This talk will provide an overview of the life and work of Soviet filmmaker Dziga Vertov (1896-1954), and briefly reflect on the significance of Vertov’s militant film practice today, more than 100 years after the 1917 Revolution and at a time when the beliefs that animated Vertov – a belief in a Communist future, and in progress more generally – no longer carry the same force for the global left.
Dziga Vertov (born David Kaufman in Bialystok in 1896-died in Moscow in 1954) is known as perhaps the most militant defender of non-fiction film practice in the history of cinema. His films and theories, lying at the intersection of documentary, avant-garde, and propaganda, have exerted a powerful if also controversial influence upon filmmakers and theorists across the globe. By breaking away from the conventions and canons of art, Vertov and his followers hoped to bring about nothing less than a Communism of film, on an analogy with that truly human history that would commence, according to Marx, once the “prehistory of human society” closed with the disappearance of bourgeois capitalism. So how should we evaluate his work now that those hopes, perhaps along with the ideology of progress itself, have been definitively disappointed? This talk will offer a lightning sketch of Vertov’s life, work and ideas, and reflect briefly upon that crucial question.
John MacKay received his Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from Yale University in 1998. His teaching interests include Russian, German, French, and English language and literature; comparative studies of poetry; literary theory; film history, theory, and aesthetics; documentary film; intellectual history (particularly comparative studies in modernity); Marxism; history of hermeneutics; literature and slavery; utopias; world cinema; and collage across the arts. He is currently IFK_Senior Fellow.