Author: Ahwesh, Peggy/Sanborn, Keith, Eds.
Pub Date: 01 Mar 2008
Publisher: Ediciones la Calavera
Cultural Writing. Essays. Literary Criticism. Dziga Vertov‘s ‘Man With a Movie Camera‘ is widely regarded as the definitive modernist statement in film. What fate awaits it – and you, devoted reader -in the current era of political disarray and highspeed wireless traffic? This collection – over four years in the making – devoted to just a single frame of film may reveal the answer. This is the Special Jubilee Edition of VERTOV FROM Z TO A in honor of the 90th Anniversary of the October Revolution.
Contributors include Abu Ali, Bruce Andrews, Yann Beauvais, Ericka Beckman, Walter Benjamin, Diane Bertolo, Francois Bucher, Edwin Carels, Abigal Child, Ludovic Cortade, Brian Frye, Joy Garnett, Marina Grzinic, Michelle Handelman, Peter Hitchcock, Robert Kelly, Marina de Bellagente LaPalma, David Larcher, Barbara Lattanzi, Les LeVeque, David Levi Strauss, Jeanne Liotta, Laura U. Marks, Julie Murray, Kristin Prevallet, Cathy Nan Quinlan, Melissa Ragona, John David Rhodes, Jason Simon, John Smith, Michael Smith, Allan Sondheim, Caspar Stracke, Beatrus van Agt, Mercedes Vincente, William C. Wees, Peter Lamborn Wilson, Ghen Zando-Dennis and Thomas Zummer.
‘Vertov’s Accident’ (Or, ‘The Paint Still’)
–Joy Garnett (Autumn 2003, NYC)
Feb. 2019 edit:
Vertov from Z to A….
‘Would you care to write something for us about the attached image?’ asked Keith and Peggy in an email. ‘We’re looking for short pieces for our forthcoming book, VERTOV FROM Z TO A.’
The image was a film still from Dziga Vertov’s 1929 experimental film, ‘Man With a Movie Camera’. I had read about the pioneering Soviet filmmaker long ago and for some reason I remembered that his adopted name, Dziga Vertov, meant ‘spinning top’. ‘Man With a Movie Camera’ is essential viewing for any student of cinema, but I had never seen it.
‘So much the better!` wrote Keith and Peggy.
I downloaded the still, a murky rectangle with a white blur running down its center. I wondered what I should write.
I set the image as my desktop wallpaper. Maybe if I looked at it every day, an idea would come to me. But the image soon disappeared, obscured by desktop clutter.
Weeks went by, and still no ideas. I printed out the jpeg and enlarged it a few times on the photocopier at work. Blown up to fill a sheet of paper, the image dissolved until it became nearly invisible.
I decided to watch ‘Man With a Movie Camera’. I searched online, found a VHS tape and ordered it. Then I took a closer look at the mystery still.
I saw a number of possibilities: light glinting off a vinyl record spinning on a turntable; a shot of wet road reflecting the glare of headlights; a cartoon incident, the Tasmanian Devil whirling in place or the vertical speed lines that trail behind Wile E. Coyote after he plunges off a precipice. The gleaming lines are the long wet tresses of the Breck Girl seen at close range; they are a wide nylon paintbrush loaded with paint.
Mainly, the image suggests sustained movement, the slapstick moment when the camera spins on its base like a spinning top.
In some ways the image is like a painting, a Vija Celmins depiction of the ocean’s surface, regular in its irregularity, or one of Gerhard Richter’s squeegeed surfaces, all the aggressive ambiguity of abstraction squeezed into a single frame.
It was tragedy turned slapstick, the eternal return, a violent erasure, the accident as art. Or maybe it was just a close-up of a wet blackboard.
When the VHS tape finally arrived, I couldn’t bring myself to watch it. Not knowing anything about Vertov’s mysterious film still made me happy. I guess Keith and Peggy were right.