On the Montage Aesthetic in the 1920's 'City Symphony'
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Originally presented to an international conference on Avant-Garde Cinema at Edinburgh University in 2004, this text investigates montage films of the 1920s in the context of avant-garde theory. The observation that new techniques in avant-garde art such as collage, montage and assemblage emerged in response to and through adopting features of the new technical media of photography and film suggests that the place of "City Symphonies" requires a re-location within the avant-garde cannon. In response to this challenge, the chapter addresses concerns raised by Kracauer in his "Theory of Film" that Ruttmann’s 1928 Berlin – die Sinfonie der Grossstadt displays an unhealthy interest in pure formalism to the detriment of greater social concerns. Apart from countering Kracauer’s argument by highlighting that through montage-juxtaposition alone social contrasts are foregrounded, the chapter also focuses on humanist concerns raised in the film as a factor traditionally disregarded in most – predominantly formalist – avant-garde studies, and asserts humanist interests as an equally important concern of avant-garde art production. A second work this chapter addresses in detail is Vertov’s 1929 city film Man with a Movie Camera. Both Ruttmann and Vertov stressed the importance of musical dynamics in structuring their films, which raises the question of medium specificity, especially considering that avant-garde arts of the period were mostly concerned with discovering languages proper to the respective media. In the case of film, music was often adopted as a model, providing form and rhythm to editing patterns. Basing his montage aesthetic on a "theory of intervals", has invited Anglo-Saxon criticism to interpret Vertov’s theory as a concept of montage taking the frame as its basic unit of construction. Through close contextual analysis of the original Russian texts, however, this chapter establishes that the shot, and not the frame, lies at the centre of Vertov’s concept.
Avant-Garde Film, pp.77-91
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