Kino in America
Soviet montage and the American cinematic avant-garde
in Watching the red dawn
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Alongside the radical Constructivism of the New Playwrights Theatre, the American avant-garde’s most sympathetic engagement with Soviet revolutionary culture was in cinema. Unlike Soviet theatrical productions, Russian films were fairly widely viewed by Americans, especially in the years before sound technologies partitioned national cinemas, and received extensive commentaries in American publications, from specialist magazines to newspapers. This chapter considers the cinematic productions and discourses of radical Left in terms of a sustained response to Soviet cinema, in particular relation to the enthusiastic reception of montage. One key instance was the 1929 screening of Dziga Vertov’s The Man with a Movie Camera at the Film Guild Cinema in New York, a building designed by Frederick Kiesler. In Experimental Cinema, a short-lived magazine that ran from 1930 to 1934, montage developed from a machine aesthetic myth into the standard in a cinematic battle against Hollywood. Alongside some sporadic experiments, the Experimental Cinema group developed a textual form of montage scenario. The magazine was affiliated with the Workers Film and Photo League, a group that considered film as a ‘weapon in the class struggle’, and used a rudimentary form of montage to attack American capitalism and the Hoover and Roosevelt administrations.

Watching the red dawn

The American avant-garde and the Soviet Union

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