- 1930s Dziga Vertov experimental documentary with new live sounds - Sheffield and Leeds exclusive!
1930s Dziga Vertov experimental documentary with new live sounds - Sheffield and Leeds exclusive! A special new commission for Yorkshire Silent Film Festival, thanks to Film Hub North
Dziga Vertov is perhaps best known for his compelling and kaleidoscopic film Man with a Movie Camera, which Sight & Sound recently declared Greatest Documentary of all time. This film regularly gets screened with new scores and improvisational accompaniment. A trip to AV Festival, supported by Film Hub North, introduced me to more of Vertov's work and that of his contemporaries in Soviet-era Ukrainian cinema, which led to a special new production of one of these films for the Yorkshire Silent Film Festival.
In March in Newcastle, several historic Soviet films from Ukraine, sourced from the vaults of the Oleksandr Dovzhenko National Centre, were screened during a special Ukrainiain documentary weekend.They provided a window into a turbulent and emotive period in the history of the early 20th century.
After a series of revolutionary upheavals in the interwar war years, the Donbas area of Eastern Ukraine experienced a phase of dramatically fast industrialisation. The non-Russian population, already recovering from famine after suffering the loss of land and the requisitioning of food by the West, were then subjected to Stalin's first Five Year Plan. When Vertov filmed Enthusiasm (Symphony of the Donbas) he recorded the effects of these changes and with his avant garde approach to editing created a disturbing but compelling view of social progress and its context. Churches being liquidated, agricultural land collectivised, in the heroic narrative of a Soviet proletarian, work was a patriotic affair and in the film, groups of 'shock workers' compete with each other in the coal mines for glorious productivity.
Controversially, this was also Vertov’s first sound film, in which real industrial sounds and marching band music were used to construct a musical composition. It is to this soundtrack that and to the film's startling aesthetic that the band That Fucking Tank have responded in a special new piece for the film festival.
Documentaries tell us something about a version of history, but they can never be a complete view. Over time, I think their complex contexts can benefit from being meaningfully re-appraised. If the film with its original score in a theatrical setting represents the authentic version, then the traditional screening at AV Festival triggered something else that made me want to see what the film would inspire in the hands of these musicians. This reworking was an invitation to the band for a new response, an experimental new connection with film's aesthetics and subject matter. I'm told the new score involves "objects".
'It's been an exciting challenge to produce live sounds to a piece of film with such a groundbreaking, powerful and unique soundtrack. Rather than trying to re-score the film entirely from scratch, our approach has been to work with and remix the original - to produce a live collage processing and reconfiguring sounds sampled from the soundtrack (many themselves field recordings collaged by the filmmaker) and augmenting these with musical moments using standard instruments, synthesis and objects. We've tried to stay true to the disorientating and at sometimes bizarre mix of industrial noise and marching rhythms of the original; bringing a loud, loose and human edge into the mix.'
(Andy Abbott, That Fucking Tank)
As an event in the festival, I hope it will bring fans of That Fucking Tank's music in to the cinema space, to enjoy the interplay of visual and audio cultures across 85 years of East/West history and to reflect on the Vertov documentary's surprising modernity.
Culture is iconoclastic. As a film maker, Vertov recorded, mostly silently, a period of startling change taking place in the early 20th Century. The pace of change around the world is still as rapid.
See Enthusiasm (Symphony of the Donbas) with live score by That Fucking Tank in Sheffield at the Showroom Cinema on Weds 27th July at 6.30 pm and in Leeds at Left Bank Cinema on Thurs 28th July at 8pm