RUS

by LEV MOISEEVICH ROSHAL (Moscow)

Andrey Shemyakin remembered «The Patriarch’s Autumn». By the way, there is one answer to the question about models of time. When the dictator asked what time was it, they answered him: «Whatever you order, my general». I’ll get back to that, this is a quite a good formula for us.

In general, this problem is boundless, although it has been brought forward on the right time and it is important. One can talk about it as endlessly as yesterday we talked about the advantages of the video and the cinema. But I think that the main goal of this discussion is not a clear and definite conclusion but keeping in mind this problem as the material for constant speculations - theoretical but mostly creative and practical.

Now about Vertov and about my own topic which is mentioned in the program as «Time in the theory and practice of Vertov». This topic is also almost or absolutely inexhaustible. But to discuss everything is impossible. And, I guess, in this case it is more important to pick out of his experience some most essential priority for us.

Here’s the prehistory. Since the documentary makers are present here, I hope that all of them read Vertov’s book «Articles. Diaries. Ideas», where there’s a lot written about the screen time. From the other side, I have no doubt that all the descent people read the book about Vertov written by the man standing now in front of you - there is also written a lot on the same topic. But since I am not sure that all people, even the descent ones, read my book, I’ll say some words just to give you the idea.

It is significant: Vertov was the first to start thinking about time in the documentary among all those who had anything to do with the cinematography on its early stage. I am telling you this not because I’ve been studying Vertov all my life.

It all started for him with a little strange teenage hobby, but it was this hobby to which he owed his future cinematographic career. He called it «my precinematographic activity». At first it consisted of «young Vertov’s pains» when once in a military school he was assigned to learn by heart the names of all ancient Greek cities and the islands of  Asia Minor. Later he recollected how he tried to memorize them in all possible ways ‘till he composed them in a certain musical row. He remembered them all his life: Milet, Fokea and Galikarnas, Samos, Elphes and Mitelena, on the islands of Lesbos, Cyprus and Rhodes. Later  he also turned to this way of memorizing when he had to know something by heart. Then it became a strange hobby: to listen to the sounds of the real world and try to arrange them is some kind  of  a sound system. He told that having a date with a girl who was often late he listened to the sounds of a saw-mill and thought in what way he might arrange them. By that time the phonograph was a part of the past, gramophones were produced by factories, individual recording didn’t yet exist. How to fix these flying away moments? It is very important: from the one side, they are real moments. From the other side - sounds, arranged in one musical form, in a certain rhythmical row. And from the third side - this real sounding was subconscious, he didn’t yet think of that, but subconsciously it was connected with the sound duration. Since any rhythmical unit has its duration, no matter if it is represented by a real sound or the plastics.

These were the first attempts. In the spring of 1918 in Moscow, having seen off someone at the railway station, he kept on hearing the bells, locomotives’ signals, whistles, farewell exclamations, kisses and thought again: «How interesting would it be to fix all this!» To create a special world let  pass through yourself  but still original and documentary. But if it’s impossible to record sounds then, may be, it makes sense to film these elusive life moments?

At this point he meets Mikhail Koltsov, his childhood friend, who was then the news-reel department manager of the Moscow Cinema Committee and who invited Vertov to  work as a secretary chief clerk of the department. Vertov agreed at once.  Not because he liked the job of a chief clerk, but because he figured out a way to realize, to make come true his old-time dream to depict time in all the variety of its actual manifestations. It was one of the most important steps towards his future career of a documentary maker. It wasn’t just a duty, a job but service to which he dedicated his entire life. I would like to emphasize that.

Secondly: even before he was invited by Koltsov he had been looking for ways of  fixing the sounding world - by the means of close to them phonemes. Then he started composing poetry out of those sounds and accords. They were also quite strange. His brother Mikhail, a great cameraman, recollected that his poetry was often impossible to understand. But it was understandable to Vertov, from the point of view of sounds in their duration. And even more - in the simultaneity of  sounds: conversations in the room, some noise behind the wall, the hoofs clatter in the street... All this turned out to be a very interesting acoustic picture. All this he tried to reproduce in verse.

I have recently published an article in Kinovedcheskiye Zapiski (#21) - «Cinemapoet’s poems». I don’t remember already, was it Victor Listov who found Vertov’s first wife Olga Toom or it was Vladimir Maguidov, but she had a whole collection of Vertov’s early poems. Here is an extract:

It is nearly six o’clock
I am not
hungry.
Silence.
«Don’t make concentrated faces!» -
sounds in my mind.
Tic-tac!
Not even a «gu-gu».
And I say:
gu-gu!

on purpose
It’s time
for girls’ calls.
At six - a melodious call -
A piece of news
it will be brought from a new heart.
The door
of someone’s soul will open.
Souls, winding,
squeezed
Souls - like reeds
started rustling,
I’m waiting.
I feel like howling
in melancholy
from these minutes
creeping by...

            From the one side, through the verse, the rhyme itself we can see that Vertov  strives to express not only emotional but also acoustic sensations. From the other side, he wants to reproduce the time tension - the tension of waiting with his abrupt lines (through the chosen rhythm). Finally, to put time into the text (not only into the context) of the poem. At least to depict the sound of time and its lyrical perception with simple «tic-tac».

            As you can see, all this concerned Vertov in verse, not on screen, but strongly encouraged him for a new screen search.

But soon he made a step which was already important in his cinematographic career. After that step Vertov became Vertov. He had been working in the Cinema Committee since the spring of 1918 when in autumn he made his famous jump from the grotto. A few years ago we held an international symposium in Moscow, and it was called «Vertov’s jump».

Vertov jumped from the grotto in the courtyard of the former Lionzov’s mansion at the well-known to us address Maly Gnezdesovsky, 7 (????). The grotto was at about  one-and-a half    storey height. People gathered to see what will happen: may be this ‘weirdo’ will break his neck or leg, it is always interesting. And nobody actually paid attention to a cameraman who stood there and shot that jump; shooting was a quite usual thing for everybody. Vertov climbed up, stood for a while, hesitating: the height was quite considerable; but people were everywhere, looking,- there was nowhere to hide. And he jumped.  Cameras at that time used to have a handle and a stabilizer which gave 16 frames per minute, but Vertov asked to turn off the stabilizer and turn the handle with maximum speed. Later he told that in his slowed motion on screen he noticed something about himself that nobody did at that moment, and what he himself didn’t realize being overwhelmed with rapidly interchanging feelings: fear, its overcoming, again fear and again overcoming of it, finally, landing, realizing that everything ended quite successfully. A smile. Self-irony... 

In other words, prolonging time, decomposing it on certain cinemagrams, turning absolute time on screen into relative time, with the help of a most simple device Vertov understood that camera or, to be precise, a man with a camera, the Cinema-Eye can see things human eye is not able to see. And, as you know, is was the beginning of all Vertov’s theory, the theory of «Cinema-Eye» and «Cinema-Truth», because the basis of the main «Cinema-Eye»’s postulate - never imitate, never repeat the ordinary vision on-screen, but to try to shoot what human eye cannot see. Something inner, hidden  behind the everyday’s cover. Moreover, by  means of different devices. Not only with the help of  rapid, but also hidden shooting, long observation, later - synchronous acoustic shooting, etc. But long observation itself, just like synchron later, introduced some new notions of time.  

Vertov turned out to be one of the first to start solving this problem both theoretically and practically. And, as it seems to me, his search for ways of combining various plastic principles with the variety of solving time principles was most essential for him then and it is essential for us today. The duration of a frame, then the duration of a sequence. Then the duration of an episode, and, finally, the duration of a film. But this is one side of the question.

Another side, may be even more important, is time as rhythm. Rhythm not only in the sense of a metrical unit of cinemaverse but rhythm as the inner tone of man’s existence. He also pondered on this idea at those early times. Alexander Lemberg, a cameraman, Vertov’s friend (such friends are now hard to find), proved it in his published memoirs. At the very beginning of the 20s he gave up one of the rooms in his apartment on Kozitsky Pereulok to Vertov, who lived there almost 20 years.  

Once, when Lemberg left on a business trip, Vertov repaired his room. When Lemberg had come back, he saw a very strange room. It was all, up to the ceiling, painted in black, and over this black color were drawn scattered white clocks with different positions of their pointers and pendulums. Lemberg recollected how amazed he was, but Vertov assured: the room had become a masterpiece. «And the clocks on the walls are poems.

«Poems?» I was surprised «But how to read them?»

«Here, listen - tic-tac, tic-tac, tic-tac, tic-tac. It inspires, creates a good mood.» 

Vertov reproduced the sound of passing time. The process, so to say. Tic-tac, but is creates a good mood. By the way, all the same ‘tic-tac’. But in the exemplified poem the only ‘tic-tac’ is the expression and  beating of a tense state, strained rhythm. And there, on the black wall, the rhythm is plastically expressed through the «dancing» pointers and pendulums in combination with acoustic, «cheerful» refrain, ‘tic-tac’ rhythm - good mood!.. 

Thus Vertov, pondering over time, consciously approached it. In these or those films he would always be searching for this rhythm. And he would always be doing it in all the variety of its emotional sensations. Not from the point of view of a formal tempo - «fast-slow» - but from the point of view of life’s tone. The perception of music through its rhythmical structure. Say, life’s perception of a man with a camera in  A Man With A Camera  is cheerful, joyful, in major key. It is determined by the feeling that new wonderful life is yet to come. Vertov himself and his constant lyrical hero, a man with a camera, and together with them the whole country were brutally disappointed - the promised new life went to hell.

But I don’t want to discuss politics, this is the matter of another conversation. Nevertheless, it is important to note that Vertov’s searching for documentary and feature time always came along with his social emotions, sensations, with some general ideals of the October revolution  which he perceived not like a politician but like an artist and a poet. Therefore A Man With A Camera is a social picture, not just experimental. But it strives to depict some social moments of the epoch showing everyday life, not in the same key as Vertov brilliantly shot industrial landscapes and the rattle of the ‘great construction site’ in March, the  Soviet!, The Eleventh, or later in The Symphony of Donbass. In everyday quiet and invisible rustling of minutes and hours. People just live: they wake up, hurry to work, go by trams, rest on the beach... But the marvelous art of shooting and montage, their selected vivid, material rhythm give the idea about the main sensation of people - their good mood, high spirits. And this is one rhythm and determined by it model of correlation between the real and the screen time.

Let’s say, The Sixth Part Of The World is another rhythm and another model, proceeding from the task that Vertov set for himself and that he felt in the surrounding life: some epic, Whitman-like, gradual, slow, one by one collecting of facts.

In Three Songs About Lenin through the rhythm of depicting of the second song, may be, the strongest of them all, Lenin’s death is given not as a political event but as the human death. As a tragedy of a man’s passing away. Unfortunately, a very subtle expert in cinematography Vitaly Furtichev died recently, but he wrote once a brilliant work about the rhythms of this film. He said that  from time to time there is shown that very bench which is also shown in the film The Chiefs. But each time it is filmed from different positions. And this bench, this unhurried long staying of the bench on screen, only filmed each time in a different way, again suggests a different rhythm, different state: of loneliness, sadness, melancholy...

Hence, the correlation of time and plastics has always been solved in his films. This I would like to emphasize on the first place.

What else to add to Vertov’s tradition, to its development in the relatively recent past, and what is essential for our future? 

One of the most important turning points in search for new plastic models on screen, proceeding from certain Vertov’s traditions, was the revolution in the documentary of the 60s. You know what is interesting? A new attitude to the time on screen, to the plastics originated from a new social self-consciousness related to ‘the Thaw’, to a new attitude to man, and mainly - to a new trust in life. Why? Because introduced once by Vertov and having been widely used in the 60s the long observation, the hidden camera, the synchronous shooting were not simply cinema devices but they represented an immense interest to the satiation of  screen with living life.

In my book The World And The Game, where I spoke about the 60s, I defined  this most important turning point towards the understanding of life as «not looking - examining». Not to look at life, but to examine it. Video camera nowadays suggests even more, as Listov fairly said today, for ‘examining’. But all this started with mastering various cinema devices in the 60s. 

A lot of most powerful films from the point of view of the direction were based on examining life. For example, The Ordinary Fascism is all built on examining life which is showed in an old newsreel.  This is the style of the film, its methodology and its ideology.

Filling the screen with realistic details, changing the duration of ‘a plan’, of ‘a sequence’ introduced new time models and brought forth, beginning with the 60s, the necessity of new functioning of cinema frames in the non-fiction cinema. Before that a frame existed as an illustration to a voice off-screen, but then life itself, rejecting the voice off-screen more and more often,  became very evident on screen in observing the riches of its everyday moments. A new function  of a cinema frame, - it seems to me that it is extremely important for our today’s meditations on time models.  I am almost through as I’ve been talking for too long now. It’s time for some conclusions based on Vertov’s experience and for what proceeds from it. Unfortunately, I wasn’t at  the last such wonderful meeting, but I’ve read a very interesting report of our President Pavel Pechonkin, although it doesn’t cancel our argument on one but very essential question of correlation between real time and time on screen.

Pavel in his report quite definitely referred the documentary to a «1:1» category. Not «1:1» is fiction. First of all, «1:1» is also  fiction. Hertz Frank and Y. Podniex wonderfully shot «1:1»; Ten Minutes Older  is also a kind of an announced fiction. Documentary cinema, as is seems to me, figuratively speaking, does not exist at all without acting here or there. The film Ten Minutes Older is ten minutes long. Not twelve, not fifteen - ten! H. Frank calculated it perfectly. In Sokurov’s films time is different, but he calculates it precisely. It seems that Andrey Shemyakin’s speech on time models will be very important only if Andrey won’t do like Kosakovsky yesterday who started talking about women. This part is very essential. It is essential from the point of view of Vertov’s legacy. Therefore I can’t point  some general denominator out of it as well as our whole conversation. Moreover, I don’t think it’s necessary. Except one thing. Today it was said that we should start generalizing our time experience. But I think that our task is different: we should, vice versa, separate the time experience. Because if to speak about some most important and most simple, even banal priority that can be pointed out of Vertov’s experience and legacy, it will be each time a new search for the film’s time motion. Different search for a film’s rhythmical motion, different search for the frame length and the entire film. Why only «1:1»? Why not «1:10»? Or, considering today’s denomination - why not «1:1000»? Why not so?

I am convinced: the length of a frame, of an episode is finally the length of a film. Briefly speaking, the time duration of separate film units depends on the concrete material, the subject of narration and the idea, expressed by the genre. That is, first of all, on the sum of argumentation inside of a frame multiplied by the sum of author’s argumentation. That’s why I remembered at the beginning about Marques and the answer to the question about what time was it, - «whatever you order...»  Of course, not from the point of view of indulging the dictator-Cut-Throat, but from the point of  view of ‘indulging’  time that occurs in form of its various ‘models’ depending on the content of the tasks mentioned above.

I am afraid that wonderful charm of the film Happiness directed by S. Dvorzhetsky, its long close-ups with this boy who could be filmed even for a longer time, with a baby bull that got stuck in a pail, fascinates us so much that it seems only this kind of cinema is worth making. But, indeed, it should consist of various models and this is the main point of Vertov’s experience. That’s why it is important to ponder over the screen time in all its manifestations. For it is not as much confined in life as it is confined in the author.

I’ve read Listov’s report on the last year’s conference, and it is very much close to me. But now I would like to remind you about a parable from that report, the parable about a man who tries to warm the freezing birds, but to welcome them so that they could get warm you have to become a bird yourself.

In this sense I also have a little parable.

Someone, probably, knows it: it is about a little sparrow that decided to fly up for the first time but freezes and falls on the ground nearly dead. But a cow went by, raised her tail and put on this sparrow. He got warm, stuck  his head out and started chirping. A passing by cat heard it, pulled him out and ate him. What is the message implied in this parable? The first one is that when someone shits on you it doesn’t yet mean he is your enemy. And the second one is that when someone pulls you out of it it doesn’t yet mean he is your friend. So what am I driving at? Any truth is good enough as long as it doesn’t become a common truth. Talking about time we shouldn’t dwell upon some truths and regularities common for everybody because it all depends on each person. And, finally, the third truth, the principal moral of the parable: if you are in shit, don’t chirp!.. But again, it is not a dogma. Because it is proved by our time, our life for decades, when you are in shit  you want nothing else so much as to chirp. And they are chirping in different voices! And it all turns out to be good. And the cat doesn’t seem that scary.

Thank you!