Vertov, Dziga (b. January 2, 1896, Bialystok, Poland; d. February 12, 1954, Moscow, Russia) By Eubanks, Ivan
Derived from the sound of a working film-reel and the word “vertet´sia” (to spin), Dziga Vertov is the pseudonym of David (aka Denis) Kaufman, a Soviet documentarian and prominent avant-garde director. Like his Futurist and Constructivist associates, Vertov believed machines would liberate people from their physical and cognitive limitations. Viewing cinema as a hybrid human-mechanical mode of perception, he asserted that it could transcend subjectivity and unveil aspects of reality not otherwise accessible, because the camera’s ability to show us “life caught unawares” (Kino-Eye, 41) helped the edited film product to “show and elucidate life as it is” (Kino-Eye, 47).
Vertov’s neo-empiricist methodology originated with his early journalistic experience making a newsreel series called Kino-nedelia (Cinema-Week; 1918–1919). In 1919, he formed a group named “Kino Glaz” (Cinema Eye), along with his editor, Elizaveta Svilova (whom he married in 1923) and his brother Mikhail Kaufman. The members called themselves “kinoki” (cine-eyes). Vertov outlined their principles in “We: Variant of a Manifesto” (1922). Decrying theatrical cinema, he insisted that film’s potential to reveal truth could only be realized when filmmakers overcame their addiction to scripts, actors, costumes, and sets. From his perspective, the production methods of theatrical cinema obligated filmmakers to peddle illusions and thereby perpetuated bourgeois values.