Making the Contingent Visible: Vertov and Kino-Pravda

by Ingrid Nordgaard

On Friday, May 3, the Jordan Center had the honor of hosting Professor John MacKay (Yale University) for a presentation on his forthcoming book Dziga Vertov: Life and Work. MacKay presented many interesting perspectives on Vertov and Kino-Pravda, to an audience consisting of both Vertov specialist and those more uninitiated to Vertov’s cinematic universe.

MacKay started with giving a brief presentation of the works of Kino-Pravda, where he admitted that the movies might be hard to watch, but even harder to talk about. Kino-Pravda’s production include some twenty films, where collage and historical montages play an important part in the way in which the movies are composed. The films include a number of different forms and parts, that together seem to form a chaotic entity almost impossible to analyze and turn into a whole. MacKay, however, pointed out that Vertov’s films are complicated experiments on how to organize footage. While they might seem incomprehensible at first, the films are planned in detail. Vertov is indeed an extremely playful director, interested in exploring the many possible ways of establishing a narrative construction and making visible the contingent. While the movies might appear as noise to some, they are the purest sound to the trained eye.

Also Vertov’s character was touched upon during the discussion which followed MacKay’s presentation. Vertov came to personify the “film poet”: taking on different personas in different situations, and constructing a specific form of documentary poetry. MacKay sees this as a tabula rasa gesture, where every new film should be seen as a completely new product, rather than another production from a name already known. From such a perspective, one could easily argue that the films of Kino-Pravda are more about having an experience with the movie, rather than experiencing the movie as a mere informative medium.

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