Friday, October 10, 2008


Michael Nyman on the grand piano in the gala evening at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone, Cinema Verdi, 10 October, 2008.
A propos de Nice
FR 1930. P: Jean Vigo. D: Jean Vigo, Boris Kaufman. DP: Boris Kaufman. Print: BFI Distribution, 2057 ft /20 fps/ 27 min, no intertitles. - Beautiful print.
“One of the most unconventional documentaries ever made – with a bitterness and irony comparable to von Stroheim’s, the camera explores this centre of middle class decadence, the monstrous hotels with their armies of servants, the baroque casinos, the amorous elderly women with their ruthless gigolos, the stinking alleys and grimy bistros filled with tramps, ponces, fences: a scathing contrast of the idle poor and the idle rich.” (George Morrison, Sequence 6, London, Winter 1948)
Boris Kaufman: “He seemed both to love and to hate the town in which, for reasons of health, he had been obliged to live for two years with his wife. Nice was getting ready for the Carnival… The focal point was the Promenade des Anglais, centre of action (or inaction) for the internationally lazy. The method was to take by surprise facts, actions, attitudes, expressions, and to stop shooting immediately the subject became conscious of being photographed. Le point de vue documenté. Old Nice, its narrow streets, washing hung between the houses, the baroque Italian cemetery. Pleasures. Regattas. Warships at anchor. Hotels. Arrival of tourists… Factories. An old woman. The young girl changing her dress in the middle of the promenade (trick shot) and finally appearing nude. A burial service… Crocodiles. Sun. The female ostrich. The male ostrich. The carnival, the Battle of Flowers, the gradually slackening dances. Above all this absurd gaiety, the ominous vistas of chimneys. All this may look a little naïve now, but we were sincere. We rejected out of hand anything that was picturesque without significance, any facile contrasts. The story had to be understood without commentary or subtitles. We shot the film relying on the evocation of ideas by purely visual means. Which is why, in the cutting, we were able to juxtapose the Promenade des Anglais with the Nice cemetery, where marble figures (baroque style) had the same ridiculous features of the human being on the promenade. Working with Vigo – his unfailing taste, his integrity, his depth and his lightness, his non-conformism, the absence of any kind of routine – took me into a kind of film-makers’ paradise. It was ideal.” (All texts from Jean Vigo, compiled by Joseph and Harry Feldman, edited by Herman Weinberg, New Index Series No. 4, London: British Film Institute, [1951]. Original source of Vigo and Kaufman texts: Ciné-Club (Paris) no. 5, February 1949, special Vigo issue.)
Kino-Pravda No. 21. Leninskaia Kino-Pravda. Kinopoema o Lenine
[Lenin Kino-Pravda. A Film Poem About Lenin]. SU 1925. PC: Kultkino. A work by Dziga Vertov; DP: Grigorii Giber, A. Aleksandr Levistky, Aleksandr Lember, Piotr Novitsky, Mikhail Kaufman, Eduard Tisse, et al.; 664 m /20 fps/ 29 min, print: Österreichisches Filmmuseum, Wien. Russian intertitles, with e-subtitles in English and Italian. - The print has the marks of several duplications, probably dating to its origins as a compilation montage.
Yuri Tsivian: "Lenin Kino-Pravda is a special, longer-than-usual issue of Kino-Pravda made to mark the first anniversary of Lenin’s death. It consists of 3 parts, announced laconically by I, II, III, and of smaller sections marked by no-less laconic references to years. The one-two-three structure relates the film’s narrative to the famous Hegelian (now also Marxist) dialectical triad. Part I begins with Lenin being wounded by an S.R. assassin (1918); goes on from there to "1919" — the year when the Red Terror policy was declared by the Bolshevik government in response; the "1920", "1921", and "1923" sections are organized around shots of Lenin speaking, intercut with quotations from his speeches and documentary shots which illustrate Soviet Russia’s progress under Lenin’s leadership. This is the thesis. Part II is the antithesis, about the decline in Lenin’s health. We see the title "1922-1923", and then the words: "The iron leader is ill." The course of his illness is represented in what can be seen as a tour de force, Vertov and Rodchenko’s animated titling: we see a table of sorts, with a calendar for dates, a clock for counting the hours, a graph showing the temperature, and two pulsating lines representing Lenin’s pulse and breath rate. The bottom-line inscription says "General state satisfactory", but note how this word — "satisfactory" — is being split by an ominous slit. Then follows the funeral sequence, famous for its antiphony of images and titles; then, the no-less famous progression of mourners: wife, sister, Stalin, etc. — and then, 200,000 — 400,000 — 700,000. Note the way in which the size of the font grows with the size of the figures; note also the size of the font for "Stalin". Remember the all-Union funeral from the 1922 Kino-Pravda No. 13? Vertov already knew how to transform funerary footage into an affecting film.
Part III was designed to serve as the synthesis of I and II. It looks at the year that has elapsed since Lenin’s death. "Lenin is gone, but his strength is with us," says the title. The most remarkable thing about this part (and, for me, about this film) is the boldness and ease with which Vertov jumps between newsreel and drawn animation. An animated caricature lasting 30 meters shows the face of a Capitalist changing from gloating to despair — as he sees more and more people, crowds of them, join the Communist Party after Lenin’s death (there was a recruitment campaign, exhorting people to join). Note how the animated stream of workers willing to join the Party turns into a photographed one. Peasants are not forgotten, either: we are shown how a worker and a peasant shake hands, then there is a close-up of their handshake with the word "smychka" superimposed on it." – Yuri Tsivian.

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