As was the fashion among many directors of the epoch, Jean Vigo's first "point-of-view" documentary aimed at capturing the life and the very essence of a city; here, the beautiful seaside resort of early-1930s Nice. However, with the aid of Dziga Vertov's brother, Boris Kaufman, this avant-garde short film evolved from an ordinary depiction of a coastal town into a caustic and sarcastic report of the "real" Nice, portraying the contrasting lifestyles of its inhabitants. Starting with a series of captivating aerial takes, Vigo's film continues with scenes that pivot around the sun-kissed Promenade des Anglais, and unexpected juxtapositions of poverty and wealth; modern architecture and garbage; the working poor and the idle rich. In the cosmopolitan city of Nice on the French Côte d'Azur, eye-catching tableaux of sharp and eternal antitheses invite us to take a look at the anatomy of a small world. Does beauty transcend the boundaries of money, language, and social classes?Written by
Well, this is great if you're looking for revolutionary film, not by our disillusioned standards, but from a time when it was thought it could change the world. It failed that but it changed the way we see and dream.
So, I've been following threads of that revolution, the revolutionary eye that does not merely see, the way audiences 'saw' live theater, but floats into space it constructs. One such I have found in Russia and followed the Ermoliev trail. I cover aspects of that in my posts about Ivan Mozzhukhin.
Another thread is Epstein and later Kirsanoff, both radical makers, both émigrés from the edges of a gone Empire. Also covered here.
Another intersects right here, it's a great find if you're attuned to the great experiments of the silent era. It will astonish you by sheer inventiveness, I guarantee. It can travel you.
We know it now because it's one of few utterances in film of a man who would have been another Fellini, the legend goes. He was a natural poet but lacked images, or a way to capture them, a way to realize vision. So he teamed up with a young Russian behind the camera then studying in Sorbonne, no ordinary émigré this one.
Now this young Russian guy had two brothers back home, fervent revolutionaries and were dabbling in cinema themselves. They were doing some pretty cool, pretty radical things between them. One account says how young Boris - the name of our guy - was kept up-to-date of revolutionary advances of his brothers via mail. Another account reveals that elder brother Denis had been in Paris in 1929, the year he made his seminal work. The two brothers would have got in touch, perhaps that film was screened, perhaps it astonished young Boris.
His brothers were geniuses. You will know Denis Kaufman by the alias Dziga Vertov. Mikhail was his right-hand man and a director himself - look out for Moscow from '27.
And let's not forget, Jean Epstein was giving lectures at Sorbonne. At any rate, Boris could not have been oblivious to the young medium being reshaped around the world, going beyond theatre. He could not fail to recognize that Jean Vigo wanted to work in this field.
So anyway, you may know that Vigo was a young poet born into anarchists. You may appreciate that anarchism then was not what it is now. You may even remember that anarchists were in Lenin's first provisional government, an astonishing thing for contemporary times (but quickly removed to consolidate power). So when Vigo sets out to film what was called a 'city symphony' at those times, Nice was not randomly selected. This is where complacent class enemies lounge half-asleep in the sun, oblivious to the sardonic camera. This is where tourists saunter in the promenade, healthy, satisfied, whole. Where sex beckons.
And on the other side of the city, the poor quarters, the workers, the impotentwatchers.
So in agitprop terms the Soviets favored, this has bite and gleeful irony to spare. We are shown miniature palm trees and a miniature train contrasted with the real things.
But it would be nothing, nothing at all, without the camera seeing the way it does.
Vertov's theory, rooted in Marxist dialectics, was of a 'cine-truth' that is possible as man goes beyond thought, beyond meddlesome conventional thought about things, and shifts gears into precise only-seeing that is, in itself, present action. You should know that this is a key insight in Buddhism, well preserved in teachings about mindful meditation.
So seeing clearly and without dramatic aftereffects. We get a camera that floats, has an airy quality, regular readers will know I've been following patterns in this type. The 'cine-truth', as it were, is not to be found in the political direction of the gaze, this is only another layer of meddlesome thought that gets in the way, but in the very fact that we are seeing people as they lounged, as they played tennis, waves as they washed the shore clean.
Forget this is an anarchist's poem. Let the Buddhist floating world wash over you. Let this just be about planets in their orbits.
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