Eisenstein / Kinoks V2
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Sergei Eisenstein was a Soviet film director and film theorist, a pioneer in the theory and practice of montage. He is noted in particular for his silent films Strike, Battleship Potemkin and October, as well as the historical epics Alexander Nevsky and Ivan the Terrible. In 1915, Eisenstein enrolled in the Petrograd Institute of Civil Engineering to study architecture and engineering, following in his father’s footsteps. The 1917 Russian revolution disrupted that trajectory, presenting Eisenstein with both unimaginable freedom and unfathomable challenges.
While his father supported the old Tsarist regime, Sergei joined the Russian Army and spent three years working first on military engineering projects and later on propaganda for the young Soviet state. In 1920 he moved to Moscow and joined the first workers’ theatre, Proletkult, initially as a set designer and later becoming an artistic director. In 1921 he enrolled in directing courses led by Vsevolod Meyerhold, who would become his mentor and surrogate father figure. Thus Eisenstein’s directorial career was launched. He would later reflect in his memoirs that “the revolution gave me the most precious thing in life – it made an artist out of me. If it had not been for the revolution I would never have broken the tradition, handed down from father to son, of becoming an engineer… The revolution introduced me to art, and art, in its own turn, brought me to the revolution…”.
Yet, as this statement demonstrates, it was not only the political agenda of the October revolution that was at stake for Eisenstein; in grappling with one of the main historical events of the 20th century he was also grappling with a revolutionary transformation of the arts themselves, the freedom to experiment and renew, the idea that art could contribute powerfully to the social transformation of the world and consciousness.
Soviet Cinema came to being from its painful post war experience. With a strict control by the Government on film making and import of films, Eisenstein and Lev Kuleshov formed a group with other major directors like Dziga Vertov called “Association of Revolutionary Cinema” (ARC) which eventually broke up, but with the aftermath of the revolution, it brought forward a style called Montage that made the world pay attention to their cinema.
The war and the restriction brought a change in the Soviet Cinematic style. The primary principle of the montage style at this time was invented by Kuleshov in 1918 called the “Kuleshov Effect”, best shown in his short film in which a shot of the expressionless face of Tsarist matinee idol Ivan Mosjoukine was alternated with various other shots (a plate of soup, a girl in a coffin, a woman on a divan). The film was shown to an audience who believed that the expression on Mosjoukine's face was different each time he appeared, depending on whether he was "looking at" the plate of soup, the girl in the coffin, or the woman on the divan, showing an expression of hunger, grief, or desire, respectively. The footage of Mosjoukine was actually the same shot each time.
Eisenstein, taking this montage effect further, felt the collision of one shot or montage cell with another as creating conflict that produced a new idea. This new idea would become its own thesis and collide with another anti-thesis creating yet another synthesis idea. Again and again these dialectics build up in a film like a series of controlled explosions in an internal combustion engine, driving the film forward.
On the subject of editing Eisenstein lists five methods of montage or how these collisions between shots can be created, each one building up in complexity.
- The first and most basic is the Metric - cutting based purely on the length of shot. This elicits the most basic emotional response, that of tempo which can be raised or lowered for effect.
- Next is Rhythmic montage - which is much like metric montage in that it’s based on time and tempo, but rhythmic concerns itself with what’s in the frame - cutting in tempo and with action. In this shot from Potemkin, the rhythm of the marching soldiers legs drives the movement in the sequence beyond the basic cut..
- Next in complexity is the Tonal montage which isn’t concerned with time but with the tone of the shot - from lighting, shadows and shapes in the frame. Cutting between shots of different aesthetic tones creates these Marxist dialectics
- Above that is Overtonal - which is on a larger scale macro cell that combines metric, rhythmic and tonal montage - essentially how whole sequences play against each other.
- Then lastly was the type of montage that most interested Eisenstein - the Intellectual or ideological montage. Whereas the previous methods focused on inducing emotional response, the intellectual montage sought to express abstract ideas by creating relationships between opposing visual intellectual concepts.
A simple example in Battleship Potemkin, one of his most famous films, is the intercutting of the priest tapping on a cross with an officer tapping on the hilt of a sword - to express a message of corrupt association of the church and the state. Another example is the final sequence in the Odessa steps. Three quick shots of a rising stone lion - representing the rise of the proletariat.
Eisenstein was the most outspoken and ardent advocate of montage as a revolutionary form. His work has been divided into two periods. The first is characterized by "mass dramas" in which his focus is on formalizing Marxist political struggle of the proletariat. His films, Strike and The Battleship Potemkin, among the most noted of the period, centered on the capacity for the masses to revolt.
The second period is characterized by a shift to individualized narratives that sprang from a synchronic understanding of montage inspired by his foray into dialectical materialism as a guiding principle. The shift between the two periods is indicative of the evolution of Marxist thinking writ large, culminating in an understanding of the material underpinning of all social and political phenomena. Though largely uncredited by contemporary filmmakers, Eisenstein's theories are constantly demonstrated in films across genres, nations, languages and politics.
“Montage is a beautiful word.” writes Eisenstein, “One does not create a work, one constructs it with finished parts, like a machine…“ - Sergei Eisenstein
A Dialectic Approach to Film Form
In his essay A Dialectic Approach to Film Form, Eisenstein puts forward a “dynamic philosophy of things: Being - as a constant evolution from the interaction of two contradictory opposites. Synthesis - arising from the opposition between these and antithesis”. Just as Goethe says: “In nature we never see anything isolated, but everything in connection with something else which is before it, beside it, under it, and over it.”
Eisenstein adopts the theory of dialectics into art. Where the dynamic force that animates art is given as a series of conflict: conflict of social mission, nature and methodology.
“A dynamic comprehension of things is also basic to the same degree, for a correct
understanding of art and of all art-forms, In the realm of art this dialectic principle of
dynamics is embodied in CONFLICT as the fundamental principle for the existence of every art-work and every art-form.
For art is always conflict:
- According to its social mission,
- According to its nature,
- According to its methodology.
According to its social mission because: It is art's task to make manifest the
contradictions of Being. To form equitable views by stirring up contradictions within the spectator's mind, and to forge accurate intellectual concepts from the dynamic clash of opposing passions.
According to its nature because: Its nature is a conflict between natural existence and creative tendency. Between organic inertia and purposeful initiative. Hypertrophy of the purposive initiative – the principles of rational logic – ossifies, art into mathematical technicalism. Because the limit of organic form (the passive principle of being) is Nature. The limit of rational form (the active principle of production) is Industry. At the intersection of Nature and Industry stands Art.
Eisenstein & Benjamin
Both Eisenstein and Benjamin see revolutionary potential for the new art of cinema and its ability to break with tradition. For Benjamin, cinema has the potential to do nothing less than break down the power structures of society. For Eisenstein, cinema breaks down classical modes of representation, thus creating meaning beyond that made possible by language or even the moving image of the conventional film. Both see film as the place where nature and science meet, and therefore as the art form best suited for the masses of the post-industrial era.
Informed by Eisenstein and his attempt to integrate physiological, emotional, and intellectual forms of response, Benjamin renders montage as the only vessel to activate the viewer and to position him as a critical reader rather than a detached consumer of images. Although Benjamin never discusses particular Russian avant-garde films in further detail, his understanding of cinematic communication as a process of shock, disruption, and spectatorial stimulation clearly draws from Eisenstein's early notions of montage cinema. Like Eisenstein, Benjamin conceives of montage as a technique that defines the specificity of cinematic representation against the other art forms, a method of expression and address that at once interrupts a continuous flow of associations and incites the viewer to intellectual responses.
The Kinoks ("kino-oki," meaning cinema-eyes) were a collective of three Soviet filmmakers in 1920s Russia. The group consisted of Dziga Vertov, Elizaveta Svilova and Mikhail Kaufman. Kino-Eye was a technique as well as a movement, initially developed in Soviet Russia by Dziga Vertov, an adopted name which translates loosely from Ukrainian as 'spinning top.’ The kinoks wanted to "replace verbal debate, as a literary phenomenon, with film debate, that is, with the making of film-objects." They wanted to explode the barrier between the artistic film and the newsreel.
Kino-Eye was Vertov's means of capturing what he believed to be "inaccessible to the human eye.” Kinok films would not attempt to imitate how the human eye saw things. Rather, by assembling film fragments and editing them together in a form of montage, Kino-Eye hoped to activate a new type of perception. The Kinoks argued strongly for documentary cinema and the use of candid cameras and filming workers instead of using actors. Distinct from narrative entertainment cinema forms or otherwise "acted" films, Kino-Eye sought to capture "life unawares" and edit it together in such a way that it would form a new, previously unseen truth.
Their collaboration developed in 1917, when after the Bolshevik Revolution, at the age of 22, Vertov began editing for Kino-Nedelya (Кино-Неделя, the Moscow Cinema Committee's weekly film series, and the first newsreel series in Russia), which first came out in June 1918. While working for Kino-Nedelya he met his future wife, the film director and editor, Elizaveta Svilova. She began collaborating with Vertov, beginning as his editor but becoming assistant and co-director in subsequent films, such as Man with a Movie Camera (1929), and Three Songs About Lenin (1934).
Vertov worked on the Kino-Nedelya series for three years, helping establish and run a film-car on Mikhail Kalinin's agit-train during the ongoing Russian Civil War between Communists and counterrevolutionaries. Some of the cars on the agit-trains were equipped with actors for live performances or printing presses; Vertov's had equipment to shoot, develop, edit, and project film. The trains went to battlefronts on agitation-propaganda missions intended primarily to bolster the morale of the troops; they were also intended to stir up revolutionary fervor of the masses.
With Lenin's admission of limited private enterprise through the New Economic Policy of 1921, Russia began receiving fiction films from afar, an occurrence that Vertov regarded with undeniable suspicion, calling drama a "corrupting influence" on the proletarian sensibility. The kinoks held that actors could only ever produce "pseudorealism" through a scripted film. In a 1929 note on the "History of the Kinoks," Vertov wrote:
"I don't know who's opposed to whom. It's difficult to stand up against the cinema that is acted. It represents 98 percent of our world production. We simply feel that the cinema's chief function is the recording of documents, of facts, the recording of life, of historical processes. Acted cinema is a replacement for theater, it is theater restored. A compromise tendency still exists, directed toward the fusion or blending of the two. We take a stand against all that."
If Eisenstein saw film as a tool for spreading revolution, for Vertov it was a tool for deepening it, for revolutionizing our subjectivities and re-conceiving our everyday lives. Vertov thought the cinema should reveal how revolution reshaped the world, and in reflecting that revolutionary world, intensify it.
Kino-Eye was an attempt to model objectivity amid the contradictions of Soviet modernity and was Vertov's solution to what he saw as the diluted nature of "propagandistic-artistic" Soviet film. He thought of film as "dynamic geometry," and therefore Kino-Eye would exploit dynamism in geometric space in a way that the eye could not. By manipulating the camera to exploit movement along with new editing techniques that focused on film speed and transitions, Kino-Eye would construct a new, objective depiction of reality. In 1923, Vertov wrote:
"I am kino-eye, I am a mechanical eye. I, a machine, show you the world as only I can see it. Now and forever, I free myself from human immobility, I am in constant motion, I draw near, then away from objects, I crawl under, I climb onto them... Now I, a camera, fling myself along their resultant, maneuvering in the chaos of movement, recording movement, starting with movements composed of the most complex combinations... My path leads to the creation of a fresh perception of the world. I decipher in a new way a world unknown to you."
There has been much debate over whether Kino-Eye was intended as an epistemological form, an emancipatory form, or even a scientific form. In the Kinok’s time the delineation between "fiction" and "nonfiction" in film had not yet been clearly marked in the cinema as a new form of meaning-making. Crucially for Vertov, Kino-Eye allowed the meaning to be in the hands of the viewer, not the script. Vertov also hoped that Kino-Eye would make cinema more intelligible to the common people, so that it could truly become a mass media form.
In 1922, the year that Nanook of the North was released, Vertov started the Kino-Pravda series. The series took its title from the official government newspaper Pravda. "Kino-Pravda" (literally translated, "film truth") continued Vertov's agit-prop bent. "The Kino-Pravda group began its work in a basement in the centre of Moscow," Vertov explained. He called it damp and dark. There was an earthen floor and holes one stumbled into at every turn. Dziga said, "This dampness prevented our reels of lovingly edited film from sticking together properly, rusted our scissors and our splicers." "Before dawn, damp, cold, teeth chattering, I wrap comrade Svilova in a third jacket."
Vertov's driving vision, expounded in his frequent essays, was to capture "film truth"—that is, fragments of actuality which, when organized together, have a deeper truth that cannot be seen with the naked eye. In the Kino-Pravda series, Vertov focused on everyday experiences, eschewing bourgeois concerns and filming marketplaces, bars, and schools instead, sometimes with a hidden camera, without asking permission first. Usually, the episodes of Kino-Pravda did not include reenactments or stagings. The cinematography is simple, functional, unelaborate—perhaps a result of Vertov's disinterest in both "beauty" and the "grandeur of fiction." Twenty-three issues of the series were produced over a period of three years; each issue lasted about twenty minutes and usually covered three topics. The stories were typically descriptive, not narrative, and included vignettes and exposés, showing for instance the renovation of a trolley system, the organization of farmers into communes, and the trial of Social Revolutionaries; one story shows starvation in the nascent Communist state.
Vertov clearly intended an active relationship with his audience in the series—in the final segment he includes contact information—but by the 14th episode the series had become so experimental that some critics dismissed Vertov's efforts as "insane." Vertov responded to their criticisms with the assertion that the critics were hacks nipping "revolutionary effort" in the bud, and concludes the essay with his promise to "explode art's Tower of Babel.” In Vertov's view, "art's Tower of Babel" was the subservience of cinematic technique to narrative, commonly known as the Institutional Mode of Representation.
His slow motion, fast motion, and other camera techniques were a way to dissect the image, Mikhail Kaufman stated in an interview. It was to be the honest truth of perception. For example, in Man with a Movie Camera, two trains are shown almost melting into each other. Although we are taught to see trains as not riding that close, Vertov tried to portray the actual sight of two passing trains. Mikhail spoke about Eisenstein's films as being different from his and his brother's in that Eisenstein "came from the theatre, in the theatre one directs dramas, one strings beads."
Vertov's two credos, often used interchangeably, are in fact distinct. for Vertov, "life as it is" means to record life as it would be without the camera present. "Life caught unawares" means to record life when surprised, and perhaps provoked, by the presence of a camera. This explanation contradicts the common assumption that for Vertov "life caught unawares" meant "life caught unaware of the camera."
"We all felt that through documentary film we could develop a new kind of art. Not only documentary art, or the art of chronicle, but rather an art based on images, the creation of an image-oriented journalism", Mikhail explained. More than even film truth, Man with a Movie Camera was supposed to be a way to make those in the Soviet Union more efficient in their actions. He slowed down his movements, such as the decision whether to jump or not. You can see the decision in his face, a psychological dissection for the audience. He wanted peace between the actions of man and the actions of a machine, for them to be, in a sense, one. To Vertov, the film was his fullest physical manifestation of the theory of Kino-Eye. Responding to critics and those trying to intellectualize the film, he wrote, "In fact, the film is only the sum of the facts recorded on film." This simplicity and goal of objectivity is the foundation of the Kinoks.
Vertov's legacy still lives on today. His ideas are echoed in cinéma vérité, the movement of the 1960s named after Vertov's Kino-Pravda. The 1960s and 1970s saw an international revival of interest in Vertov. The independent, exploratory style of Vertov influenced and inspired many filmmakers and directors like the Situationist Guy Debord and independent companies such as Vertov Industries in Hawaii. The Dziga Vertov Group borrowed his name. In 1960, Jean Rouch used Vertov's filming theory when making Chronicle of a Summer. His partner Edgar Morin coined the term cinéma vérité when describing the style, using direct translation of Vertov's KinoPravda.
Kinko's is an American retail chain that provides an outlet for FedEx Express and FedEx Ground shipping, as well as printing, copying, and binding services. While FedEx dropped the Kinko's name in 2008, to the dismay of the founder, the name remains in use.
Paul Orfalea, whose nickname was "Kinko" because of his curly hair, founded the company as Kinko's in 1970. Its first copy shop, which Orfalea opened with a sidewalk copy machine, was in the college community of Isla Vista, California next to the campus of the University of California, Santa Barbara. He left the company in 2000, following a dispute with the investment firm Clayton, Dubilier & Rice ("CDR"), to which he had sold a large stake in the company three years earlier.
Kinko's played a significant role in the development of American counterculture in the 1980s and 1990s. In her study of the role of xerography in urban cultures in this period, the anthropologist Kate Eichhorn recounts:
At its height of popularity between the late 1980s and mid-1990s, Kinko's outlets in urban centers across North America were catch basins for writers, artists, anarchists, punks, insomniacs, graduate students, DIY bookmakers, zinesters, obsessive compulsive hobbyists, scam artists, people living on the street, and people just living on the edge. Whether you were promoting a new band or publishing a pamphlet on DIY gynecology or making a fake ID for an underage friend, Kinko's was the place to be.