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Kino–Eye (Life Off-Hand) / Kino-Glaz (Zhizn Vrasplokh).

Posted by keith1942 on August 28, 2014

The Young Pioneers

The Young Pioneers

Produced for Goskino in 1924, this is a seventy-minute feature. Rather than using ‘found footage’ Vertov and Mikhail Kaufman went out and filmed life – life in the new Socialist State. The film includes disparate episodes that reflect the varied facets of urban and rural life. However, the prime focus is a group of Young Pioneers, ‘Young Leninists, the children of workers’. These were young socialists coming together in a summer camp and committed to the new values for constructing the new society.

“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 other games, and so on. No scriptwriter can invent something greater than what happens in real life …” (From Trud (Labour) 27 September 1924).

The majority of the film follows the activities of the Pioneers. Though not shown in chronological order, wee the construction of the camp, its opening and the daily activities. These include the co-operative activities, barber services for villagers, a visit to a nursery and playing in a nearby lake. Kaufman frequently uses iris shots as he records the activities: and Svilova produces a number of iris wipes in the editing. There are also superimpositions: the most notable when the Pioneers troop off to the lake. There is a nice touch of a waterfall superimposed as the troop cross a weir. At the lake there is a diving sequence, which uses reverse motion several times.

The central sequence is when the Pioneers visit a nearby town and market to publicise the Co-operative. We see them questioning the market traders. Such trading was allowed under the New Economic Policy, but the film clearly privileges co-operation, the new socialist way. The Pioneers also stick up posters and one of these leads a mother to patronise the co-op rather than the traders.

There is also one of the tricks that Vertov and his comrades use frequently – reverse motion ‘putting time in reverse’. Here they retrace the meat in the market back to the abattoir, and before that the pastures for the cows and bull. They then repeat the technique when they reverse the process of baking bread.

Alongside the Pioneers in the film are other aspects of life. These appear rather arbitrary, and the film ‘jumps’ from topic to topic. The film opens with an oddball sequence often fevered by Vertov – ‘The effect of vodka on village women’. Later in the film we watch a Chinese magician entertaining the townsfolk; then an elephant being paraded through the streets. And towards the end of the film there are a series of urban sequences. We see the Pioneers agitating around the evils of alcohol. There is a sequence of the homeless and a little later patients in a ‘Country Home’ for the mentally ill. Briefly we see reports of a ‘murdered citizen’. And the film ends first with a ‘perceptual experiment’ using different angle shots of a busy street. And then there is a short instructive sequence on electricity and the new and important medium of radio.

The film displays many of the stylistic quirks and tropes of Vertov’s work. The article in Trud comments:

It has looked at and captured life, which has not been changed by its presence, has not smoothed down its hair or taken a pose, because it has not noticed it.”

This is possibly the most enduring influence of the work of the Factory of Facts. This is cinéma vérité: and the Trud review suggests that this means ‘cinematic truth’, ‘life as it really is’. However Jean Rouch [a key pioneer in the post-W.W.II cinéma vérité movement] suggests that ‘the truth of cinema’ is the more appropriate description of Vertov’s contribution. Certainly in his later and more developed work – i.e. Man With a Movie Camera – Vertov presents up with the world that includes the camera rather than just the world in front of the camera.

Quotations from the Catalogue of Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 2004.


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