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THREE SONGS ABOUT LENIN (TRI PESNI O LENINE) (director/writer: Dziga Vertov; cinematographers: Mark Magidson/Bentsion Monastyrsky/Dmitri Surensky; editor: Dziga Vertov; music: Yuri Shaporin; cast: V.I. Lenin, Joseph Stalin; Runtime: 59; MPAA Rating: NR; Bo Ying; 1934-Russia-in Russian with English subtitles)
Vertov’s monumental documentary.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Dziga Vertov (“Man With the Movie Camera”), founder of the Kino-Eye school of the experimental Soviet cinema, is the legendary innovative Russian filmmaker known for advocating the plotless film that allows the images to tell the story, whose use of the camera is meant to capture “the chaos of visual phenomena filling the universe.” By also using sharp editing techniques and showing powerful images, Vertov’s monumental documentary, the “Three Songs About Lenin,” shot in 1924, the year of the death of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin (1870-1924), becomes his moving masterpiece. It plays as a reverential tribute to Lenin as the godlike savior of Russia and the country’s eternal father figure, who led the October Revolution and created the international Communist party and brought hope to a desperate country where the masses were abused by the noble ruling class.

Using three anonymous Russian folk songs about Lenin as a great Soviet leader, provides Vertov a chance to express the deep feelings he had for him. The first song, “My Face Was In A Dark Prison,” tells about the now idyllic life of a young Muslim woman, as it shows how vast was the influence of Lenin that it even reached out to Muslim areas of the country. “We Loved Him” is a glowing homage to Lenin’s beliefs and accomplishment and the love he inspired in the people. It also shows scenes from Lenin’s funeral, with the likes of Gorky and Stalin in attendance. The third song, “In A Big City Of Stone,” waxes poetic on how the country is advancing in agriculture and industry, and how proud the Great Man would be if alive to see what he started for his children.

Whether you share the same love for Lenin or find the Marxist tenets palatable or not, doesn’t matter. This is not a mere propaganda film, but an astoundingly beautiful one that seamlessly blends together newsreels and actual historical cinema documents. It’s a majestic pic in scope and spirit, and deserves to be seen as a visual record of history and as an exhilarating aesthetic work that shows the promise of what an idealistic Russia could have been if it had pursued its best humanistic instincts instead of getting sidetracked with becoming a world power.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”