Propaganda is also a form of art
Yngvar Myrvold | Třnsberg, Norway | 07/10/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Dziga Vertov monopolized the Soviet documentary scene together with his brothers and Lev Kuleshov. His movies have reached vast audiences all over the world, and The Man with the movie camera always gets a vote or two in "Greatest films ever made"-polls.I really looked forward to seeing Vertov's early films, shot in 1923-24. Before that, film stock wasn't readily accessible to filmmakers in the Soviet union. Vertov developed Kuleshov's theory of montage in those early years and put them to good use in the films featured on this DVD. The 6 Kino-eye shorts was a pioneering venture into the Soviet experience. Vertov sought to bring witness to how the word of communism was spread throughout the countryside and in the cities. If this meant tampering a bit with the footage he shot, well - so be it!The protagonists of the first three films are "the Young pioneers", a group of young teens who help out wherever they can. They help widows harvesting the crop and old people with shopping and cleaning. They also urge people to buy their meat and veggies at the Communist food market and not at private grocers.(We also follow the meat backwards from the counter to the cow, would you believe!)The do-gooders still find time to collect the children in the village and explain what communism is all about and request that they join the Communist party.Later, there are intercut scenes from everyday life, work and leisure. Great stuff. Enthusiasm runs through the footage, this is a young man using the camera as his gun, shooting at will, and getting some marvellous treasure from his effort.Historically, you can't even begin to measure the value of Kino eye. These people are real, this stuff happened. It's a closed chapter in history, and will probably never be repeated. Propaganda, sure, but also a work of art.Also on this DVD, we get the film "Three songs for Lenin" (1934) What a world of difference 10 years made for Vertov. This nearly unwatchable mish-mash of ugly close-ups, rabble-rousing, and Stalin-style knee-jerking should not be shown. In theory constructed like a three-part symphony, it's a hopeless jumble of badly edited scenes. The first part, about a Moslem girl who doesn't have to cover her face anymore is the most lifeless documentary I've ever seen. The second part introduces the life and death-cult of Lenin, and history has not been kind to it. It's teary-eyed communist symbolism, with endless scenes of mourners standing around Lenin's body. Endless..The last part looks like it was made with someone putting a gun to Vertov's head. You can almost imagine the Moscow processes lurking just out of sight.5 stars for the Kino-eye films, the Lenin film is an atrocity that Vertov should have been able to avoid making. But then, maybe he didn't have a choice. Or maybe his enthusiasm had run to ground in the bureaucratic and political hell that Soviet had become in the 1930ies."
Interesting Early Soviet Propaganda
Beth Fox | Los Angeles, CA USA | 03/28/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Though often slow-going, these Soviet propaganda films are of extreme historical interest. They should be seen by anyone intrigued by Lenin, the history of the USSR, or the Communist movement in general.
Kino-Eye is probably one of the earliest Soviet documentaries still available. Made in 1924, this silent (obviously) film tracks the adventures of a troop of Young Pioneers as they travel from village to village, set up camp, farm, and teach Communism. It also includes shots of a Chinese magician, an elephant, and various collective enterprises. At this early date, the director was clearly having fun with the new film technology: as the film rolls backwards, we see bread returning to wheat, a diver emerging from the water and back to the board, and meat going back to a cow. What we really see, however, is just how poor this country was in 1924. There is perhaps one car and one ambulance in the whole film; children walk around barefoot, and the villagers obviously had little access to dentistry. Contrast this film with "Berlin: Symphony of a Great City," to show how advanced Germany was only three years later. (Yes, perhaps I'm comparing apples and oranges, but some of the shots in Kino-Eye take place in a big city too, with streetcars visible.)
By the time the second film, "Three Songs About Lenin," was made, Communist rule had crystallized. This film is Lenin hagiography at its best. The first "song," "My face was in a dark prison," shows us a Muslim girl from Turkmenistan who wears one of the most restrictive face coverings outside Afghanistan. Thanks to Lenin, she learns to read, works on a collective farm, and learns to shoot a gun. This topic would never be presented this way today, but it certainly is timely.
The second "song," "We all loved him," is about Lenin's death. Streams of people pass by his coffin, including (naturally) Stalin. (I think I saw a shot of Trotsky at the coffin, as well -- I'm surprised that Vertov was not forced to airbrush this out, frame by frame.) There is footage of Lenin at a rally, with actual audio of Lenin making a speech. The speech does not match the footage, but remember, there were no sound films prior to Lenin's death.
The third "song" is pure Soviet boosterism. Lenin is in his tomb "In a Stone City." Airplanes fly above. Parachutists jump from planes. Irrigation ditches fill with water. Machines operate. Workers are interviewed about their heroic efforts to keep things operating. Tractors are driven. Hydroelectric dams generate power. The film brags about new canals. "If only Lenin could see our country now!" Well, yes, but what the film doesn't tell you is that the new White Sea Canal was built with Gulag labor: tens of thousands perished in frigid weather, sometimes digging only with their bare hands. The canal, Stalin's brainchild, is ice-bound and unusable half the year. It is somehow fitting that Lenin's corpse was given no rest until after the country he created fell apart.
I wish the DVD contained some extras, like a brief introduction to Soviet film, or a bit about the director. A brief biography of Lenin, even a written one, would have been helpful. But the films are still worth watching to see a time that is quickly and mercifully fading into the past. At the end of the third song, it is prophesied that centuries from now, people will not remember the names of the countries where their ancestors lived, but everyone will remember the name of Lenin. Well, ancient countries, from Israel to Macedonia to Zimbabwe to Russia, are alive. But Vladimir Ilyich WHO??