In an attempt to reclaim the Annex, the Factory filmmakers have been brainstorming about social justice leaders to display on the walls. We spent a few weeks carefully selecting a diverse group of icons- a collection of innovators and filmmakers that the students can look to during the darkest hours of editing.
Buffy suggested including the Mirabal sisters, explaining that three Dominican activists were assassinated in 1960 for standing up to dictator, Rafeal Trujillo. Esteban advocated for Cesar Chavez and Óscar Romero, who ended up in a neon green frame for his controversial humanitarian work in the 1970s. Win-Mon continued with the inspirational political prisoner theme, recommending Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi for the collage. As the class consciousness expands and students are exposed to new innovators, this living document will continue to grow.
This week The Factory hosted an “Evening of Soviet Montage” as a part of a film screening series devoted to sharpening media literacy skills and broadening our young filmmakers’ familiarity with non-traditional, global film histories. I chose to screen the Soviet filmmakers from the 1920s because of their unique approach to film language, the transparent relationship between politics, culture and aesthetics in their films, and because I felt the high-energy action films they produced would be more engaging to the youth. I was also compelled by how staggeringly young these artists were when they created their timeless, wildly influential work.
The first film was screening was little more than a thirty-second editing exercise, but it is perhaps the most formative experiment in the history of the medium. The “Kuleshov test” was screened for a theatrical audience, after which Lev Kuleshov asked them what they felt the man was emoting when he looked at the bowl of soup (“He is hungry”), the dead man (“He is sad”), and the sleeping woman (“He is aroused”). What Kuleshov did not tell the audience, though, was that the shot of the man is the SAME each time! From the audience’s response, Kuleshov deduced that 1) The audience was projecting their own interpretation onto the man; and 2) Not only that, they were assuming that the man and the bowl of soup/dead body/woman were even in the same room!
These tendencies in the viewer became the heart of the Soviet filmmakers’ beliefs about the effects and capacity of film. Put simply, they believed that one image/shot in and of itself meant nothing, it was the COMBINATION of shots that created meaning and ideas. So, a shot of man is just a man and a shot of a bowl of soup is just a bowl of soup, but together they can mean “hunger.”
Thus, for the Soviets, the most important part of filmmaking - and what made it unique from all over art forms - was the cut. While most national cinemas were trying to hide the cut - through continuity editing, which had been fully developed by Hollywood after it’s pioneering by Thomas Edison and D.W. Griffith - the Soviets actually went out of their way to draw attention to the cut, and to the idea that the edit is working to convey.
The Soviet filmmakers were famous for believing that “cinema is conflict” and that shots should “collide” together rather than be disguised - these collisions between shots produced ideas in the mind of the viewer. For the Soviets, of course, these ideas were specifically Socialist - a form of naked propaganda.
Class discussion was all over the map. Students noted that:
The films didn’t have specific heroes/heroines, or even main characters. Instead, the socialist films of the era championed a mob as the protagonist.
The editing was FAST – faster than even American action films. The viewer barely has any time to process the imagery on the screen. This was key if the goal was to create propaganda films that didn’t foster critical thinking skills.
The imagery suggested a harmonious relationship between man and machine. This would make sense, as the socialist labor party idealized an industrial mode of production.
We concluded the day by discussing what sorts of culture and politics might the Soviets have seen in American films of 2012 – how do our political and social mores manifest as aesthetic tendencies?