Jolly Cinema > 15:30


Esfir’ Šub

A close associate of Meyerhold, Mayakovsky, the LEF, and Rodchenko, Esfir Shub (1894-1959) considered herself a constructivist. She developed a practice and theory of non-fiction film different from that of Dziga Vertov: in her view, cinema allowed the revelation of past and present history. She started by re-editing foreign films distributed during the New Economic Policy (NEP), such as Fritz Lang’s Dr. Mabuse, on which Sergei Eisenstein worked as an assistant for a few days, then fiction films: Prostitutka (Prostitute), Krylya kholopa (The Wings of a Serf ). In 1927 and 1928 she broke new ground with three compilation films: Padenie dinastii Romanovykh (The Fall of the Romanov Dynasty), Velikii Put (The Great Road), which goes from the February revolution to October, Rossija Nikolaja II i Lev Tolstoj (Russia of Nikolai II and Tolstoy). Segodnja (Today), which confronts the homeland of socialism with the capitalist West, was followed by her first sound film K.Sh.E. – Komsomol – Shef Elektrifikatsii, entirely made up of original material shot by her team, which bears testimony to the industrialisation of the country while (perhaps overly) emphasising the presence of American engineers. The rest of her career reflects the political and aesthetic turn of the 1930s. Her projects, such as Zhenshchini (Women, 1933-1934), were rejected. Ispaniya (Spain, 1939) is mainly valuable for its footage of the Spanish Civil War shot by Roman Karmen. Shub was hailed as the founder of Soviet documentary film, Vertov’s work being thus relegated to the shadows. However, like him, she ended her working life editing war newsreels and political documentaries on topical subjects. Her husband, constructivist Aleksei Gan, was arrested and executed in 1942. Shortly before her death, she published very fragmentary memoirs, Krupnym planom (In Close Up), completed in 1972 by Zhizn moya – kinematograf (Cinema, My Life), both of which remain untranslated.

Irène Bonnaud and Bernard Eisenschitz


Thursday 27/08/2020


Original version with subtitles


Film Notes

In autumn 1932, a year and a half after the release of Vertov’s Enthusiasm, Shub filmed a documentary with direct sound, K.Sh.E. – Komsomol – Shef Elektrifikatsii, to celebrate the major achievement of the first five-year-plan, as well as the possibilities of sound cinema. She edited industrial sounds, music and speech in various languages and accents – Russian, Armenian, American, Ukrainian. The Prologue, which echoes Vertov, exhibits the tools of cinema in “a moment of sound filming in Moscow”: a theremin, a large blimped camera, an orchestra, the image of the soundtrack on the film strip. Film is followed by broadcasting, in which English, German and French speakers praise the fiveyear- plan, which had been completed in only four years.
In an electric lightbulb factory in Leningrad, worker Kira Paramonova talks about her comrades and assembly- line work. In a big hall, turbines (whose name plates indicate that they are American-made) are assembled for the Dneprostroi construction site. We see and hear the machines, and workers at rest and at work. Tribute is paid to the American technicians. Through a desert landscape scattered with ruins, the film moves to the Dzoraget dam in Armenia. Speeches are made in Armenian and Russian. Novelist Marietta Shaginian (filmed in a studio) praises the dam. An American family rests on the bank of Dnieper, listening to music on their portable record- player. Finally, it’s the inauguration of the giant Dnieper Hydroelectric Station (October 1932). In the presence of Mikhail Kalinin and Sergo Ordzhonikidze, officials give speeches, including Colonel Cooper who was responsible for numerous dams in the US. The last sequence in a machine hall shows sparks flowing between the slip rings, a promise of what the future will bring.

Irène Bonnaud and Bernard Eisenschitz     

Cast and Credits

Scen.: Esfir’ Šub. F.: Vladimir Solodovnikov. Mus.: Gavriil Popov. Int.: Marietta Šaginian. Prod.: Moskovskaja Fabrika Rosfil’m, Sojuzkino. 35mm. Bn.