Dimitri Kirsanoff: Ménilmontant (1926)

Dimitri Kirsanoff, born in Estonia but operating mostly in Paris, was heavily influenced by the theories of Soviet Montage. In his most famous short film, Ménilmontant (1926) – still frightfully obscure in most circles – he adheres to this style strictly, almost obsessively. His preference towards a brisk editing pace carries a unique vitality that is also seen in the work of Soviet masters Eisenstein and Vertov, who pioneered and perfected the technique of montage in the mid-to-late 1920s. But, nevertheless, I don’t think it works quite as well here. The Battleship Potemkin (1925) and The Man with the Movie Camera (1929) – perhaps the two most recognised works of Soviet montage – utilise their chosen editing style to full effect precisely because they place greater emphasis on the collective over the individual, in accordance with traditional Communist ideology. There is deliberately no emotional connection attempted nor made between the viewer and any individual movie character, for that would be contrary to the filmmaker’s intentions (interestingly, however, the montage fell out of preference from the 1930s in favour of Soviet realism).

Ménilmontant falters because it strives to create an emotional connection with the characters (particularly the younger sister, played by Nadia Sibirskaïa), but Kirsanoff’s chosen editing style continually keeps the audience at an arm’s length. The closest he comes to true pathos is with the park-bench sequence, when an old man offers some bread and meat to the famished woman, delicately avoiding eye contact to preserve her dignity. Even in this scene, the montage style intrudes. A director like Chaplin (and I’m a romantic at heart, so he’s naturally one of favourite filmmakers) would have placed the camera at a distance, framing the profiles of both the woman and the old man within the same shot, thus capturing the subtle emotions and inflections of both parties simultaneously. Kirsanoff somewhat confuses the scene, cutting sequentially between the woman, the man and the food in a manner that reduces a simple, poignant act of kindness into a technical exercise in film editing. It works adequately, of course, a precise demonstration of the Kuleshov Effect, but there’s relatively little heart in it.
But we’ll cease with my complaints hereafter. I know my own film tastes well enough to recognise that what I disliked about the film – its emotional distance, for example – represents precisely what others love about it. There’s no doubting that the photography (when it’s kept on screen long enough) is breathtakingly spectacular, making accomplished use of lighting, shadows and in-camera optical effects such as dissolves, irises and superimpositions. There are touches of the surreal. Kirsanoff cuts non-discriminately forwards in time, backwards and into his characters’ dreams, fragmenting time and reality into a series of shattered images, their individual meanings obscure until considered sequentially as in the pieces of a puzzle. Most impressive, I thought, was how several shots captured the linear perspective of roads and alleys, watching his characters gradually depart into the distance as though merely following the predetermined pathways of their future. The film ends exactly as it begins – with a bloody and unexplained murder – suggesting the inevitable cycle of human suffering, its causes unknown and forever incomprehensible.

Great Central Railway, Loughborough June 2016

This is a video I have made of the time I went on the footplate of a steam locomotive at the Great Central Railway, Loughborough, U.K. An amazing experience. The music is my recording of the Jug Band classic “Mobile Line”. I learnt it from a record by Jim Kweskin and his Jug Band.

My trip on the Great Central. It was a WW2 reenactment day hence the number of British and German troops!

The Musical Legacy of Amiri Baraka

Very interesting figure. I was very impressed with his poetry and jazz performances especially “Black Dada Nihilismus” that I first heard in England listening to Paris Radio on longwave!

1960s: Days of Rage


“January 2017 marked the third anniversary of the death of poet, activist, playwright and music historian Amiri Baraka, formerly known as LeRoi Jones. For nearly five decades, Baraka stood as a critical figure in black art and literature, helping to lay the groundwork for a radical black aesthetic whose influence has seeped into hip-hop, black theater and spoken word. The central thesis in Baraka’s work was the idea that the history of the black experience in America could be traced through the changes and new developments in black music. In an interview with late NAACP chairman Julian Bond, Baraka laid out his belief that ‘Where the music goes, that’s where the people go. The music reflects the people.’ Beginning in the 1950s with his introduction to New York’s storied modern art and literary scene, Baraka found himself neck-deep in the New York beat movement, collaborating with famed poets such as…

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New York Poets Theatre

Interesting piece of history about the amazing St. Mark’s Place. One of my favourite streets anywhere in the World! A bit further down, at this time, was Andy Warhol’s club “The Electric Circus”.

1960s: Days of Rage


“The East End Theatre was an Off-Off-Broadway theater venue located at 85 East 4th Street. Existing in the 1960s, the theater was the creation and home from January 1, 1965 to December 31, 1965 of the New York Poets Theatre, an experimental theater project founded by artists James Waring, LeRoi Jones (later Amiri Baraka), Alan Marlowe, Fred Herko and Diane di Prima. Being the last, and arguably the most serious, of the theatres of the New York Poets Theatre group, Marlowe, who spearheaded this property, converted what was once a basic dance hall into ‘A jewelbox of a theatre…like the best art theatres of Europe’ as remarked by Frank O’Hara, according to Diane di Prima’s memoir Recollections of My Life as A Woman: The New York Years. In the memoir she recalls how Marlowe spent a great deal of money decorating the space by ‘buying used…

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Wilson Sings Dylan

Here are some recordings of Bob Dylan songs that I did a while back. This Sunday 24th May 2020 I will be doing a live session of Dylan songs on my Facebook Page. It is part of the “Bob Dylan’s Week” festival in Florence, Italy that I am unable to attend because of the dreaded virus! Check it out 14:00 in U.K. and 15:00 Italy.

Kenny Wilson sings the songs of Bob Dylan.