Early & Silent Film

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Posted by keith1942 on September 2, 2014



Kino-Pravda was a newsreel that ran from 1922 to 1925, 23 issues in all. Issues 1 to 20 were produced by Goskino. This body was replaced in 1925 by Sovkino and Vertov and his comrades now worked in the documentary section, Kultkino, which produced issues 21 to 23.  The programmes at Le Giornate included all the surviving editions [issue 12 is lost], though some issues are incomplete. Pravda means truth and this was also the title of the Communist party’s principal daily newspaper. This was more than just a newsreel; it was a platform for propaganda and agitation. Yuri Tsivian in the Festival Catalogue comments:

 That the newsreel Kino-Pravda, like the newspaper Pravda, was less about news and more about statements … Dialectical editing: thesis – antithesis synthesis. Kino-Pravda not only shows – it explains!

As the series develops Vertov and his comrades experiment with form and techniques: the ‘dialectical editing’ becomes more and more noticeable. The point about the collective form of this ‘factory of fact’ is frequently underplayed. Dziga Vertov invariably has the lead credit, but the designation varies – ‘a film by’, ‘director’ ‘leader/author’; likewise the credits for other members come and go. However, there contributions are important, especially the two other key members, Eizaveta Svilova as editor and Mikhail Kaufman as cinematographer. And there are other contributors and supporters, notable in the pages of the Constructivist Journal LEF, edited by Vladimir Mayakovsky. There were also teams of cameramen spread across the Soviet Union who sent in footage to Moscow and which is used in the issues. A special issue like 21, Lenin Kino-Pravda, could require specially commissioned footage.

Programme 4 at the Festival presented Kino-Pravda number 1 to 8. All released in 1922, and running between 7 and 13 minutes. These films are dominated by the trial of the Party of Socialist-Revolutionaries. There was a real gulf between the political line of this Party and the Bolsheviks. It was a divide that became violent: it was a Socialist-Revolutionary who shot Lenin in 1918, [an injury from which he never fully recovered]. The trial ran on from 1919. A number of issues of Kino-Pravda provide extensive coverage. They also provide examples of the experimentation by the kinocs. Surprisingly, [given that Vertov frequently fulminated against acting in film dramas] there is a staged scene in Issue 3 about betting on the outcome of the trial.  Later in Issue 5 we see a spectator reading a newspaper titled Kino-Pravda No 5.

Issue 6 ‘begins with a close up of a box, on which we read the words Kino-Pravda No 6, July 14, 1922. A man comes and opens the box, which turns out to contain a reel of film. The man threads the film –the very film we are watching – into a projector and the newsreel Kino-Pravda No 6 begins.

As newsreels the films include much more: ‘bread barges’ carrying food following the famines of the Civil War: an armoured car factory: cycle racing: ‘White Army’ sabotage by arson in Siberia: and a silk fare in Baku.

Programme 5 presented Kino-Pravda numbers 9 to 13 [12 is missing]. Also produced in 1922 and running for between 12 and 16 minutes. The films show Vertov and his comrades experimenting and developing their use of techniques. Issue 9 includes a section of horse racing. The Catalogue notes that half-a-minute of film offers –

A routine bus ride – but what makes it interesting is that Vertov renders it in 10 shots: the conductor selling tickets (1.6 metres); the driver starting the engine (0.8 metres)’ the engine running (1.3 metres); a passenger’s hand holding onto the railing (0.5 metres)’ the driver’s foot pressing the accelerator (0.5 metres);

Tsivian points up two influences. One was an obsession with speed, an attribute of modernist sensibility: this had also been seen in the work of the Russian and Italian Futurist movement. But there is also an interest of the action style of Hollywood features, popular in the new Soviet Union. [You can see examples of this interest in the work of other directors including Kuleshov and Eisenstein). Following the horse racing Issue 9 includes a demonstration of a US movie camera, the advanced technology in use in Hollywood.

Issue 10 includes Constructivist style lettering provided by Alexander Rodchenko. The Catalogue quotes Constructivist Aleksei Gan:

The whole tenth issue has screen-high intertitles. And here too Vertov has overcome the worn-out technique of horizontal writing. It is clear that words must be constructed on screen in a different way.

This is an area that Vertov develops as the Kino-Pravda series develops and titling is an important and often radical component in his films.

Kino-Pravda No 13 is of a different order from preceding issues: the full title is “Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow”, A Film Poem Dedicated to the October celebrations, “October Kino-Pravda) / (“Vchera, Segodnia, Zavtra”. Kinopoema. Posviashchennaia Oktiabrskim Tozrzhestvam, “Oktiabrskaia Kino-Pravda”), [the addition of such sub-titles increasingly becomes the practice]. It is 743 metres in length and runs for 33 minutes. The film coincided with the 5th anniversary of the October Revolution. Its title was “Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow. A Film Poem dedicated to the October celebrations (Vchera, Segodnia, Zavtra”, Kinopoema, Posviashchennaia Oktiabrskim Tozrzhestvam. The film includes the anniversary celebrations in Red Square. But also a montage of the burials of heroes, composed from early films and including graves in Astrakhan, Kronstadt and Minsk. The montage generalises the particular into the general. Tsivian quotes Vertov [from the Annette Michelson’s translation)

Freed from the rule of 16 – 17 frames a second, free of the limits of time and space, I put together any given points in that universe, no matter where I’ve recorded them. My path leads to the creation of a fresh perception of the world. I decipher in anew way a world unknown to us.

Vertov avoids a merely empirical depiction of events, typical of many newsreels and documentaries, as he develops a form that emphasises the social relations involved in any event or movement.

Programme 6 covered Issues 14 to 17: plus a fragment and the animation Sovetskie Igrushki (Soviet Toys, 1924 and running 13 minutes). The drawings in the latter were by Ivan Beliakov and Alesandr Ivanov and the focus is the worker/peasant alliance [smychka) admonishing the decadent bourgeoisie. Issue 14 is the last from 1922 and runs for 12 minutes and is credited as “experiment in newsreel”. Issues 15, 16 and 17 are all from 1923 and run between 14 and 24 minutes (all at 20 fps).

Between Kino-Pravda 14 and 17 we see further developments in the use of titles. In Issue 15 a mobile in the form of a hammer rises to hit religion, “With the Hammer of Knowledge”. Issue 16, Spring Kino-Pravda. A lyrical View Newsreel / (Vesenniaia Kin-Pravda. Vidovaia Liricheskaia Khronika), uses a Rodchenko installation to create the effect of a globe, presenting on ‘one side’ America and Capital. There is a certain visceral thrill as a shot of Trotsky addressing the Red Army follows.  Issue 14 also stresses the ‘United Front of the Entire Working Class.”  When we come to Issue 17 this ‘front’ is represented by the slogan ‘alliance’ / ‘smychka’, the alliance of peasants and workers. United Front policies were to be a subject of debate in both the 1920s and 1930s, the question being to define the relative positions in any ‘front’. Tsivian comments on ‘smychka’,

This term implied that the peasant majority was not oppressed under the proletarian hegemony, but was its lesser [non-hegemonic) partner.

The socialist revolution was based on the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.

'smychka' - actually from Stride Soviet!

‘smychka’ – actually from Stride Soviet!

Issue 16 is famous for a different reason – it contains Sergei Eisenstein’s first film, Glumov’s Diary (Dnevnik Glumova) made to be projected during a Proletkult stage production. Vertov assisted Eisenstein with equipment and then included the short film in Kino-Pravda under the title The Spring Smiles of Proletkult.

Issue 17 offers credits for Mikhail Kaufman on cinematography and Elizaveta Svilova for editing, and Ivan Beliakov for intertitles. The film has a sequence of peasant women binding sheaves with dynamic editing and extremely short camera shots [similar to some in Battleship Potemkin). Tsivian comments,

 Vertov and Svilova were especially fond of applying fast editing to work processes, as if by doing so they were helping the people to work faster.

The focus of this issue is again the alliance between workers and peasants. So we see peasants visiting the All-Union Agricultural Exhibition in Moscow. And the point is emphasised by crosscutting between the countryside and the city. Finally workers and peasants are seen reading the newspaper Smychka. The positive depiction of the relationship between the city and the countryside, between workers and peasants, was to become a staple of Soviet sound cinema, but presented in a far more conventional manner than by Vertov and his comrades.

Programme 11 presented Kino-Pravda 18 and 19 out of sequence:

We wanted them to be seen together with Vertov’s A Sixth Part of the World to make more salient a peculiar – uniquely Vertovian – genre to which these three films belong. Vertov calling this genre ‘probegi kinoapparata – movie-camera runs, or races, across far-apart geographic locations.

Kino-Pravda 18 (Probeg Kinoapparata v Napravleni Sovetskoi Deistvitelnosti 299 Metrov 14 min 50 sek.) / A Movie-Camera race over 299 metres and 14 minutes and 50 seconds in the direction of Soviet Reality, 1924. Actually the film ran 13 minutes at 20 fps.

The film starts in Paris at the Eiffel Tower where we get a vertical travelling shot, followed by an aerial travelling shot which leads to a landing in the USSR and a auto-race from Petrograd to Moscow. In Moscow we are again with smychka where the camera offers the viewpoint of a visiting peasant. There is a Vertov trope as ‘the movie camera pursues him’, visualised by the shadow of a man cranking a camera. The peasant visit includes

the moment when a baby is Octobrized. What does this mean, “Octobrized”? The same as baptised – but in a workers’ collective er instead of a church…

This is followed by a collective singing of a song in praise of Lenin.

Kino-Pravda 19 (“Chernoe More – Ledovityi Okean – Moskva” “Probeg Kinoapparata Moskva – Ledovityi Okean”) / Black Sea – Artic Ocean – Moscow” A Movie-Camera Race Moscow – Artic Ocean”. Runs for 16 minutes at 20 fps.

The film’s race draws contrast between the Southern regions and the Arctic regions of the USSR. And it uses both climatic and seasonal variations. But the human element focus on gender, the issue is dedicated to

“Women, peasant woman, worker woman”: and we are shown a variety of women involved in socialist action. These include:

A young woman types, another woman milks a cow; another works a field etc. Women in politics: a Sate woman speaks, Lenin’s wife and sister – shown at Lenin’s funeral and by his side when he was still alive.

The film reflects an aspect of socialist life in the 1920s, often forgotten, the degree to which women’s’ liberation was an important part of the political and social process. So Elizaveta Svilova tends to get overlooked in the tributes to Vertov [The Catalogue is an exception]. Yet this film ends with a title “The editing of the negative for Kin-Pravda 19, ..“and we see Svilova working on the film.

Programme 8 commenced with Kino-Pravda 20 (Pionerskaia Pravda) / Pioneer Pradvda.

This issue uses footage originally shot for Kino-Eye. It is presented in the form of five Despatches, ostensibly sent by the Young Pioneers to Kino-Eye. The film is mainly a series of outings: to the Red Defence Factory; to the Countryside; and to the Zoo, where we see again the elephant featured in Kino-Eye. The final Despatch is missing. The most impressive sequence is train journey, compiled with rapid editing both of the train and the landscape rushing by.

'Along the rails of Leninism'.

‘Along the rails of Leninism’.

Kino Pravda 21 Lenin Kino-Pravda. A film poem about Lenin / Leniniskaia Kino-Pravda. Kinopoema o Lenine. This is the first issue produced by Kultkino the documentary section of Sovkino, which replaced Goskino]. It is one of the longest issues, 664 metres running at 20 fps for 29 minutes: the average issue was around 300 metres. Moreover six cameramen are credited, not only Mikhail Kaufman but also Eduard Tisse [who was the regular cameraman with Eisenstein]. The film marks the first anniversary of the death of Vladimir Lenin, who towered over the other leading comrades in the Bolshevik party and in the Revolution. Tsivian notes its structure:

It consists of three part, announced laconically by 1, 11, 111, and smaller sections marked by no-less laconic references to the years. The one-two-three structure relates the film’s narrative to the famous Hegelian (now also Marxist) dialectical triad

Part I – the ‘thesis’ – covers 1919 to 1923, This followed on from the attempted assassination of Lenin: the trail of the Socialist Revolutionaries, featured in early Kino-Pravda. Part II – the ‘anti-thesis – charts the course of Lenin’s illness and decline and then his funeral. Part III – the ‘synthesis’ – covers the influence of Lenin since his death.

Part II has more experimental titling by Vertov and Rodchenko. They use graphs and animated images to show the course of Lenin’s illness and then the funeral uses alternating imagery and titling, reaching a crescendo as the progression of mourners grows.

Part III combines imagery and animation. It shows both how Capitalist glee at Lenin’s demise is transformed to disappear as the Party not only continues but grows. And there is also the affirmation of the alliance between workers and peasants.

Kino-Pravda 22 (Peasant Kino-Pravda. “Lenin is Alive in the Hearts of the Peasant. A Film Story). (Krestinskaia Kino-Pravda. V Serdtse Krestianina Lenin Zhiv. Kinorasskaz).

Tsivian comments on this issue:

This issue of Kino-Pravda (a politically commissioned film, I am sure) was part of this extra effort: i.e. agitation to convince/convert the peasants to the cause of socialist construction.

This makes the film more openly didactic than many issues. The film follows a group of peasants who meet workers; visit Lenin’s Mausoleum and the Museum of Revolution. The film then moves on, with found rather than shot footage, to the oppressed peoples and nations in Asia and Africa. Once more we see tributes to Lenin. Tsivian suggests that this film is in some ways a ‘rough draft’ for Three Songs About Lenin.

Kino-Pravda 23 (Radio Pravda). This was intended to be major issue, running to 1400 metres, but only 400 metres survive. The socialists saw radio, like cinema, as a possibly transforming technology. The kinoki, like other groups in the 1920s, had a keen interest in this young medium. The Catalogue has a brief description of the titles from the missing opening. The film basically follows an instructional mode, explaining in particular the techniques and benefits for the peasantry. The film ends with time-lapse photography and animation by Aleksandr Bushkin depicting the arrival of ‘radio waves’ in the peasant huts.

Lines of Resistance – Dziga Vertov and the Twenties, Edited by Yuri Tsivian, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto. Translations by Julian Graffy.

This is a collection of materials about the Factory of Fact and their film output in the 1920s. There are several sections with published material on Kino-Pravda from the 1920s.

So there is a critical review of Lenin Kino-Pravda from the pages of Pravda, 4 February 1925.

The skill in choosing appropriate “pieces of life” is one of Comrade Vertov’s strong points, and in this work it is particularly apparent, but so is his weak point: you do not sense on screen that logical coherence which is Comrade Vertov’s plan. The viewer does not sense it. The whole film collapses into its component parts.

This failing can be removed from the work under discussion by replacing the sloganizing intertitles with explanatory ones, which can be done simply, vividly, expressively and … comprehensibly. If Comrade Vertov wants the workers and peasant audiences, then above all he must think about simplicity and comprehensibility.

A rather different response is provided by Aleksei Gan in Kino-Fot no 5 [a Constructivist Journal], 10 December 1922.

So-called “artistic” productions have crippled almost the whole of cinema’s establishment of personnel. You will not achieve what is necessary with this reserve of old film specialists. That is why we welcome so warmly the strength of our youth, the fresh worker who has not been seized by the sweaty hands of the beautiful.

The work of Dziga Vertov seems to follow two basic directions: the attempts at pure montage (in no 5 and 6) that were almost realised in the tenth Kino-Pravda, and the attempts to join various subjects together into a single agitational whole. The latest attempts were particularly successful in no. 13, where the Constructivist Rodchenko has managed to produce intertitles that have an impact of their own.

One senses that the sub-text of this debate is partly about whether documentary film should ‘address the few with advanced ideas’ and use ‘advanced techniques’. Vertov and his comrades were to find increasing problems as ideas of Socialist Realism ‘simple ideas for the many simply put’ gained purchase.

In fact the evidence suggests that there were a lot of workers and peasants in the USSR who could and would engage with Kino-Eye’s films. There are reports from the work of the Mobile Cinemas – steam trains, steam ships, films carriages and ‘one film-car’.

A village correspondent in Moscow province.

So let us see it!

Every Sunday in our October Factory in the Resurrection district of Moscow province we have film shows, and its always such rubbish, such garbage, that you can’t help asking: do we really have none of our own proletarian pictures in the Soviet Union? …

Now that we have seen Kino-Pravda for the first time, we are even more eager to say that there are good pictures for the countryside, pictures with no made-up mugs and obscene grimaces, pictures which do not corrupt the countryside, but which show real life. So give us these pictures, don’t hide them, bring them to the countryside. The countryside is waiting for pictures like this. It’s sick and tired of watching all sorts of rubbish.

And a Kino-Fot report, 1922, notes;
Beginning from July of this year, twice a week, mainly on Thursday and Sundays, two mobile cinemas are working in Moscow Squares. They are showing all the current newsreels and Kino-Pravda. Each time the audience numbers two to five thousand people.

Note other quotations from Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 2004 Catalogue.



2 Responses to “Kino-Pravda

  1. […] earlier films had made extensive use of title cards. One of the radical aspects in Kino Pravda was the use of title cards, often carefully designed by fellow constructivists. In fact, as one […]

  2. […] Read more about the Kino-Pravda series here. […]

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