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The delirious vision: the vogue for the hand-held camera in Soviet cinema of the 1920s

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This article seeks to investigate the vogue for hand-held filming in Soviet cinema of the 1920s. It charts the development of the technologies which made this possible, in particular the advent of the lightweight, portable camera in Europe and North America, establishes the widespread adoption of these cameras on the part of Soviet film-makers and assesses the significance of hand-held sequences in Soviet films of the decade, both mainstream and avant-garde. The impact of this technology on the embrace of a new visual aesthetic during the 1920s is also explored. It is argued that, while the popularity of hand-held filming in the Soviet Union is part of an international phenomenon, there is a distinctive Soviet contribution because of the documentary principles of verisimilitude and spontaneous or ‘unrehearsed’ filming which characterize Soviet cinema during this decade, in particular those works produced by the avant-garde. The article identifies the complexity of the relationship between technological advance and aesthetic revolution. It also seeks to polemicize with the widespread assumption that hand-held filming has its origins in the experimental films of the late 1950s and early 1960s in the Soviet Union and elsewhere.

Keywords: 1920s; Soviet cinema; avant-garde; film aesthetics; film technology; hand-held camera

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University College London

Publication date: March 1, 2013

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