Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Young Pioneers on Film

Dziga Vertov's silent film, Kino Eye, is revolutionary in its technical as well as social dimensions. The film is one long sequence of innovative cinematographic maneuvers. It's subject matter is twofold: first, early Soviet society, taken as a whole; and second, the beneficent activity of the Communist youth association, the Young Pioneers.

What does the naked eye of the camera reveal about the Young Pioneers? They are, quite simply, selfless, helpful, healthy, ubiquitous, and progressive. The Young Pioneers, the junior of the two official Communist youth organizations--the other being the Komsomol-represent the future of Russian society twice over. First, the Young Pioneers are, of course, future Communists. Second, even as youngsters, they are actively reshaping Russian society according to Marxist principles.

The camera's eye catches the Young Pioneers celebrating new Communist holidays, demonstrating Communist enthusiasm by marching in quasi-military marches, teaching drunkards about the negative consequences of drinking and smoking, putting up propaganda posters related to public health and the merits of buying from economic cooperatives (the First Red Supermarket is cheaper than private enterprise), exercising or grooming, helping widows with their agricultural work, making tin implements for needy villagers, and drilling for the coming conflict with capitalist warmongers. As one woman remarks in text, "...they aren't going to church, but I'm happy anyhow."

The camera's eye depicts the essential role of the Young Pioneers in building Russian socialism. But its canvas is broader than that. Kino Eye takes the viewer throughout urban and rural Russia, depicting technological triumphs such as trolleys, light bulbs, telephones, and radio receivers, realistic scenes such as T.B. sanitariums and mental health institutions, and complex, multi-step economic processes, such as bread making and slaughterhouse activity.

At times, the film's subjects seem to have been chosen purely for their suitability for the medium. How else can we explain an elephant's trip to the zoo, a record player's movement, or a Chinese magician entertaining a crowd? But overall the film retains a visual idea: Communist Russia is complex, forward-looking, and actively overcoming a traditional heritage in the interest of progress. This isn't a simple approach to agitprop; the director shows us drug addicts, vagabonds, alcoholics, seemingly backward-looking peasants, and insane people. Nevertheless, these honest scenes of ugliness only highlight the accomplishments of the Young Pioneers and the worthiness of the Communist project.

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