Dziga Vertov

Dziga Vertov

Białystok, Podlaskie, Poland
Death 12 Feb 1954 (aged 58)
Moscow, Moscow Federal City, Russia
Burial Moscow, Moscow Federal City, Russia
Plot Section 6, Series 19, Grave 4
Memorial ID 23752761 · View Source
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Motion Picture Director, Editor, Theorist. Real name Denis Arkadevich Kaufman. One of the outstanding creators of early Soviet Cinema, he revolutionized the documentary by raising it from reportage and propaganda to a personal art form. He was born into a Jewish intellectual family in Bialystok, Poland (then part of the Russian Empire), and taken to Moscow at the start of World War I. Attracted by the Futurist movement, he wrote poetry and created audio collages, adopting the name Dziga Vertov (which literally translates as "spinning, turning") for his experiments. Soon after the 1917 Russian Revolution he joined the newsreel department of the Moscow Film Committee and was quickly promoted to chief editor, cutting agit-prop films from footage sent from the various Civil War fronts. In 1920 he accompanied Soviet Chairman Mikhail Kalinin on a propaganda train that toured Russia. By then he had already published the first of several manifestos in which he forcefully championed the documentary as the most vital art form for the new Soviet Union. It was largely through the influence of Vertov and his followers that Lenin issued a 1922 edict (known as the "Leninist Film Proportion") that established a fixed ratio between entertainment films and documentaries in the Soviet movie industry. Vertov was put in charge of a studio, Cinema-Eye, and enlisted his younger brother Mikhail Kaufman and wife Elizaveta Svilova as top cameraman and editor, respectively. Together they produced the landmark newsreel "Kino-Pravda" (23 editions, 1922 to 1925), which combined journalism, propaganda, and visual poetry. Kaufman and his assistant cameramen were dispatched throughout the country and given freedom to film whatever they felt was important, often using "hidden camera" techniques to catch life unawares; events were chosen more for their symbolic value than newsworthiness, and edited into meaningful form by Vertov and Svilova in Moscow. This original approach was also applied to the group's feature-length films "Cinema-Eye" (1924), "Stride Soviet!" (1926), and the highly acclaimed "A Sixth of the World" (1926). In his polemical writings Vertov denounced fictional films and insisted that everything in cinema should emanate from real life itself, but there was nothing objective in his own practice. He believed in manipulating his material through montage editing and, to a certain extent, staged scenes to arrive at "the purest possible essence of truth". The illusion of truth in film is the subject of his masterpiece, "Man With a Movie Camera" (1929). Ostensibly a dawn to dusk look at life in a big city, it confronts viewers with the artificial nature of the moviegoing experience through use of split screens, freeze frames, slow, fast and reverse motion, superimposed images, and the omnipotent presence of a documentary cameraman (Kaufman) at work. We see him shooting the film and at the same time the film that is being shot, yet he too is obviously being photographed - a playful yet profound "meta" observation, designed to shock the audience into a heightened awareness. In the end the camera alone takes a bow and walks off on its tripod. A bold individualist statement, "Man With a Movie Camera" dazzled international critics but was greeted with confusion and outrage in the USSR. Even director Sergei Eisenstein cautioned that its maker was slipping into "unmotivated camera mischief". Perhaps as a result of official disfavor Vertov was assigned to the Kiev studios in the Ukraine, where he began to experiment with sound films. In the features "Enthusiasm" (1931) and the masterful "Three Songs of Lenin" (1934) he toned down his visual exuberance and explored the poetic possibilities of audio montage, using music and ambient effects in opposition to the images to create new associations. Soon afterwards, the Stalinist crackdown on the arts saw the Central Committee accusing Vertov of "Formalism" and "technological fetishism", and he was effectively silenced as an artist. "Lullaby" (1937) was the last film over which he had any creative control. After that he was demoted from director to editor of government-approved documentaries and propaganda films. From 1947 until his death from cancer he worked anonymously on the Moscow newsreel "News of the Day". Originally buried beside his mother at Moscow's Miusskaya Cemetery, he was reinterred in an honor grave at Novodevichy Cemetery in 1967. Vertov had a decisive influence on subsequent documentary filmaking, especially on the "Cinéma vérité" movement of the 1960s and 1970s. His youngest brother, Boris Kaufman, had a successful career as a cinematographer in France and later in Hollywood.

Bio by: Bobb Edwards

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  • Maintained by: Find a Grave
  • Originally Created by: Bobb Edwards
  • Added: 4 Jan 2008
  • Find a Grave Memorial 23752761
  • Find a Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Dziga Vertov (2 Jan 1896–12 Feb 1954), Find a Grave Memorial no. 23752761, citing Novodevichy Cemetery, Moscow, Moscow Federal City, Russia ; Maintained by Find A Grave .