Nikolay Izvolov: “I am restoring the second film of Dziga Vertov literally from frames”

Шагай, Совет! 1926. Дзига Вертов / Dziga Vertov. Shagay, Sovet! (Stride, Soviet!)

Nikolay Izvolov: 'I am restoring the second film of Dziga Vertov literally from frames'

Nikolay Izvolov: &# 171; I restore the second film by Dziga Vertov literally frame by frame&# 187;

The Russian Civil War as a Visual Artifact of History

A year later, in March 2021, the centenary of the end of the civil war in Russia will be celebrated. Film historian and archivist Nikolai Izvolov is working on the restoration of a lost film about this war, created by the pioneer of world documentary filmmaking Dziga Vertov in 1921. Izvolov told Voice of America that he plans to complete the reconstruction of the film “History of the Civil War” by March next year.

“As the saying goes, a dinner spoon is good,” he says. “But, of course, the coronavirus pandemic can make adjustments to our plans, so they are of a purely preliminary nature.”.

This is the second film by Dziga Vertov, restored by Izvolov. In the fall of 2018, the “retro-premiere” of his film “Anniversary of the Revolution” took place in Amsterdam. Izvolov assembles the second picture of the master, “The History of the Civil War” from fragments stored mostly in the Krasnogorsk Archive of Film and Photo Documents.

Nikolay Izvolov is a Russian film critic, film historian, author of the book “The Phenomenon of Cinema. History and theory “. The correspondent of the Russian service “Voice of America” ​​spoke with him on Skype..

Oleg Sulkin: The other day on Facebook you complained that “one job is not letting go yet, while the other angrily requires attention”. Clarify please.

Nikolay Izvolov: Together, these two films should form a huge four-hour panorama of the Russian Revolution and the Civil War, one of the most important events in human history. Actually, the work on “Anniversary of the Revolution” took about a month. And then for a whole year I showed it all over the world, starting in Amsterdam. Helsinki, San Sebastian, Paris, Wiesbaden, Tbilisi, Munich, Belgrade, St. Petersburg, Stuttgart, Budapest – I can go on for a long time. Now I have not gone to Seoul, to several Austrian cities. The coronavirus came and gave me an indulgence that I could not come for a good reason. Honestly, I am very tired of driving and answering the same type of questions. And I have been doing the second job for a year now, and the end is still not in sight. All this time I go to the archive with short forays between trips. My producer, Aerogroup company, helps me a lot. The new project is more complex than the first.

OS: Why?

N.I .: “Anniversary of the Revolution” is a rare success for a researcher. The material itself went into the hands. My colleague Svetlana Ishevskaya found in RGALI a complete list of captions for this film. The found inter-credits made up the finished skeleton, the plan for the future film. It remained to mechanically “comb” and line up these thousands of meters of film. The new job is somewhat different. “History of the Civil War” – the film is even more mysterious than the previous one. Vertov’s first film was released in large circulation, in thirty copies, for wide screening throughout the country. The second was made to order and was intended for a one-time display to delegates and guests of the Third Congress of the Comintern (June-July 1921). It was done in record time – according to various testimonies from 10 days to three weeks.

OS: I remember you said that for “Anniversary of the Revolution” Vertov used footage of other cameramen. And here he used his own footage.?

N.I .: Partially, yes. Vertov was very active during that period immediately after the revolution. He traveled a lot around the country with agitation trains, edited the magazines of the Kino-Nedelya chronicle. I have been to the front more than once, on the front line, under bullets. Made several short films, in particular, “The Mironov Trial”. By the way, he also used footage from it for an episode of a big picture about the civil war. The figure of Philip Mironov is very interesting. A Cossack, a prominent commander of the Reds, he went to the front without the sanction of the Revolutionary Military Council, was disarmed along with his corps and convicted by a tribunal. But Mironov himself was then pardoned, and he subsequently commanded the Second Cavalry Army (F. Mironov was killed in 1921 under unclear circumstances. – OS). You probably remember the novel by Yuri Trifonov “The Old Man”, where Mironov is bred under the name Migulin.

OS: You said that Vertov edited the Anniversary of the Revolution from a chronicle filmed entirely by other operators. And for “History of the Civil War” he used his own or other people’s shooting?

N.I .: This film is already on a slightly different level. Of course, not everything was filmed by Vertov himself. Much has been filmed by his fellow cameramen. He was physically unable to visit all the fronts of the civil war. The film contains episodes of hostilities with the armies of Kolchak, Denikin, Wrangel. There is a war in Transcaucasia, the capture of Perekop, the Makhnovists, the First Cavalry Army, the Mironov trial, partisans, anarchists, Vertov acted as the organizer of filming by other operators. With this film, as Vertov later wrote, he was not completely satisfied. He believed that out of 13 parts of this huge film, the first part – “White Terror” and “Kolchak Front” was the best success for him..

Still from the film

OS: Are there any fundamental differences between the first and second films?

N.I .: Both are part of the evolution of the same person. Vertov did not have dramatic differences in his views on documentary cinema. In The History of the Civil War, he already groped for approaches to Kino-Pravda and later considered the film a predecessor of Kino-Pravda.

OS: How do you build, structure the material?

N.I .: This is a very difficult job. I have been working for a year now, but I still cannot get down to the final cut because there are questions that I have not yet found an answer to. This reminds me of the work of a paleontologist, when it is necessary to restore the entire skeleton and appearance of an ancient animal from individual vertebrae. In the late 60s – early 70s, archivist Galina Bazhenova identified individual fragments in the Krasnogorsk archive and collected four parts of this film. In the archives of Vertov and Grigory Boltyansky, who helped him, there are several typewritten pages, which describe some episodes of this film, its structure, plan. Inter-credits have been preserved in very limited quantities. A very important and interesting detail is the font of the inscriptions. They are handwritten for this film. Thanks to the analysis of the inscriptions, we were able to identify the last part of the film, “The Kronstadt Mutiny and the Parade of Victors”.

Still from the film

OS: Why were the fonts written by hand?

N.I .: The film was made in a hurried order in one copy and presumably was shown on a movie-moving machine on the streets of Moscow as part of theatrical rallies in part of the Third Congress of the Comintern. In time pressure conditions, the inscriptions were made not in an industrial way, but by hand..

OS: How many difficulties and nuances…

N.I .: I really like this job. It is complex and very unusual. I have nothing to lean on. No one has ever done this kind of work. Even my mistakes, which I will certainly make, will be useful for future generations of film critics and archivists. Almost all the materials are in Krasnogorsk, but they are in an even more vinaigrette-like state than the “Anniversary of the Revolution”. Here you have to restore the canvas of the film literally by frame..

OS: What episodes, in your opinion, are the most interesting?

N.I .: Probably those related to the formation of the Red Army. In the beginning, the army was largely disorganized. But from this confusion and partisanism, a powerful force is born. What tectonic processes, what amazing destinies. In this magma of history, interesting personalities arise, such as Mironov.

O.S.: Who else of the famous people is captured in the film?

N.I .: There is Trotsky, who migrated from Vertov’s first film. There is Budyonny, Kalinin appears.

O.S.: And Stalin?

Nikolay Izvolov: 'I am restoring the second film of Dziga Vertov literally from frames'

N.I .: Yes, he commanded the Tsaritsyn defense and was supposed to be in this film. But until we found frames with him.

Ivar Smilga and Sergo Ordzhonikidze

OS: Of those mysterious shots that you posted on Facebook, I remember the banner of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee, which Mikhail Kalinin presented to the soldiers of the First Cavalry Army. The banner is somehow checkered, not red. You have found the answer?

N.I .: Not yet. I can assume that the banner is velvet, and fluttering in the wind, it glows in different ways, denoting the checkered structure of the velvet fabric. It doesn’t surprise me. At an exhibition in London, I saw one of the flags of the Red Army. It is completely white. It was originally, of course, red, but over the years it completely faded.

OS: How the opponents of the Bolsheviks are shown in the film – the White Army, the interventionists?

N.I .: There are probably no interventionists. There are white prisoners, the house where General Kornilov died is shown. Post-factum, that is, immediately after the capture, the destroyed headquarters of General Wrangel is shown.

O.S.: And trophy shooting was not used?

N.I .: We do not know if the regular surveys were carried out by whites. However, some kind of White Guard chronicle has survived. But it was not used in Vertov’s film..

OS: I have before my eyes shots of Yevgeny Karelov’s long-standing wonderful film “Two Comrades Served”, where Oleg Yankovsky (he is a front-line cameraman) and Rolan Bykov played magnificently.

N.I .: I love this film since childhood. Very unexpected, human. The heroes go through incredible tests, but in the end we see that from this hardest, tragic, diverse life in the movie camera there are several strange shots: someone waves a hat, some people fuss and go into eternity. A strikingly accurate image! If we continue the comparison, then Vertov’s film about the civil war is a much enlarged finale of the film “Two Comrades Served”.

O.S.: How relevant is the topic of the Russian revolution and civil war today??

N.I .: “Anniversary of the Revolution” sparked a rather fierce controversy – right in the cinema. When there was a screening in the thousandth hall of the Moscow cinema “October” on Novy Arbat, I thought a stabbing would begin. The situation has become so tense. And this is not only in Russia. In Spain, for example, the topic of civil confrontation is still topical. Monuments to southerners’ generals are being demolished in America, causing massive protests. It is obvious that civil confrontation in different countries is still relevant today. I’m afraid I’ll let another genie out of the bottle. On the other hand, why not? We’re just recreating a visual artifact of the past.

  • Oleg Sulkin

    Journalist, film critic, correspondent for the Russian Service «Voices of America» in New York.


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