Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Pravda (Dziga Vertov Group, 1970)

It's easy now to regard the Dziga Vertov Group’s Pravda as a mere relic, a compendium of somewhat randomly unglamorous images set under a somewhat scattershot and didactic commentary, in which such terminology as “bourgeois imperialism” and “dictatorship of the proletariat” hardly resonates now. The film focuses on denouncing and dissecting the “revisionist” forces which slammed down on Czechoslovakian democracy in 1968, identifying them as concerned with preserving essentially exploitative governing interests rather than with the good of the working class, and often carries a rather stubbornly humorless air. It evidences some of Godard’s recurring preoccupation with images and their placement – for example citing ones that can’t be shown because they’ve been sold for corporate use, and decrying “popular” cinema that’s imposed on the people rather than arising from them – but overall appears less interested in this project than in asserting the dignity of labour and in musing on its powerlessness. As such, watching it now at a time of brutally ascendant capitalism and inequality, it takes on new energy. “Flunky” intellectuals play a large part in this analysis, for their role in buffeting the stifling bourgeois wisdom – in contrast, the film focuses on a worker who can’t even identify the purpose or utility of the industrial component he spends his days manufacturing, an obvious pawn for malevolently manipulative interests. The movie’s prescriptions are certainly limited to their (racially heterogeneous, among other things) time and place – illustrations based on wooden versus iron ploughs are hard to relate to our current technological circumstances (in advocating for continual scientific experimentation, the movie could hardly have foreseen the complex legacy of the advancements we’ve reaped) - but the broad concern with the systematic suppression of working class interest and power only becomes more urgent. As such, the movie’s raggedness – for example the occasional stumbling on the commentary – feels now like a guarantee of authenticity, allowing it a renewed plaintive urgency.

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