Monday, January 3, 2011

The Future in 1934

Dziga Vertov's 1934 non-narrative film, Three Songs About Lenin, is a cinematic triptych that glorifies the life of Lenin as well as the state he fathered. The film, which splits into three discrete popular songs about Lenin, tells the story of the founding father of Bolshevism through montage. As is to be expected from the maker of the highly innovative Kino Eye, Three Songs About Lenin provides the viewer with innovative propaganda and a non-linear description of the Soviet Union's accomplishments.

The first film makes the mostly visual assertion that Lenin's example and creed had a profound impact on people throughout the USSR, and indeed the world. It makes this argument by focusing on communism's allegedly beneficial influence on a rural, Islamic culture. Although the camera "demonstrates" that Muslim peasants are clearly allowed to maintain their ethnic dignity, especially in terms of their traditional dress, it also suggests that Lenin's creed has brought modernity to every nook and cranny of a vast empire. Muslim women, in particular, seem to be benefiting from contact with Leninism. They are going to school, studying the works of the great man, and getting jobs in the new economic order, i.e., the factory. They are, apparently, also freeing themselves from religion.

The second film portrays the dead Lenin in all his majesty. The preserved body is clearly the epicenter of Soviet secular idolatry. Stalin and countless other faces mourn the loss of the great man.

In the third film, Lenin's vision of a powerful, modern, highly organized society is carefully articulated. Stalin has fulfilled his mentor's dreams. The director takes his viewers on a frenzied tour of the future that includes the magnificent Russian capital, the Dnieper hydro-electrical damn, oil and coal production facilities, modern locomotives, mammoth steel works, the Volga Canal, modern agricultural machinery, an impressive air force, the nation's powerful armed forces, and other masterworks of Stalin's highly-touted five year plans, including Magnitovsk. As the film maintains through the words of "ordinary" Russians: Lenin himself would be impressed by the country's progress.

Of course, Russia's triumph is the product of a mobilized citizenry. Accordingly, dozens of frames demonstrate that Russian workers are on the move. They sing, wave flags, celebrate the famous month of October, tell stories of progress, venerate the memory of Lenin, work, drill, and mobilize to bring the future ever closer to the present.

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