Moscow Diary Redux

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In an earlier post I quoted a review of Adam Kossoff’s documentaryMoscow Diary, based on Walter Benjamin’s book of the same name. The film has a great premise–tracing Walter Benjamin’s travels through Moscow just before the gloom of Stalinism set in, when Soviet culture was still “experimental,” as Benjamin describes it–so it’s worth getting another view of the film.

Philip Cartelli saw the film at the Festival International du Cinema in Marseille and had this to say:

Adam Kossoff’s Moscow Diary(2010) was not in the festival competition, though it received its world premiere at the FID and was consistently more inventive and compelling than many of the other films on view. It is a video recorded entirely on a portable camera phone, retracing the steps of German cultural theorist and historian Walter Benjamin in his own account of the same name, written during a visit to the city in 1926-7. While a voiceover narrates passages from Benjamin’s text, the images function as occasional counterparts to the experiences being described, posing visual, sentimental and political rejoinders to the writer’s views. In order to appreciate the video’s aesthetic, one needs to accept Kossoff’s implicit claim that the camera phone both allows him to replicate the experience of “being” in the city in a nonintrusive manner and represents a progression of some of Benjamin’s own thinking on the development of art and technology. This is not always a simple task, but some of Kossoff’s more poetic images—smoke emanating from a power plant and dissolving into pixilated blocks—do appear to work in this regard. A relation between irony and clarity that is reflective of some of Benjamin’s alternating relations between physical and emotional distance and proximity seems to be further reflected in Moscow Diary’s chosen mode and audiovisual aesthetic. Ultimately, Kossoff’s work is a kind of social and technological experiment that his subject and muse might have appreciated, and not the herald of a soon-to-come era when film festivals are viewed on individual devices in the comfort of one’s home, which comes as a kind of uneasy relief.

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