Montage, the Camera Eye, and Ideology
Dos Passos’s adaptation of cinematic methods to literary style beginning in the mid-1920s emerged further in his work after he visited Russia in 1928. Tepid public and critical response to New Playwrights dramas motivated Dos Passos to explore how the revolutionary state-supported Russian theater and film productions had engaged the masses, united them politically, and produced groundbreaking artists. In dramatist Meyerhold’s avant-garde theater, Constructivist industrial sets and “biomechanical” acting techniques created successful dramas about and for workers. Dos Passos observed that cinematic innovations emerged from the Soviet-controlled studios despite the state’s use of film as its primary tool of mass ideological education. Though Lenin, then Stalin increasingly controlled film productions and artists, Soviet filmmakers nonetheless evolved theories of montage that became foundational in filmmaking and informed Dos Passos’s modernist novels and his 1936 independent film treatment “Dreamfactory,” with its meta-filmic exposé of the Hollywood film industry. In particular, these works registered the formal and conceptual innovations of two directors: Eisenstein, whose films combined fiction and history to effect political action through art; and Vertov, whose films acknowledged the artist’s vision as controlling the camera “eye” and who embedded in one short film an auto-critique of movie-making.
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