Thursday, July 28, 2016

Take A Look At These Hands (Vertov, Varda, Marker)

Dziga Vertov's first Kino-Pravda ends on a curious note. After glimpses of what has become proper newsreel footage like national figures, marches, a refugee crisis, and a political trial of note, Vertov "plays out" the remainder of his film with pedestrian shots of everyday workers. Specifically, he ends with a prolonged sequence of a toy-maker's booth and the customers purchasing his wares. 

The camera frames a street scene, but someone (is it Vertov?) holds up the products of his labor and displays them for the camera. Here we not only end the short film on common people and daily market-place life, but with an ad-hoc representation of the filmmakers: their hands touching their own subject.

At one point the toy-maker turns to view this activity, thinking the hands belong to another customer. When he realizes these are the filmmakers, he returns to his actual work.

This technique, of filming one's own hands to display objects, becomes a trait of the essay film. It is one of the many reflexive techniques that reminds us of the authorship of the work: that this is primarily a tactile medium constructed through one's labor and individual perspective.

It is possible to view Vertov as the progenitor of these practices. Not only the use of hands, for what does that matter removed of politics, but of weaving common people and laborers into a hand-made document of a social and cultural moment. We see this again with Varda in The Gleaners and I, a film that traces national and cultural currents through a vox pop approach among those who occupy the margins of free society.

Woman with a Movie Camcorder:

There is a third example here, just as committed to social revolution but here focused on an individual man. I am referring to Chris Marker's AK.

The distinctions are written in the images. Marker here is not using his hands to frame objects in the physical spaces that he found them. Instead, he is using a similar technique within a staged cerebral space that in the context of the film is contrasted with his "raw" verite footage of the production of Ran. Instead of objects his hands "hold" the media that construct his essay: the audio of Akira Kurosawa speaking, something that could have easily been played as voice over to images of the director, but here is attached to the very technologies that produce, store, and exhibit them. The hands still function as reflective signatures of the construction of the essay film; both personalizing the work and undermining the erasure of construction and perspective that mark the traditional documentary form. I also think it just looks neat.

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