Author: Ahwesh, Peggy/Sanborn, Keith, Eds.
Pub Date: 01 Mar 2008
Publisher: Ediciones la Calavera
Cultural Writing. Essays. Literary Criticism. Dziga Vertov's 'Man With a Movie Camera' is widely regarded as the definitive modernist statement in film. What fate awaits it – and you, devoted reader -in the current era of political disarray and highspeed wireless traffic? This collection - over four years in the making – devoted to just a single frame of film may reveal the answer. This is the Special Jubilee Edition of VERTOV FROM Z TO A in honor of the 90th Anniversary of the October Revolution.
Contributors include Abu Ali, Bruce Andrews, Yann Beauvais, Ericka Beckman, Walter Benjamin, Diane Bertolo, Francois Bucher, Edwin Carels, Abigal Child, Ludovic Cortade, Brian Frye, Joy Garnett, Marina Grzinic, Michelle Handelman, Peter Hitchcock, Robert Kelly, Marina de Bellagente LaPalma, David Larcher, Barbara Lattanzi, Les LeVeque, David Levi Strauss, Jeanne Liotta, Laura U. Marks, Julie Murray, Kristin Prevallet, Cathy Nan Quinlan, Melissa Ragona, John David Rhodes, Jason Simon, John Smith, Michael Smith, Allan Sondheim, Caspar Stracke, Beatrus van Agt, Mercedes Vincente, William C. Wees, Peter Lamborn Wilson, Ghen Zando-Dennis and Thomas Zummer.
'Vertov's Accident' (Or, 'The Paint Still')
--Joy Garnett (Ca. Autumn 2003, NYC)
I'VE BEEN LIVING WITH Vertov's mystery image. At first, I didn't think much of it, I just set it to my desktop wallpaper so I would see it every day. Later on I blew it up and printed it out. Rumpled copies of it have lain scattered on various surfaces for months, in the studio, at work, on the floor, under stacks of mail and other things. I've grown used to seeing it around.
I thought I should do some homework, that it might be a good thing to know where this image comes from. Never having seen Vertov's film, I ordered it on video, but I found myself avoiding every chance to watch it. I guess I don't want to know - I've become attached to my own feelings about the image. Knowing what it's supposed to be would certainly spoil it for me.
Mystery aside, the "mystery still" has a certain obviousness: it implies speed, movement, a shiny wetness. Perhaps all that adds up to suggest is a lack of control, some slapstick moment when the camera - the head - is left spinning like a top, the very image of vertigo. Or it could be one of those hilariously skiddy cartoon incidents: the whirling of the Tasmanian Devil, or, if you turn the image sideways, Wile E. Coyote plummeting for the -nth time off a towering precipice, trailing vertical lines but minus the little puffs of air.
Once tipped on its side, the image again reveals itself as the impossibly long gleaming hair of the Breck Girl, seen at close range; or maybe it's a wide, nylon paintbrush, the kind you use for walls. Something with a natural wave.
Sometimes the image feels like a straight photograph, especially since we regard it through its black frame, an instant mechanically reproduced without the aid of the hand. It suggests the slippery filming of some wet stretch of road at night, the reflective glare of headlights. It must be a photograph of an accident, possibly taken by accident.
But speaking of natural waves: couldn't this be a detail from one of Vija Celmins' ocean surfaces, so strikingly regular in its irregularity? Or possibly it's a small section from a Gerhard Richter abstraction - those monumental squeegeed surfaces - bringing to mind the idea of effacement as well as of movement, the queasy quality of a partly erased blackboard.
Which brings me to how the image actually functions for me: as a painting. Painting as artifice, supplying the feeling of movement when there is none, extending the promise of light, if only one passes swiftly through the closing darkness. And as with a Richter, though one may be thrilled by sensual presence, one senses the overwhelming absence of something as well, and hence the bite of the enduring conflict between material and immaterial. Something has been scraped away from the surface in a violent swoop - something that will forever remain unknown. While this film still, plucked from Vertov's movie, is clearly not made of paint, it contains all the aggressive ambiguity of paint in just one frame: tragedy turned slapstick; violent accident revealed as art...
...And just as I was thinking that, I could no longer deny the obvious. As when one regards a painting, so much of one's response comes from inside one's own head - all of the above, in fact. It's just stuff that I've brought to the table myself, not contained anywhere within this image after all. So I may never want to see Vertov's movie; it would probably be a downer now that I think of it. Seeing it now would just rub it in; how crazy I must have been to imagine even for an instant that this disembodied frame might reveal in its mute way some kind of fleeting redemption.