In one of his essays [1], Jacques Rancière asks: what type of fiction is the genre of documentary film? His answer is that a documentary is not the opposite of a feature film only because it presents images of everyday life or evidence from archives instead of falling back on actors interpreting a fabricated story. It is rather a different mode of cinematographic fiction, a different way of constructing a plot, breaking down a story into sequences or assembling shots to form a story, of prolonging or condensing time. According to Rancière, a documentary film is both more homogenous and more complex. More homogenous because the person who conceives the film is also the one who realizes it, documentary cinema is thus the epitome of the author film; and more complex because sequences of heterogeneous image material are usually connected.

Our piece combines sequences from Dziga Vertov’s films “ENTHUSIASM (The Donbass Symphony)” (1930) and “THREE SONGS ABOUT LENIN” (1934) with images from Aleksandr Medvedkin’s FILM-TRAIN (1932 / 33) and his feature film “HAPPINESS” (1934), setting them in relation to one another by means of montage. [2]

The films of Medvedkin and Vertov document the attempt to directly and also critically intervene in the production process via the medium of film, on the one hand through interviews with workers, film screenings and on site discussions [3], on the other by means of production propaganda. Apparently, both filmmakers were motivated by the desire to pursue “happiness” through rapid industrialization and the collectivization of agriculture, pointing out grievances on the huge construction sites, factories, and kokhoz farms of socialism, working toward their solution, [4] and predicting an idealized future. [5]

Two cycles of our collage are dedicated to this utopian illusion; in them, sequences from Vertov and Medvedkin’s film are juxtaposed through cross-fades. [6]

However, the Russian filmmakers’ efforts to stimulate the economy in the framework of the first five-year plan remained purely illusionary, especially insofar as happiness is concerned, since they did without any psychological or biological clarification of the mechanisms of desire or happiness in the human organism, either bracketing these out entirely, or relating them to the simplistic model of the conditional reflex. The relationship between economy and hedonistic emotions receives a far more differentiated treatment in Thomas Raab’s “Nachbrenner.” [7]

In the early 1930s, that is, almost in parallel to the aforementioned films, the founder of neuropsychology, Aleksandr Lurija, and the cultural psychologist Lev Vygotskij planned two expeditions to Central Asia to examine the effects of industrialization on the intellectual development of adults. [8] The aim was to verify their hypothesis of a psychological development parallel to industrial progress. The results of their experimental psychological investigations, which Lurija only published much later on, merely hinted at this connection, but at least they determined the precedence of geometrical and logical concepts prior to their perception. This was certainly one of the many insights that later contributed to Lurija’s model of a functional instead of a localized organization of mental activities in neurology [9], which pointed beyond Ivan Pavlov’s “conditional reflex.” This creates a need for functional descriptions of psychological “contents,” since the reaction of desire and thus also happiness cannot be explained as function of external stimuli, as one might assume according to Weberian laws.

A third cycle of our collage is dedicated to the utopian illusion of reflexology, which maintains that an adequate description of a person’s behavior could be achieved by attributing his or her reaction to socially determined stimuli alone, without knowing anything about the subject’s inner coherencies, and considering these redundant or even disruptive in what could be called a stochastic recording of the input/output relation. This illusion includes three subgroups: the first of these is the conditional reflex, the second conditioning, and the third is the illusion of an objective recording of emotions through facial expressions and gestures. Together, they form the basis of behaviourism or, in a political sense, the Leninism of the time, thus presenting an all-too-simple interpretation of the connection between happiness and economy, whose contradiction we have tried to express in the other two cycles.

The collage is framed by film stills from the popular scientific film “THE MECHANICS OF THE BRAIN” (1925) by Vsevolod Pudovkin, which documented Pavlovian experiments on the conditional reflex with the intention of conveying their insights into reflexology and developmental psychology in a generalized form.

All three cycles of our collage juxtapose different sequences from films by Vertov and Medvedkin by projecting them onto the two side of a translucent screen, so that they interpenetrate one another and melt into one. The people and objects in these two sequences seem to be reacting to another, yet, as in Morel’s invention [12], they belong to two independent montage sequences. Any appearance of stimulus-response patterns among these figures or seeming causal connections between objects in motion proves to be a projection of the spectator’s intentions.

The psychological and epistemological insights of the last century have shown that things are far more complicated than our cinematographic utopias imagined. It turns out that sensual emotions and desire are connected to the organism’s orientation toward its environment. This emotion ranges from the sensual exertion of reflexes and of acquired schemata or structures onto the world that has constituted them to the pleasure derived from a successful new folding of a structure, i.e. a pleasure derived from capacities in the appearance of new structures in the individual’s development. Oswald Wiener’s descriptions of artificial life and his application of automaton theory onto the psychology of thought, for example, have greatly improved our understanding of the difficulties that arise as new structures emerge in organisms. [13]

The folding of sign-chains can be equated to the emergence of new structures in the organism. However, totally new structures are rare; usually, they are little more than modularizations of extent structures, i.e. differentiation through the discovery of partial regularities in objects, or simply through the recognition of similarities. (In the biological organism, all these activities are connected to pleasure.) However, structural similarities and equivalencies are also used to construct new structure, i.e. new folding machines.

Automaton theory has proven that there can be no effective procedure for looking at two given machines or sign-chains and predicting whether or not one machine’s operation is functionally equivalent to that of another, that is, whether it will produce the same output, regardless of which sign-chain it is processing. This means that sorting through a machine-table is not enough to predict the later calculation’s results, other than through the actual interpretation of content, which the machine will later undertake. However, under favorable conditions, people can recognize such equivalencies. For example, if you see that one machine is making multiplications, you can look at the second multiplication machine and say: yes, they are functionally equivalent.

By the same token, there is no effective device that would allow one to look at any given Turing-machine, and to make a prediction as to which arbitrarily given input would lead to the machine’s auto-stopping. And this is the actual crux of the decision-problem. It also means that there is no effective way for evaluating attempts at folding sign-chains and predicting whether the new fold would ever produce any result or not. Among other things, this also means that new structures cannot be produced by closed Turing-machines. This is the actual problem of knowledge that any theory of thought and perception must face when it departs from the development of new structures in the imagination and in perception. Such developmental processes are no longer called into question today. As we have indicated, both technical and mathematical predictions of the emergence of structures in organisms are impossible, so that the planning of happiness is in obvious self-contradiction.


Christiane Post (1961) Research fellow at the Technical University Berlin; various teaching positions, lectures, articles, and publications including: Arbeiterklubs als neue Bauaufgabe der sowjetischen Avantgarde. Berlin 2004; Bodenschatz, Harald; Post, Christiane (Hg.): Städtebau im Schatten Stalins. Die internationale Suche nach der sozialistischen Stadt in der Sowjetunion 1929 – 1935. Berlin 2003.

Michael Schwarz (1967), Lectures and article on the theory of art and knowledge, including: Muster und Pendel. Beschreibung zur Lichtpendel-Projektion mit dem Versuch einer Rekonstruktion ihrer Entstehungsgeschichte. In: SITE 2005, Heft 8


[1] Cf. Rancière, Jacques: Fiktion der Erinnerung. In: Binczek, Natalie; Rass, Martin (ed.): „… sie wollen eben sein, was sie sind, nämlich Bilder …“. Anschlüsse an Chris Marker. Würzburg 1999, p. 29.

[2] Dziga Vertov ENTUZIAZM (Simfonija Donbassa) / Enthusiasm (The Donbass Symphony. A Documentary Sound Film), 1930; Dziga Vertov TRI PESNI O LENINE / Three Songs About Lenin. A Documentary Sound Film, 1934; Aleksandr Medvedkin KINOPOEZD / Film-Train, 1932 / 33; Chris Marker LE TRAIN EN MARCHE / The Train Rolls On, 1971; Chris Marker LE TOMBEAU D’ALEXANDRE / The Last Bolshevik, 1993; Medvedkine et l’aventure du Ciné-train, 1932. Compléments. In: Alexandre Medvedkine, LE BONHEUR; Chris Marker, LE TOMBEAU D’ALEXANDRE, 2005; Aleksandr Medvedkin SCAST’E / Happiness, 1934.

[3] In this context Marker speaks of a “reality show” with a different approach. Cf. Marker, Chris: Exposé zu LE TOMBEAU D’ALEXANDRE. 1993. In: Kämper, Birgit; Tode, Thomas (ed.): Chris Marker. Filmessayist. Munich 1997, p. 179.

[4] Cf. Kinopoezd Sojuzkinochroniki. In: Kinovedceskie zapiski 2000, No. 49, pp. 118-146; vgl. auch Vertovs Aussagen zur „Simfonija Donbassa“ in: Beilenhoff, Wolfgang (ed.): Dziga Vertov. Schriften zum Film. München 1973, pp. 122-128.

[5] Cf. Medvedkine et Dziga Vertov, par Nikolai Izvolov. In: Alexandre Medvedkine, LE BONHEUR; Chris Marker, LE TOMBEAU D’ALEXANDRE, 2005.

[6] Our film montage is a further development of a project that emerged from a piece for the exhibition series OPEN OFFICE – COLLECTED CONCEPTS (2006) of the Galerie M29 in Cologne.

[7] Raab, Thomas: Nachbrenner. Zur Evolution und Funktion des Spektakels. Frankfurt am Main 2006

[8] Lurija, Aleksandr R.: Die historische Bedingtheit individueller Erkenntnisprozesse. Weinheim 1986.

[9] Lurija, Aleksandr R.: The Working Brain. An Introduction to Neuropsychology. New York 1973.

[10] Vsevolod Pudovkin, MECHANIKA GOLOVNOGO MOZGA / Die Mechanik des Gehirns, 1925.

[11] Cf. Pudowkin, Wsewolod: Die Zeit in Großaufnahme. Erinnerungen / Aufsätze / Werkstattnotizen. Berlin 1983, pp. 44-51.

[12] Bioy-Casares, Adolfo: Morels Erfindung. München 1975, first edition: La invención de Morel. Buenos Aires 1940.

[13] Wiener, Oswald: Schriften zur Erkenntnistheorie. Wien / New York 1996.