Tuesday, December 7, 2010 at 7pm
Light Industry at Cleopatra's:
John MacKay on Dziga Vertov

Cleopatra's
110 Meserole Avenue
Brooklyn, New York

Dziga Vertov and the Rhythm of the Proletariat
A lecture by John MacKay

Dziga Vertov's films have long been known for their dazzling visual rhythms; in the case of his 1929 film Man with a Movie Camera, several sequences culminate in flurries of single-frame shots that all but overwhelm the spectator's perceptual capacities. But what motivated, or justified, Vertov's rhythmical practice, especially given the kind of stress that it placed on viewers? Drawing on materials from Vertov's archive, late 19th/early 20th century thought about rhythm, and close analysis of specific films, this talk will probe Vertov's "metrical montage" as a way of mediating between elite filmmakers (or "art workers") on one hand, and the "proletarian" audience on the other. Rhythmical structuring of film acts, for Vertov, was a way of organizing visual data in a way that makes even the most seemingly excessive barrages of images graspable. At the same time, it provides a (figurative) means of linking the radical but non-proletarian filmmaker to proletarian spectators, by taking images drawn from the proletarian machine-milieu as the content of the shots, and by using a fundamentally mechanical/industrial quantum - the individual film frame - as the basic rhythmic unit. It will be argued that the work of the German economist Karl B├╝cher (especially his 1896 Arbeit und Rhythmus [Labor and Rhythm], a book influential in Russia during Vertov's time) possibly had an impact on Vertov through its conceptualization of the origins of rhythm in bodily processes of work, and by questioning the persistence of older modes of rhythmical culture in a context of heavy industrial, mechanized production.

John MacKay is Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures and Chair of Film Studies at Yale University. He is the author of Inscription and Modernity: From Wordsworth to Mandelstam, Four Russian Serf Narratives, and numerous articles and translations. His book on Dziga Vertov's life and work is forthcoming from Indiana University Press.

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