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"Odinnadtsatyy" ( The Eleventh Year ) was directed by the documentary
maker and film theorist Herr Dziga Vertov in the silent year of 1928 in
order to commemorate, not the tenth but the eleventh anniversary of the
October revolution ( Germans also very much like to celebrate Oktober
but in a very different kind of way
In Herr Vertov's oeuvre there is a special fondness for showing the hard labor of his countrymen in industrial production to strengthen the U.S.S.R. economy and turning their country into a world power. The 11tth anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution was a perfect excuse for Herr Vertov to put in images his artistic recurring allegories and national patriotism.
So consequently in "Odinnadtsatyy" there are a lot of pistons, cylinders and machines that rattle, clatter and whirl, composing a hypnotic industrial symphony that forms part of the score of the construction and modernization of a powerful U.S.R.R.. In some ways this is very repetitive and certainly monotonous as is hard industrial work in real life (At least according to what this Herr Von has heard since German counts really know nothing about such a subject ). Workers are the main actors of the film and we see them laboring in power stations, cooperatives or mines in the Ukraine, all under the inspiring influence of Herr Lenin who is shown in one shot. Man and machine work together in a fruitful collaboration.
"Oddinnadtsatyy" is full of Herr Vertov's characteristic artistic style and brilliant editing, all in the service of shameless propaganda which has the sole purpose of lifting the nationalism of the Soviet people, a goal that certainly is achieved for supporters and followers of the Bolshevik cause, ja wohl!.
And now, if you'll allow me, I must temporarily take my leave because this German Count must celebrate the 100th anniversary of one of his Teutonic and rich heiresses.
Herr Graf Ferdinand Von Galitzien http://ferdinandvongalitzien.blogspot.com
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
How are we supposed to judge propaganda? I watched this with Russian
title cards I couldn't understand, so my initial take was of a simple
documentary on the working classes of Russia at the time - and to that
extent I loved it. Watching a film like this is - a 'city symphony' or
a 'film poem' where there is no plot - is like watching a photography
portfolio in motion, and just as a quality photography portfolio can
hold your attention with the beauty of the craft, so can a film in this
genre, and despite watching a 480p version on youtube, 'The Eleventh
Year' was still wonderfully composed. Vertov trademarks were apparent -
breaking the fourth wall by drawing our attention to the photography of
double exposures and many moving camera shots. Water surfaces are
imposed on top of towns and people, and workers the same, so their hard
work is seen to be towering over the towns. At best this is wonderfully
metaphoric, while at others it is tedious experimentation, but at 42
minutes the film is mercifully short, without too much repetition, so
it never grated too badly. Of course, in 2015 when it feels like we
have already seen everything on screen there is to be seen, certain
subjects, particularly the more common such as the flow of water, and
the rhythmic mechanical actions of nuts and bolts and machinated
wheels, may feel trivial and monotonous, but who knows how they felt at
the time? I enjoyed it even more than 'Man With a Movie Camera.'
However the emphasis on the grimy working class, a staple of 1920's Russian propaganda (such as 'Mat', 'The End of St. Petersburg' 'Battleship Potemkin', and 'Zemyla') aroused my suspicions, before the army shots at the end, followed by internet searches to check what my Russian translation couldn't, confirmed them, so that where before the progress from fields, to mines, to factories and eventually to extravagant city buildings felt like an existential musing on the fruits of our labour, they now feel like a well shot advertisement. Was it possible the Russians of that time could make anything that wasn't propaganda?
If there is a message here, it is don't watch films in a language you don't understand, although in this case I'm kinda glad that I did, for I think I enjoyed it much more than I otherwise would have. Points must be deducted for propaganda though.
The montage film, put together to celebrate the eleventh anniversary of
the October Revolution and the progress made in Russia -- although
Russia is never mentioned in the titles, only Socialism -- is a
carefully edited series of clips intended to show all the wonderful
things that the Soviet Union had produced in the first ten years of its
triumph -- although at least a couple of the clips seem to date to 1896
actualities on steelmaking in France, and one dramatic moving crane
shot is lifted from the series that Billy Bitzer shot at the
Westinghouse Plant in 1905.
I also think that the ending is a bit padded and slow; I would have cut it a couple of minutes earlier to finish on a high point with plenty of camera movement. I suspect that coming in at less than fifty minutes would have gotten someone upset. This was, after all, a feature.
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