Dziga Vertov: Life and Work (Volume 1: 1896–1921)

Dziga Vertov: Life and Work (Volume 1: 1896–1921)

from 35.00

John MacKay

Series: Film and Media Studies
ISBN: 9781618117342 (hardcover)
Pages: 470 pp.; 35 illus.; 2 charts
Publication Date: November 2018

Add To Cart

Largely forgotten during the last 20 years of his life, the Soviet filmmaker Dziga Vertov (1896-1954) has occupied a singular and often controversial position over the past sixty years as a founding figure of documentary, avant-garde, and political-propaganda film practice. Creator of Man with a Movie Camera (1929), perhaps the most celebrated non-fiction film ever made, Vertov is equally renowned as the most militant opponent of the canons of mainstream filmmaking in the history of cinema. This book, the first in a three-volume study, addresses Vertov's youth in the largely Jewish city of Bialystok, his education in Petrograd, his formative years of involvement in filmmaking, his experiences during the Russian Civil War, and his interests in music, poetry and technology.

John MacKay is Professor of Film and Media Studies and Professor and Chair of Slavic Languages and Literatures at Yale University. He received a PhD in Comparative Literature from Yale in 1998 and a BA in English from the University of British Columbia in 1987.


John MacKay talks about his book, Dziga Vertov: Life and Work, on the MacMillan Report.


In 2002 when I wrote my soundtrack to Man with a Movie Camera, I knew almost nothing about Vertov. Since then I have begun to kill the gaps in my knowledge largely through the brilliance and persistence of John MacKay.
— Michael Nyman, CBE, composer
John MacKay’s book is a bold project. It treats a filmmaker—a mere person, after all, as one would a phenomenon, a world. One rarely sees a study so densely packed with so many unknown facts about someone as well-known (or so we thought) as Dziga Vertov. Th e book presents a chronological rainbow of Vertov’s life—a personal, intellectual and political biography all in one. A great book, a monumental project, and it must be as big a book as Mackay wishes it to be. You cannot downsize Everest whose very size is its asset.
— Yuri Tsivian, William Colvin Professor, University of Chicago, Departments of Cinema and Media Studies and Art History
This volume—the first of three on the life and work of Dziga Vertov—is an extraordinary accomplishment. MacKay combines unprecedentedly detailed archival research and contextual analysis with historical synthesis and perspective; theoretical sophistication at the highest levels with close critical analysis; comprehensive scholarship with intellectual generosity. The three volumes taken together will be the definitive account of Vertov, but not only that. They will constitute a major contribution to the history of documentary cinema, to the political, ideological and aesthetic history of Russian film, and to the history of film and media theory.
— Philip Rosen, Professor of Modern Culture and Media, Professor of English, Brown University

Table of Contents

Note on Abbreviations, Transliteration, and Translations

Introduction: How Did It Begin?

Chapter 1: Province of Universality: David Kaufman before the War (1896–1914)
“The People’s Benefit”: A.K. Kaufman’s Circulating Library in Bialystok
Books, Films and Boisterous, Rich Bialystok
“Be Reasonable!” Student and Worker Politics in Bialystok
What was Adam’s Nationality? The Bialystok Pogrom and its Aftermath
David Abelevich Kaufman

Chapter 2: Social Immortality: David Kaufman at the Psychoneurological Institute (1914–16)
War, Bekhterev, and the Psychoneurological Institute
Beyond the Institute
1. Connections, Connections
2. A Rational Cinema
3. Energy and Rhythm

Chapter 3: The Beating Pulse of Living Life: Musical, Futurist, Nonfiction, and Marxist Matrices (1916–18)
Chuguev, Music, and Interval
After the Revolution: Futurism Early and Late
A Job in "Khronika"
Democratic Nonfiction

Chapter 4: Christ among the Herdsman: From Refugee to Propagandist (1918-22)
Kino-Nedelia (1918-19): Author, Archive, Detournement, Censorship
1. Kino-Nedelia, “Khronika,” and Early Newsreel
2. Newsreel Metamorphoses
3. Newsreel Matrices
Vertov’s Theatrical Origins: The Agit-Trains
1. Agitation and Propaganda
2. An Enormous Front of Destruction
3. A Lure to Gather Any Kind of Meeting

Archives Consulted