Views from above in A Sixth Part of the World and The Eleventh Year

I’ve recently submitted an article examining the aerial view as a visual modality. Two more film fragments by Vertov that have inspired me to think further on the subject:

The opening of A Sixth Part of the World (1926), in which Vertov juxtaposes omniscient vision from above, the slicing legs of foxtrotters, the powerful magnet of a construction crane and the small mole on the back of a bourgeois neck.

Another aerial view from the ending of The Eleventh Year (1928), where the technological advancements of Soviet aviation link Russia to its Chinese comrades via sight and flight.

This last sequence, with its views from below, from above, and from beside a soaring plane reminds me of Paula Amad’s excellent essay published last year in History of Photography, “From God’s Eye to Camera Eye: Aerial Photography’s Post-humanist and Neo-humanist Visions of the World.” Amad thoughtfully takes on the dialectic between abstracted knowledge in views from above and embodied knowledge in views from below, arguing for a more fluid, less dogmatic understanding of our encounters with this practice of looking.

Entuziazm (Simfonija Donbassa)

In preparation for teaching the old one-two punch of Sergei Eisenstein and Dziga Vertov in History and Theory of Cinema this fall, I’ve been watching some of their films I hadn’t yet seen.

Last night: Entuziazm (Simfonija Donbassa), made in 1930 by Dziga Vertov, restored by Peter Kubelka in 1972 and released on DVD in 2010 by Edition Filmmuseum.

According to the DVD liner notes,

enormous problems involving massive loss of recorded material led Vertov to call Enthusiasm “a film…covered with wounds.”

As a whole the film is undoubtedly flawed (leaving aside completely the collossal flaws of the First Five Year Plan it sought to celebrate), but passages in it are absolutely wonderful.

Here below, one that thrilled me for its ingenious canted framing. The halting steps of a drunkard and the droning hymn of a church choir are transformed through industry (and the magic of the editing table) into a winding band of socialist marchers. As in the better known Man With a Movie Camera, Vertov employs a diegetic figure to help orchestrate his “film facts” — in this case, a female auditor instead of a female editor.

Included as an extra on the DVD was a welcome glimpse of Vertov in movement. From the liner notes:

A latter day compilation by Elisaveta Svilova, Vertov’s creative partner and widow, it features (as Yuri Tsivian has noted) material from 1922-1923, as well as from the 1930s. Kinopravda  No. 8 and No. 17 are two of the sources.