Kino Eye


Year: 1924.

Type: documentary film (78 minutes).

Alternative titles: Film Eye, Kino-Glaz.

Director: Dziga Vertov.

Availability: clips online (Google video search results here and here) and via (£19.99), ($199.99 new, $124.99 used).

Relevant scene: DVD chapter 8.

Page reference: Cook, I. (2011) Kino Eye. ( last accessed <insert date here>)


... in Film-Eye ... there are two sequences whose action is presented on the screen in reverse: a piece of meat is followed back to a live steer, and a loaf, of bread is traced back to wagonloads of wheat (Source: Petric 1978, p.32).

... in the first (reverse motion scene), the mother of a Young Pioneer who has patronized private street markets for food reads a notice posted by a Young Pioneer about a collective or co-op store. This leads to an extended reverse motion sequence, not only sending her to the co-op store, but then showing how the meat was produced: the meat goes backward from the store to the slaughterhouse, where the bull's innards are reinserted into the body and the bull comes to life; then, continuing in reverse motion, the bull is taken to the railroad which shipped it to the town from the country, and the train returns to the countryside. Only when the bull is in the herd back in the country do we resume normal, forward motion. (In a wonderful parody of forward-moving, linear 'narrative' action ... the sequence concludes when a Young Pioneer brings a letter to a herdsman who opens it. It says, 'End of Reel One.') (Source: Rosen 2007, p.30).

[Vertov’s] experiments with reversed film are thrilling. The mother of a Pioneer buys meat from a private seller instead of the cooperative: Vertov gives her a do-over. An intertitle announces ‘Kino Eye moves time backward.’ This time she makes the right choice. So film has the power to correct reality, to direct people towards socialist ethics. But then we keep going. The meat goes back to the slaughterhouse, Vertov gives the bull back his organs and skin and brings him back to life, and then leads him all the way back to the countryside (Source: Friedman 2011, np link).

... the space which Vertov’s intellectual editing explores is the space of political economy. One such sequence is found in Vertov’s 1924 Kino-Eye. This six reel feature chronicles various activities of a ‘Pioneer unit’ (Pioneers: a politicized Soviet version of Boy/Girl Scouts) during the spring-summer of 1924.  At one point a few of them arrive at a Moscow market where kulaks (a derogatory term for the richer family farmers tolerated by Lenin’s New Economic Policy but not by people like Vertov or his Young Pioneers) sell their produce, and where two Pioneers are show posting leaflets agitating against buying it. Among the buyers the Kino-Eye picks out a woman (who happens to be the mother of one of the Pioneers) who has come to buy a piece of meat. Wrong move: working people should buy meat from the workers’ co-op. To correct her mistake, the Kino-Eye is compelled to reverse time: the shopper’s progress is frozen in mid-movement, and she starts walking backwards - away from the marketplace, heading (back first) towards a gate with the sign ‘The First Red Supermarket of the Co-operative of the Handicapped’. It is at this moment that the reverse progress in physical time transforms into a Marxist object lesson (Source: Tsivian 2004, p.11).

Kino-Eye ... demonstrates Vertov’s contention that cinema is uniquely capable of making the ‘invisible connections between things’ apparent. In Part One of the film, Vertov reverses time as a way of distinguishing the value of a piece of meat for sale in the worker’s co-operative from one for sale at a private market. The sequence begins with some Young Pioneers (Soviet version of boy/girl scouts) and one of their mothers separately inquiring about the cost of a piece of meat at a private market. The Pioneers then put up a sign urging people to buy meat from the co-operative. The mother sniffs the meat, walks away and reads the sign. The Kino-Eye then reverses time as a way of showing both the alternative (and socialist) market and demonstrating the production process of the co-operative. The fresh, quivering meat becomes recognizable as a bull. His entrails are returned. His hide is reattached and he comes back to life. From the stockyards he is loaded onto a train (itself always already directionally reversible). He is sent back to the countryside, where cattle farmers raise him and the other members of the herd. The piece of meat from the co-operative is better not just because it is fresher, but because it was produced through socialist practices (Source: Gershon & Malitsky 2010, p.74).

Inspiration / Process / Technique / Methodology

Of cource the kinocs do not recognise the script: the literary script, linked to the montage system I have outlined, would immediately annul all its sense and meaning. The kinocs’ things are not constructed by the pen, but by montage; they re constructed by the organisation of material (Source: Belenson 1925 in Tsivian 2004, p.107).

We, the kinocs, are not keen on calling Kino-Eye a film - we say that Kino-Eye is the first ‘film-thing’. This film-thing does not satisfy any of the demands made of a fiction film. It is made as if the studios, the directors, Griffith, Los Angeles, had never existed. In constructing this film-thing the following people were superfluous: (1) scriptwriters (a film without  script), (2) directors (a film without a director), (3) designers (a film without sets), (4) actors and cinematic model actors (a film without actors and model actors). So who did make this picture? (1) the kinocs observers (they saw it), (2) the kinocs cameramen (they captured it), (3) the kinocs editors (they organized it). We began with five observers. By the end of the first part the number had grown to a hundred. ‘Circles of the Friends of the Kinocs’ were formed, and they also developed their activities on a large scale, under the slogan Kino-Eye (Source: Vertov nd in Tsivian 2004, p.119).

Vertov argued that the filmmaker should organize life facts into new cinematic structures which would reflect his own ideology. This reorganization was to be multi-levelled and had to be perfected during the process of montage, as the final step of the 'Film-Eye' method. The completed film would thus help the audience perceive reality as they otherwise would never be able to. By this method Vertov hoped to achieve an active seeing, not torpid observation. He considered the camera a weapon in the ideological battle. Assisted by the 'Film-Eye,' the proletariat could project the visage of the new man, which would be 'more perfect than Adam,' and anticipate the new international society which would represent 'the world of freed workers, farmers, and [liberated] colonial slaves.' This was Vertov's dialectical synthesis between recording life facts and presenting them on the screen in a new perspective (Source: Petric 1978, p.30).

The strategy of ‘Film-Truth’ makes use of the Constructivist concept of building a film in segments, i.e., from bits and pieces following an architectonic approach to art. It is in this context that Vertov's principle of 'Film-Truth' is related to montage: ‘'Film-Truth' is made up of material as a house is made of bricks. Using bricks, one can make an oven, the Kremlin wall, and many other things. From filmed material, one can construct various films. Just as one needs good bricks to make a solid house, so one needs good film material to organize a good film.’ The last sentence in the above quotation reveals Vertov's general montage theory to be not unlike those defined by Kuleshov and Pudovkin. Yet Vertov was much more radical in his insistence that from the very beginning of filming, the filmmaker must select details from reality, not merely shoot them at random, as Vertov's method is often wrongly described. His principle of 'Film-Truth' therefore must be considered an integral part of his montage theory, along with his concept of 'Life-As-It-Is.' He stressed that one has to obtain 'good film material' in order to make 'a good film,' and that one must decide ahead of time how to shoot details in reality ('life facts') so that they do not become 'quasi-facts' on the screen. Without this selectivity, there can be no appropriate 'organization' of a film, since 'good film material' will be lacking; and the film's message, consequently, will be ineffective (Source: Petric 1978, p.32-3).

The concept of an intrinsic relationship (in a Hegelian sense) among all the elements which appear on the screen seems crucial for Vertov; this suggests that his ultimate goal was a rhythmic and cinematic impact emerging from the integration of all the elements and devices incorporated in a film, among them slow and accelerated motion, reverse projection, animation, telescopic and microscopic shots, even shooting with remote control (as in live television coverage today) (Source: Petric 1978, p.35).

The film uses the device of reverse shooting ... and there are also sequences where the film speeds up ... or slows down ... . Without sufficiently comprehensible explanatory intertitles, these sequences create a strange impression, which has not had sufficient time to be dispersed before the shots of a new episode begin to flicker on the screen. There are also signs of excess in montage. Certain places, thanks to the montage, take on a tempo which is completely alien to our life (and yet isn’t this supposed to be life caught ‘unawares’?) (Source Gusman 1924 in Tsivian 2004, p.104-5).

Vertov developed in 1919, his 'theory of intervals,' and presented it as the way of producing a kinesthetic impact in viewers. Proceeding from the basic idea that the strongest 'montage conflict' in a film always occurs at the moment when one movement is transformed into or juxtaposed with another-that is, between rather than within the shots ... Vertov emphasizes that film intervals must be related to the sequence's content in order to contribute to the 'intensification' of the 'film-thing' which appears on the screen. Kinesthetic impact in cinema may be obtained by various means, including the juxtaposition of graphic forms dominating the static composition of the shot, the interaction of diverse movements occurring in two or more related shots, or a combination of both of these elements. ... Vertov discovered that the kinesthetic value of the impulsive movement of the hand-held camera interrelated on the principle of 'intervals' stimulates, more than anything else, sensory-motor experience in viewers (Source: Petric 1978, p.35-6).

Kinesthesia is a term which connotes the specific sensation that the motion picture can stimulate in the viewer's perceptual centers by means of montage, camera movement, motion within the shot, and the exchange of light and dark impulses on the screen. Affected by these stimuli, together with the strong feeling of spatial identification with the world presented on the screen, the viewer's sensory-motor centers respond as if his [sic] body were actually moving through space. The viewer's muscular response to the movement occurring on the screen can be even more intensified by the wide-screen image,deep focus, 3-D, and stereophonic sound, thus proving that cinematic experience is essentially different from what we experience by watching television (Source: Petric 1978, 43-4).

... this film-thing ... when it is shown to the viewer rivets his attention and arouses in him feelings and thoughts that have never been touched by the screen before (Source: Vertov nd in Tsivian 2004, p.120).

Discussion / Responses

Let us move to the most important thing, to the assessment of the film from an ideological point of view. This is Vertov’s Achilles’ heel. The absence of a script or even a theme makes the film meaningless. The moments of propaganda with the Pioneers drown in the chronicle of events and the tricks, and the whole thing turns into an unimaginable jumble (Source: Erofeev 1924 in Tsivian 2004, p.106).

Vertov still does not always subordinate his technical refinement, his young talent, to the well-considered ideological content of the film and the demands that it be comprehensible for the masses. In this way he himself prejudices his influence on the masses and pokes the stakes of his desire to be original at all costs and the rubbish of trivia into the wheels of popularity and the intelligible presentation of the subject as a whole (Source: Khersonsky 1925 in Tsivian 2004, p.117).

The struggle for the Kino-Eye has already been going for several years, and has its own history. I won’t dwell on the various stages of this arduous struggle. For even now, chained hand and foot, taking an enforced rest after the first issue of Kino-Eye, I am fated to listen to the hypocritical remarks of ... Erofeev. ‘Your theory is at odds with your practice’. I recall that once Comrade Erofeev assured me that he could jump over his editorial chair without difficulty. I tied his legs, took away the chair, and became convinced that his ‘theory was at odds with his practice’. This did not happen, but I can do this experiment with everyone who wants to get into my skin and jump with their legs tied. What is Kino-Pravda? It is strong jumps with your legs tied (Source: Vertov 1924 in Tsivian 2004, p.107).

The reversal serves a dual purpose. First, it explains the connection between things by relying on temporalized metonymies to represent (Marxist) truth in a network of production. And second, it acknowledges the social construction of facticity by exposing its own process of cinematic (factual) production – not in a relativistic way, but to insist that scientific fact is imbricated with political truth. Vertov is in dialogue with contemporaneous scientific assumptions about fashioning facts when endeavouring to depict the realism underlying meat (Source: Gershon & Malitsky 2010, p.74).

Yuri Tsvian's notation on the meat sequence of Kino-Eye is ... the following. Instead of going from cause to effect, the sequence goes from effect to cause. For Tsvian, this is a mark of Marxist analysis. Ultimately, according to Tsvian, Vertov's is a Marxism that 'wishes to disclose the invisible connections between things,' which is to say the connection between all parts. I would reword this slightly and say that the sequence seeks to go from immediacy to mediated totality. An immediate action of everyday life - buying food - is referred back to the necessity of comprehending where that action fits in, the social whole or totality; that is, it is an attempt to configure a Marxist dialectics in cinema. It is understandable that a film made in the Soviet Union in the 1920s would manifest such dialectics by foregrounding relations between the urban working class and rural peasantry, with whom the reverse-action meat sequence ends. However, the project is not limited to this 'content,' if that's the right word (Source: Rosen 2007, p.32).

Why is shopping at the Red Supermarket better than buying the same piece of meat at the market? This has something to do with its quality, or its sanitary control, or prices, our consumer instinct prompts us. Wrong answer. The true nature of meat , as of any commodity (Marxism teaches us), is defined not by qualities inherent in the end-product, but by the character of the labour involved in its production. In a country such as this (Vetov takes over), with two competing economies, meat can be either capitalist or Socialist, even if the two pieces taste exactly alike. Causarum cognitio: to choose the right piece, the conscious shopper must look into its causes - collective or private farming, large-scale or cottage food industry, and so on (Source; Tsivian 2004, p.11).

Impacts / Outcome

Vertov has intermittently emerged as a key reference point for many discussions of developments in cinema and imaging techniques and technologies. Recently, for example, he is an important figure in Lev Manovich's widely-read theory of the digital. Once again the signifier Vertov is invoked as central to discussions about shifts in media, whether that signifier stands for the biographical individual or for his work. Whatever Vertov did and stood for then apparently matters in the very different historical context now (Source: Rosen 2007, 27).

Multi-sited research is designed around chains, paths, threads, conjunctions, or juxtapositions of locations in which the ethnographer establishes some form of literal, physical presence, with an explicit, posited logic of association or connection among sites that in fact defines the argument of the ethnography. Indeed, such multi-sited ethnography is a revival of a sophisticated practice of constructivism, one of the most interesting and fertile practices of representation and investigation by the Russian avant-garde of momentous social change just before and after the revolution. Constructivists viewed the artists as an engineer whose task was to construct useful objects, much like the factory worker, while actively participating in the building of a new society. Film-making, especially the work of Vertov ..., was one of the most creative and de facto ethnographic media through which constructivism … was produced. From a methodological perspective, Vertov’s work is an excellent inspiration for multi-sited ethnography. Multi-sited ethnographies define their objects of study through several different modes or techniques. These techniques might be understood as practices of construction through (preplanned or opportunistic) movement and of tracing within different settings of a complex cultural phenomenon given an initial, baseline conceptual identity that turns out to be contingent and malleable as one traces it” (Marcus 1995, 106).

Sources / Further Reading

Friedman, Z. (2011) Vertiginour Vertov. 20 April ( last accessed 1 August 2011)

Gershon, I. & Malitsky, J. (2010) Actor-network theory and documentary studies.  Studies in documentary film 4(1), p.65-7

Marcus, G. (1995) Ethnography in/of the world system: the emergence of multi-sited ethnography. Annual review of anthropology 24, p.95-117

Petric, V. (1978) Dziga Vertov as theorist. Cinema Journal 18(1), 29-44

Rabinowitz, P. (1993) Wreckage upon wreckage: history documentary and the ruins of memory. History and theory 32(2), p.119-137 ( upon wreckage.pdf last accessed 25 July 2011)

Rosen, P. (2007) Now and then: conceptual problems in historicising documentary imaging. Canadia journal of film studies 16(1), 25-38 ( last accessed 25 July 2011)

Tsivian, Y. (ed) (2004) Lines of resistance: Dziga Vertov and the twenties. Gemona: Le Giornate del Cinema Muto

Compiled by Ian Cook (last updated August 2011).