A Sixth Part of the World

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In the latest issue of Film Quarterly, Nina Power has an excellent overview of Dziga Vertov’s A Sixth Part of the World (1926), one of his lesser-known films. Man With a Movie Camera is Vertov’s blockbuster, in film history terms, at any rate. Enthusiasm, his experiment in non-synchronized sound, should not be missed. I’ve not seen A Sixth Part, but from Power’s description of the film, along with what I’ve seen so far of his work, it’s hard to dispute Power’s claim that as a

geographical and political project, symphonic in scope and method, the remarkable experimentalism of A Sixth Part of the World puts to shame the often ponderous environmental and geological films that came later, such as Koyaanisqatsi (1983), which tend to oppose technology and nature, with humanity operating as the damaging mediator.

A quick overview of the film: The title refers to the size of the Soviet Union’s landmass, and the film was shot five years into Lenin’s New Economic Policy, which allowed for small-scale capitalism and aimed to build Soviet industry into a major exporter of goods to capitalist countries. (For more on this period in Soviet history, see Walter Benjamin’s Moscow Diary.) Lenin’s government was also trying to integrate a wide variety of peoples into a single national identity.  A Sixth Part of the World is, in many ways, a snapshot of a totally new kind of nation–a project that would be abruptly and brutally shut down when Stalin assumed power. Vertov’s film also captures the development of a whole new kind of cinema–a project that would come to a loud end with the arrival of sound.

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