After the revolution of 1917, Soviet cineastes became engaged in state-supported media praxis. Their signal accomplishments included bold theories and practices of montage within the context of cultural revolution.
Committed to introducing dialectical materialism to new Soviet citizens, these filmmakers engaged in a formalist project establishing the unique powers of cinema as both modernist technology and practice. The cultural producer became one of many laborers using machines towards revolutionary change. Dziga Vertov writes, “through the poetry of machines…a new man.” Vertov’s theory of montage is about prosthetic perception: a machine-aided vision, a Cine-Eye. Committed to documentary, Vertov uses cinema to reveal “a communist decoding of reality.” Sergei Eisenstein’s theory of montage is of conflict and synthesis: a Cine-Fist. While rooted in the material of film, and narrative in form, Eistenstein’s work is fundamentally about a transformation in knowledge, constructing an artful cinema that forces contemplation. He proclaims that “art… is a tractor plowing over the audience’s psyche.”
We might want to hold these first theorist/practitioners to our standards: accessibility and ethics. They both produce avant-garde forms by and through an elitist and highly theorized practice that does not consider how it enables its viewers to produce their own culture. On the other hand, their work is an elegant and significant model for praxis: carefully theorized, beautifully and powerfully realized, and central to the history of the media that will follow.