I never got to see Alloy Orchestra very often in Atlanta, but apparently both Lincoln and Omaha are on their regular tour schedule. They played different movies (with very different scores) in each city, so I made us watch both. Roger Miller seems very approachable at the merch table, but I have all his records and am therefore afraid of him.

Son of the Sheik (1926, George Fitzmaurice)

Sequel to Valentino’s The Sheik from five years earlier, so the flashbacks to his father as a young man are scenes from that film. Son walks in his doppelganger-father’s footsteps by kidnapping and raping the woman he loves, the same way Sheik met his wife. Son’s girl (Vilma Bánky, also in Valentino’s The Eagle) dances for a nomadic group of entertainers/bandits who are trying to extort and/or murder the Son. Much unconvincing swordplay ensues!

Man with the Movie Camera (1929, Dziga Vertov)

Timely screening, less than two months after Sight & Sound declared this the best documentary of all time. It certainly has one of my favorite silent-movie scores, all driving percussion to fit the unrelenting pace of the film, and we sat right in front of the band for an awesome sensory experience (also because we arrived too late to get seats further away).

Always surprised that this “day in the life of a city” movie opens with the city waking up but ends abruptly without showing it go back to sleep. Probably a “sun never sets on Russia” sort of thing. I realized while looking up Vertov that he invented cinema-verite (his newsreel series Kino-Pravda translates as film-truth), took his moving camera into the streets to film everyday people, and made a film that contains its own behind-the-scenes elements – all forty years before Chronicle of a Summer did these same things.

Sept. 2015: Saw this AGAIN with the Alloy Orchestra, this time at The Ross, at a more reasonable distance from the live band, and with the beautiful new restored print. One of the greatest things ever.

A “symphony of the Donbass” (region of eastern Ukraine known for coal mining) which aims to celebrate sound recording in film, but still has almost no noticeably-synched sound. I assumed this would be a part-talkie follow-up to Man with the Movie Camera, and it has moments of MwtMC-style montage, but mostly it’s dreary and impersonal (compared to Earth, which I just watched, anyway) propaganda for “shock workers,” which are workers who aim to overachieve their quotas in exchange for glory and prizes.

Before it gets bogged with with shock workers, the first half of the film, cutting between a woman listening to headphones and the reorganization of Russia (churches are torn down, replaced by angular Stalin statues) during the “five-year plan”, is exciting.


Amidst a cacophony of toot-tooting, static, chug-chugging and ding-a-linging, we are told this: “The country needs coal.” Vertov, in a highly fragmented fashion, aims at an integrative view of the interdependency of elements of Soviet productivity. Coal-mining provides energy; factories, combining machine- and human labor, provide steel and manufactured farm equipment; the latter, fueled by coal and operated by farmers, thresh a harvest of wheat. The railroad is shown as connective tissue, transporting mined coal to the factories and, from the factories, whatever is needed in rural areas. Railroad tracks are the new order’s bloodstream. Captions and narration assist in portraying workers at whatever point in this joint process as aggressive warriors and heroic figures.

A tidbit from J. Jacques: “Vertov himself placed massive emphasis upon Enthusiasm’s sound. Western screenings were notorious for Vertov’s insistence on raising the soundtrack to intolerable levels, having blocked the exits to prevent escape.”

from Senses:

After returning from glory abroad with his Man with a Movie Camera, Vertov undertook a suicidal double challenge – to make a political film that would both show (with image and montage) and song (with sound taken from nature and machine) the heroic, dramatic struggles of the state to industrialize at any cost – while pioneering the use of untested sound recording in the field. The finished film, Enthusiasm, was received with derision and incomprehension.

CJ Chamberlin, author of the above, has an outstandingly long, detailed and thoughtful article which would take as long to read as the movie did to watch, so I skimmed and grabbed a few parts.

Vertov was both a genius and a willing creature and subject of a totalitarian ideology. Whatever he was, Vertov never was that ambivalent about the price to be paid in blood and skulls for world socialism. And the Ukraine bore more than its fair share of the price: factory slave labour, brutal collectivisation and the terror famine. By any rational standard, his Donbass Symphony (the alternate title of Enthusiasm) should be an infamous film. If I were Ukrainian, I would burn the negative and sprinkle the ashes with holy water.