on much, and yet I can’t help but feel there must be something that still makes people think he’s important. I don’t know, maybe the film was full of innovations at the time and I just didn’t pick up on them now or something; certainly at the time it seems to have been well received and considered major enough to spark fairly heated theoretical arguments about montage in documentary (Lev Kuleshov was a particularly vocal Vertov antagonist; I don’t suppose Vertov’s pathological hatred of fiction films endeared him to their makers either). Me, I didn’t get it.
For the most part, that is. Near the end of the film there’s a brief bit where Vertov gives us scenes of our happy Muscovites socialising after a hard day rebuilding the nation. It’s as if he momentarily forgets he’s making a propaganda film; the tone suddenly switches from strident and hectoring to relaxed, the mood shifts and for those brief shining moments of people just being themselves Stride, Soviet actually almost becomes fun. It doesn’t last, perhaps needless to say—I did sigh rather deeply when the film picked its megaphone back up—but it’s quite pleasant when it does happen… maybe not quite enough to make the rest of the film tolerable, but it was something.