Cinema and Media Studies Dziga Vertov
by
Alla Gadassik
  • LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 10 March 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0167

Introduction

Dziga Vertov (b. 1896, Bialystok, Russian Empire–d. 1954, Moscow, USSR) was a pioneering Soviet filmmaker, whose films and manifestos played a central role in 20th century documentary, experimental film, and political cinema traditions. Working in the USSR in the 1920s–1950s, Vertov led the radical Kino-Eye (Cine-Eye) collective, which championed a new film language that would draw on the unique mechanical and audiovisual properties of cinematography, rather than on theatre or literature traditions. His polemical resistance to narrative fiction films contributed to the development of avant-garde documentary techniques in the Soviet Union and abroad. Long after Vertov fell out of favor in his native country, his work continued to influence international documentary cinema and political media groups. Born as David Abelevich Kaufman, Dziga Vertov adopted his pseudonym in early adulthood, and his subsequent work often blurs the lines between the filmmaker’s personal experiences and ideas ascribed to his alter ego. This split between Vertov’s personal life and his constructed persona reflected his belief that cinema, too, could simultaneously document observed reality and construct an entirely new reality from captured slices of life. Vertov maintained that filmmakers should seek out and expose the hidden social and political forces that govern life, using moving images and sound to shape spectator consciousness. His films were in dialogue with several avant-garde art movements, and he often experimented with different film techniques in hopes of both depicting and transforming reality. Moreover, Vertov argued that media technology, especially the movie camera and the wireless radio, would radically change how human beings navigated the world and how they understood their place in society. His theoretical writings are foundational to the discipline of film studies and to writings on film cinematography and montage. His seminal 1929 film Man with a Movie Camera (Chelovek s Kinoapparatom) is a cornerstone of film courses worldwide.

Primary Writings and Documents

Dziga Vertov was a prolific writer and essayist, publishing several manifestos calling for a new Soviet film language. A number of Vertov’s essays refer to his own alter ego (“Dziga Vertov”) in third person, reflecting the filmmaker’s interest in using his own persona as a rhetorical figure for all artists who might one day share his views on cinema. Many of his best-known early texts were published on behalf of the Kino-Eye filmmaking collective, which Vertov co-founded and led. He also published independent lectures and kept personal diaries. Vertov 1966, the first major collection of Vertov’s writings, was published posthumously in the USSR, following political changes that opened the door for recovering neglected Soviet artists. Most of this first collection was translated into English in Vertov 1984, which includes an influential introduction by editor Annette Michelson. Vertov 1984 remains the primary source for most English-language scholarship on Vertov. In the past decade, the Moscow Eisenstein Centre released two major tomes of primary Vertov texts and documents, published in Russian in Vertov 2004 and Vertov 2008. These documents are sourced from the Russian Government Archive of Art and Literature (RGALI) in Moscow, which holds the single largest collection of Vertov material. The Austrian Film museum, which holds a much smaller collection of Vertov documents, also published a survey of its materials in German with English translation in Tode and Wurm 2006. Petrić 1982 translates portions of Vertov’s personal diary entries, which include not only plans for unrealized film ideas, but also insights into Vertov’s struggles to fund his work and achieve recognition. Tsivian 2004 focuses on Vertov’s interactions with Soviet state agencies, revealing the filmmaker’s resistance to bureaucratic political ideology and studio attempts to stifle his work. Taylor and Christie 1988 offers readers a more comprehensive access to different early Soviet film documents—a number of Vertov’s contributions are embedded alongside statements and writings written by his contemporaries. Shub 1959 and Vertova-Svilova 1976 document the recollections of a few of Vertov’s colleagues.

  • Petrić, Vlada. “The Difficult Years of Dziga Vertov: Excerpts from His Diaries.” Quarterly Review of Film Studies 7.1 (1982): 7–22.

    DOI: 10.1080/10509208209361104E-mail Citation »

    Translated excerpts from Vertov’s diary entries from the middle and late 1930s, written during a period of increased professional struggle and alienation from the state cinema industry and bureaucracy.

  • Shub, Esfir Il’ichna. Krupnym Planom. Moscow: Iskusstvo, 1959.

    E-mail Citation »

    Collection of memoirs and reprinted essays written by early Soviet nonfiction filmmaker Esfir Shub. Although Dziga Vertov and Esfir Shub were considered aesthetic rivals, Shub dedicates a chapter to Vertov’s mentorship and influence on her filmmaking. In Russian.

  • Taylor, Richard, and Ian Christie. The Film Factory: Russian and Soviet Cinema in Documents, 1896–1939. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988.

    E-mail Citation »

    The most comprehensive collection of translated essays, manifestos, and decrees that define early Russian cinema and the establishment of early Soviet cinema. More than ten key essays written by Vertov and the Kino-Eye group are published alongside seminal articles by Vertov’s colleagues, early film critics, and industry policy makers.

  • Tode, Thomas, and Barbara Wurm, eds. Dziga Vertov: The Vertov Collection at the Austrian Film Museum. Austrian Film Museum, Vienna: SYNEMA, 2006.

    E-mail Citation »

    An introduction to the Dziga Vertov archive collection at the Austrian Film Museum. Includes an overview of the collection holdings, accompanied by photographs and translations of document excerpts into both German and English. The highlights of this book are a number of translations of Vertov’s poems, as well as the largest number of high-quality image reproductions of editing plans, film posters, and photographs. In German and English.

  • Tsivian, Yuri. Lines of Resistance: Dziga Vertov and the Twenties. Gemona, Italy: Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, 2004.

    E-mail Citation »

    This collection is dedicated to Vertov’s tumultuous political and professional relationship with the Soviet state and its cinema mandates. Translated primary documents include Vertov’s lesser known articles and diary entries, alongside studio memos, meeting notes, and film reviews from that period. Yuri Tsivian’s accessible introduction places the documents in their historical and social context.

  • Vertov, Dziga. Stat’i, Dnevniki, Zamysly. Edited by Sergei Drobashenko. Moscow: Iskusstvo, 1966.

    E-mail Citation »

    The first published collection of Vertov’s writings. Includes most of his best known and frequently cited articles and manifestos. In Russian.

  • Vertov, Dziga. Kino-Eye: The Writings of Dziga Vertov. Edited by Annette Michelson. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984.

    E-mail Citation »

    This is the first and most frequently cited English-language collection of Vertov’s writings, and it includes the most famous articles and manifestos. Some of the material is omitted and a number of the translations are inaccurate, but this is the best English source for Vertov’s writings. Annette Michelson’s introduction provides an excellent analysis of Vertov’s historical and philosophical importance.

  • Vertov, Dziga. Iz Nasledija: Dramaturgicheskije Opyty. Edited by Aleksandr Deriabin and D. V. Krushkova. Moscow: Eisenstein Center, 2004.

    E-mail Citation »

    This is the first of two comprehensive Russian-language collections of Vertov’s archived documents, drafts, and articles. Material is gathered from RGALI, including previously unpublished material. This volume is dedicated to Vertov’s writings on film performance, film planning, and scripts. In Russian.

  • Vertov, Dziga. Iz Nasledija: Stat’i i Vystuplenija. Edited by Aleksandr Deriabin and D. V. Krushkova. Moscow: Eisenstein Center, 2008.

    E-mail Citation »

    This is the second of two comprehensive Russian-language collections of Vertov’s archived documents, drafts, and articles. Material is gathered from the RGALI, including previously unpublished material. This volume is dedicated to Vertov’s theoretical and philosophical writings, as well his lesser-known diaries and essays. In Russian.

  • Vertova-Svilova, Elizaveta Ignatieva. Dziga Vertov V Vospominaniiakh Sovremennikov. Edited by Anna L’vovna Vinogradova. Moscow: Iskusstvo, 1976.

    E-mail Citation »

    A collection of biographical and autobiographical essays written by Dziga Vertov’s colleagues about the filmmaker published more than two decades after Vertov’s death. The tone of the collection seems dedicated to defending Vertov’s political reputation before the Soviet state; as such, many of the entries lack actual insights into Vertov’s life or methods. In Russian.

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