Is this the Dziga you’re looking for?

Dziga Vertov, at birth named David Abelevich Kaufman, played a crucial part in revolutionary cinema during the rise of Lenin’s Bolsheviks during the 1920s and onto 1930s. Vertov was influential in the spread of the Russian Revolution in a time without instant and mass communication, where he would produce “revolutionary propaganda” in the form of cinema for the rural peasants. For whatever reason, the peasants were receptive to the films and in this way were able to understand what was happening in the cities (Barker and Grant, 365). In agreement of the cultures of the avant-garde and the artistic rebellion at the time, Vertov completely distanced himself from mainstream American and German-Russian cinema of his day, and himself had socialist leanings and even a scientific and almost robotic approach to his work.

The filmmaker identified himself as a kinok, who wanted nothing to do with the glitz and glamour of the classic American cinema of the day. He wished to “flee, the sweet embraces of the romance, the poison of the psychological novel, the clutches of the theater of adultery (Barker and Grant, 367).” He believed that the revolutionary cinema should reflect the realities of revolutionary life, he deviated from the narrative view that other filmmakers chose to shoot in and decided to take a more documentary-type approach. His films , were called agitki, and were in a way the only outlet of revolutionary happenings in the cities to the peasants. What gave his films revolutionary significance and possibly Bolshevik and socialist support was that he wanted them to: (1) emphasize the need for industrialization, (2) support integration of man and machine, and (3) liberate the proletariat from labor and capitalism (365).


The Man with the Movie Camera, one of Vertov’s most famous films, strayed away from the clean cut, professional, and ‘made for entertainment’ type films shot during the 1920s. This chaotic and slightly disturbing scene in the film almost reminds me of the classic television show The Twilight Zone (filmed between thirty to forty years later), in such scenes when a character would realize that something was out-of-place or strange about their current state or situation.

What interested me about Dziga’s approach to cinema, was not that he wanted to show the revolution from a real perspective (which I could argue is the goal of many artists of their day), but that for him, the art of cinema was actually very scientific and formulaic for him. For some, there is a clear discrepancy between the arts and the sciences, but it seems almost as if Vertov took the traditional art out of the cinema and replaced it with science. He believed that “”Cinematography,” must die so that the art of cinema may live,” and not only this, he also didn’t want any part in things “foreign”, which included “music, literature, and theater (Barker and Grant, 366).” He would rather that he and the kinoks focus on diving into the four dimensions (the fourth being time) as inspiration for their work, and to focus on the manipulation of montages, freeze frames, acceleration, split screens, and reverse motion (367). This all ties back into what I believe is his closest tie to socialism, which is industrialization, and through Leninism it, industrialization, is needed in order to transition from Russia’s current economic/political state into socialism. His interest shows especially when he speaks of the creation of the perfect electric man, “In revealing the machine’s soul, in causing the worker to love his workbench, the peasant his tractor, the engineer his engine–we introduce creative joy into all mechanical labour… The new man (368).”

Vertov filming The Man with the Movie Camera, which was called a “pointless camera hooliganism” by another Soviet film director, Sergei Eisenstein.

This all leads back to Lenin’s The Withering Away of the State, where he believes once administrative duties of the bourgeois work of “bookkeeping” and once “factory discipline” is so instilled within the people that it becomes instinctive, there will no longer be a need for the government; not to mention Lenin’s belief that industrialization and electrification will eventually lead to socialism (Barker and Grant, 335). In this way, I can see the connection between Vertov’s ideal of ‘machine men’ in the factories, Lenin’s Marxist/Socialist/Bolshevik belief that the bookkeeping proletariat mentality will destroy the state, and Marx’s theory of feudalism to capitalism to socialism, which Lenin believes will be only achieved through electrification and industrialization of the Soviet people.



8 thoughts on “Is this the Dziga you’re looking for?”

  1. Loved your comparison of The Man with the Movie Camera to the Twilight Zone. Certainly a comparison that I would not have put together on my own. What was the viewers response to this film when it was first released? Great post!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. First, I like how you included a video clip of Vertov’s. Second, I think youd did an amazing job relating Vertov’s cinema to the socialist movement. Vertov’s idea of death to cinematography in order for true cinematic art to take place is just like Marx’s theory of death to capitalism will lead to true socialism.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You’ve given us so much to think about here! I really appreciate the way you’ve read Vertov’s aesthetic agenda back into the Bolsheviks’ ideology AND the futurists / constructivists veneration of the machine and technology. Very very cool…..And Vertov’s conviction that “cinematography must die” so that cinema might live….what are we to make of that?
    Meredith wrote about Vertov as well, and came to a completely different understanding of his goals:
    Also see Emma’s post from last week (won’t put the link here because it might break the internet).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I really liked Meredith’s view on what Vertov was trying to accomplish here. Although I understood where he was coming from with a Soviet/Bolshevik perspective, it still kind of seemed like a muddled mess to me. Meredith definitely cleared it up and made me understand the more ‘sane’ side of his methods and beliefs 🙂


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