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The Men with the Movie Camera

The Men with the Movie Camera: The Poetics of Visual Style in Soviet Avant-Garde Cinema of the 1920s

Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 362
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  • Book Info
    The Men with the Movie Camera
    Book Description:

    Unlike previous studies of the Soviet avant-garde during the silent era, which have regarded the works of the period as manifestations of directorial vision, this study emphasizes the collaborative principle at the heart of avant-garde filmmaking units and draws attention to the crucial role of camera operators in creating the visual style of the films, especially on the poetics of composition and lighting. In the Soviet Union of the 1920s and early 1930s, owing to the fetishization of the camera as an embodiment of modern technology, the cameraman was an iconic figure whose creative contribution was encouraged and respected. Drawing upon the film literature of the period, Philip Cavendish describes the culture of the camera operator, charts developments in the art of camera operation, and studies the mechanics of key director-cameraman partnerships. He offers detailed analysis of Soviet avant-garde films and draws comparisons between the visual aesthetics of these works and the modernist experiments taking place in the other spheres of the visual arts.

    eISBN: 978-1-78238-078-8
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-ix)
  5. Note on Transliteration and Conventions
    (pp. x-x)
  6. Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 1-9)

    This monograph is about the visual culture of Soviet avant-garde film during the 1920s, before sound technology and a shift in cultural policy towards Socialist Realism and ‘a cinema understood by the millions’ rendered the term ‘avant-garde’ ideologically suspect and thus obsolete. It is a study of the image in its various complex manifestations as a means of communication and stimulation, and treats the medium of cinema as a primarily photographic phenomenon which, in the case of the Soviet avant-garde, was characterized by a particular set of creative practices and aesthetic preferences. At the heart of this study lies a...

  8. CHAPTER ONE The Theory and Practice of Camera Operation within the Soviet Avant-Garde of the 1920s
    (pp. 10-57)

    THE ODESSA MIST sequence inBronenosets Potemkin(Battleship Potemkin, 1925), an early-morning prelude to the images of the murdered sailor, Vakulenchuk, as he lies peacefully in a makeshift tent along the quayside, has been universally acclaimed for its atmosphere and poetic lyricism. The scenes of the harbour – ghostly ships lying at anchor, slow-moving yachts, a motley crew of motionless birds, and glinting water, all photographedcontre-jour– are notable for their eerie sense of calm (Fig. 1). Eizenshtein had originally envisaged a ‘port in mourning’ scene that would be photographed out of focus, as if ‘through tears’.² The impressionistic potential of...

  9. CHAPTER TWO Eduard Tisse and Sergei Eizenshtein
    (pp. 58-128)

    Eizenshtein and Tisse were introduced in the spring of 1923 by Boris Mikhin, the director of the first factory of Goskino.³ The director’s shooting scenario forStachka, which was originally planned as a cooperative venture between Goskino and the Proletkul’t, had already been drawn up on the basis of a libretto by the prose writer and dramatist Valer’ian Pletnev. Mikhin had proposed Tisse as camera operator on the grounds that the studio wanted someone with experience to help Eizenshtein negotiate the difficult transition from theatre to film direction.⁴ Having been given a copy of the scenario, Tisse corrected a number...

  10. CHAPTER THREE Anatolii Golovnia and Vsevolod Pudovkin
    (pp. 129-195)

    The sentiments expressed in the first epigraph above are contained in a letter written by Pudovkin to Golovnia during the early stages of the Second World War, when the former was working in Alma-Ata, the capital of the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic, having been evacuated from Moscow, and the latter was based in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, having been assigned a project with the director Vladimir Petrov. Golovnia cites the fragment in an article written many years later in which he describes Pudovkin’s search for a contemporary hero who would reflect the challenges and achievements of the grand revolutionary...

  11. CHAPTER FOUR Andrei Moskvin and the Factory of the Eccentric Actor
    (pp. 196-240)

    The films of the Factory of the Eccentric Actor (FEKS) are the least studied of the Soviet avant-garde. Although pamphlets and monographs on the careers of Kozintsev and Trauberg appeared during the Soviet era, and although the regeneration of interest in the movement since 1991 has spawned documents, memoirs and interviews which clarify its anarchic and surreal beginnings, the films released by this collective during the silent era have been relatively neglected in critical terms.² FEKS started life as an experimental theatre group committed to eccentric, improvised comedy which combined anti-bourgeoisépatagewith the staging of various types of fairground-style...

  12. CHAPTER FIVE Danylo Demuts’kyi and Oleksandr Dovzhenko
    (pp. 241-286)

    The relationship between Danylo Demuts’kyi and Oleksandr Dovzhenko was the most short-lived among the film units of the avant-garde. After meeting each other for the first time onVasia – reformator(Vasia the Reformer, 1926) and subsequently forging a creative alliance on Arsenal (1928),ZemliaandIvan, their professional partnership came to an abrupt end, never to be formally resurrected.⁴ The reason for this rupture has until relatively recently remained opaque. Since the opening of secret-police archives in independent Ukraine, however, it has become clear that the cause was external rather than internal. According to Liber, Demuts’kyi was arrested by the...

  13. CONCLUSION: The End of the Golden Age
    (pp. 287-296)

    If the 1920s can be regarded as a ‘golden age’ for Soviet camera operators, during the early years of the next decade the profession became subject to a diverse range of pressures which meant that, in essence, this age was drawing to a close. Although the avant-garde units, with the exception of Dovzhenko’s team, remained more or less intact during the 1930s and 1940s, there were several developments that conspired to transform radically the nature of the camera operator’s task and to curtail severely the experimentation which had been a hallmark of the previous decade. The first was the gradual...

  14. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  15. Filmography
    (pp. 297-303)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 304-324)
  17. Index
    (pp. 325-342)