The Men with the Movie Camera: The Poetics of Visual Style in Soviet Avant-Garde Cinema of the 1920s
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Unlike previous studies of the Soviet avant-garde during the silent era, which have regarded the works of the period as manifestations of directorial vision, this study emphasizes the collaborative principle at the heart of avant-garde filmmaking units and draws attention to the crucial role of camera operators in creating the visual style of the films, especially on the poetics of composition and lighting. In the Soviet Union of the 1920s and early 1930s, owing to the fetishization of the camera as an embodiment of modern technology, the cameraman was an iconic figure whose creative contribution was encouraged and respected. Drawing upon the film literature of the period, Philip Cavendish describes the culture of the camera operator, charts developments in the art of camera operation, and studies the mechanics of key director-cameraman partnerships. He offers detailed analysis of Soviet avant-garde films and draws comparisons between the visual aesthetics of these works and the modernist experiments taking place in the other spheres of the visual arts.
being pinned to the general’s uniform; rings being placed ANATOLII GOLOVNIA AND VSEVOLOD PUDOVKIN . 177 on the wife’s fingers; and an expensive fox-fur wrap being placed around her shoulders and neck (Brik comments that the couple represent ‘the finished products of European lustre’).144 Finally, during the ceremony itself, the jewellery worn by one of the masked dancers is compared to the necklace worn by the general’s wife. Furthermore, the wife’s fingering of these pearls during the
Communications, but at the same time he was informally attending classes on the art of photography held at the Higher PhotoTechnical Institute; these had been arranged by his friend, Viacheslav Gordanov, who had been studying at the institute since 1923 in the hope of eventually finding work as a camera operator.18 It was Gordanov who arranged for Moskvin to have work experience at Sevzapkino after his premature ejection from the institute, which led to his contact with Kozintsev and Trauberg and
trup a serious work in terms of its direction and cinematography, it is comparable to Golovnia’s earlier films alongside Pudovkin and contains a number of formal innovations, the most startling of which is the extended montage sequence that accompanies the singing and dancing of the gypsy choir. 182 . THE MEN WITH THE MOVIE CAMERA As interpreted by Otsep, Zhivoi trup becomes a drama about the search for meaning in a world that does not understand the desire for escape. With the exception of
visual language of cinema by avantgarde painters;60 the reports on international art and photographic exhibitions;61 updates on events organized by the Russian Photographic Society;62 articles (some translated from the foreign press) on recent developments within the international avant-garde;63 analyses of the art of the film poster;64 contributions on set design by production artists;65 and discussions of the ways in which other performancebased arts, for example theatre, were beginning to
the period suggest that, with the exception of Pudovkin, who was actively involved in filmmaking from 1921 onwards, the directors of the future avant-garde had little or no understanding of the technical aspects of filmmaking until they received instruction at the hands of their camera-operating partners. Tisse, Moskvin and Demuts'kyi were amateur or professional photographers prior to their move into film; moreover, they understood how photography worked, and were familiar with recent