Original title: Шагай, Совет!
A.KA.: Stride, Soviet
Director and writer: Дзига Вертов [Dziga Vertov]
Cinematography: I. Belyakova
Production: Goskino (Soviet Union)
The reconstruction of the Soviet Union after the war and the Revolution. The first film by the inventor of Kino-Pravda [Film Truth] and Kino-Glaz [Cine Eye].
Dziga Vertov is an avant-garde Soviet film director and theorist who invented the notion of Film Truth, a type of film-making which had a deep influence on the development of documentaries. As Eisenstein, he was convinced of the importance of montage, believing that the way in which shots were organised together made it possible to make new meanings appear. But he disagreed with the way in which Eisenstein filmed re-enactments of events rather than the facts themselves. From 1922, Vertov started to film his Kino-Pravda [Film-Truth] series, in places such as factories, schools or marketplaces, usually without authorisation and sometimes with a hidden camera, a series of short descriptive rather than narrative vignettes.
The present film was his first full length feature film with a duration of around one hour, and shows how the Soviets have built a new society on the ruins of the Russian Empire. Vertov adopts a non-chronological thematic approach based on a series of contrasts between the old and the new world: peace opposed to war, construction to destruction, education to religion, decadent entertainment to sport, etc. The stress is on the development of an inclusive society where children, women, sick, handicapped, are fully integrated.
To attract the interest of the viewer, Vertov uses innovative techniques, notably fast or very fast editing, camera movements, reverse motion, cross-fade, multiple exposure and original camera angles.
The result is an impressionist effect with an accumulation of short shots composing a broader image. The use of intertitles is limited, they are usually very short, giving hints rather than detailed commentaries.
The choice of points of view is very broad and often includes wide shots combined with a series of close-ups showing details in a rapid succession, which allow the viewer to have at the same time a very broad and very detailed view. This technique is applied as well to machines and details of their component, as to crowds and faces of characteristic individuals.
As with Eisenstein, most of the characters shown are anonymous to show that the hero is the people. Only one character is identifiable and named: Lenin, who had died two years before the release of the film. He is shown very briefly at the end of the film. The remarkable closing sequence is a brilliant summary of Vertov’s style. He uses very short shots interspersed with brief intertitles to present the conclusion of the film: “I remember people at the Soviet speculating on the electrification of the teaching of Lenin by means of lamps” – shots of a meeting followed by close-ups of old people and of a man haranguing the crowd – “It’s difficult to forget” – shots of crowds and close-ups of sad faces, followed by a 3 second shot showing a cameraman filming Lenin’s open coffin, and by ten frames showing his body in his coffin, framed in such a way that his head is not visible. The following contrasting intertitle is addressed to the viewer: “Don’t forget!” and a series of intertitles interspersed with brief illustrative shots claims that “every bulb, every tool, every new machine perpetuates Lenin’s cause for the construction of a new world”. This is followed by a rapid alternance of shots of machines and workers, vehicles and lights at night, including a three second shot of Lenin haranguing a crowd. The chronological inversion showing Lenin alive after having shown his dead body acts as metaphor of the continuation of his action after his death. The last intertitle makes a reference to the NEP (New Economic Policy) introduced by Lenin for a limited amount of time in 1922, which marked the return to a more market-based economy in order to foster the reconstruction of the country; it expresses the hope that “Soon, NEP Russia will be Socialist Russia.”
In conclusion, a fascinating example of a propaganda as a work of art. Vertov would continue to polish his style to direct in 1929 his masterpiece, Человек с кино-аппаратом [Man with a Movie Camera].