In the form in which we have each of these documentaries by Dziga Vertov, Odinnadtsatyy, commemorating the tenth anniversary of the 1917 revolution and, therefore, marking the launch of the Soviet Union’s second decade, is far more lyrical and rhythmic than A Sixth of the World (1926). It, too, is one of the most beautiful films ever made.
Shot on location in the Ukraine, including, initially, the Dnieper River, Odinnadtsatyy documents the construction of power stations to electrify the region. Two signature shots: the “wild river,” headed for damming, superimposed across ordinary homes in the region; at night, one such home, at the other end of the process, now electrically lit up.
In between, considerable contributory labor is shown, some of which parodies the ghastly labor in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1926). Title-screens repeatedly direct us “Underground,” and there is even a factory shift-change where exiting workers are replaced by entering ones. However, Vertov’s portrayal isn’t glum and soulless as is Lang’s; there’s a spring to everyone’s step, because men and women are pulling together, “under the banner of Lenin,” for the sake of their new nation’s future. Whereas Lang shows us the oppression and exploitation of workers in a capitalistic society, Vertov shows us spirited workers in a society striving toward socialism.
There are intricate analyses of the gears and other components of industrial machines in operation; while humans are celebrated above all, the film is poised in the dubious direction of Vertov’s Enthusiasm (1931). The intended message of belching factory smokestacks is productivity, energy, grand prospects; but we are apt to think instead, pollution. More than eighty years later, some of the original message, emotionally, is hard to recover. But this titanic work of art irresistibly moves both the soul and the senses.
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