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Enthusiasm. Symphony of Donbas

1930, Kyiv Film Studio Ukrainfilm, 6 parts / 2,600 m, 95 min

 Dziga Vertov
 Borys Tseitlin
Sound engineer:
 Mykola Tymartsev, Petro Shtro

Enthusiasm (Symphony of Donbas) is the first Ukrainian sound film. Filmed in 1930 by the world-class master of avant-garde cinema Dziga Vertov, it became the first motion-picture where real industrial and routine sounds served to create a musical image, and were not just subordinate to the video footage. 

Dedicated to the first five-year plan, the film glorified industrialisation, collectivisation and promoted the fight against illiteracy and religion. Enthusiasm was shot that year when the Ukrainisation programme was cut down, and Borys Tseitlin’s camera still captured many of its indications in Donbas.

Enthusiasm also became the Kinoks’ programme work which documented the Kinoks’ transfer from cine-eye to radio-eye, as not only images but also sounds were then caught unawares. To record sounds, Vertov used Aleksandr Shorin’s mobile sound equipment, made by the inventor at his Leningrad laboratory for the shooting.

At that time, sound recording equipment was very large and did not transmit natural sounds very well, so the imitation of noises recorded in special soundless studios was used in films. And this is the reason why Dziga Vertov’s idea to document sounds on location, “to move over from velvet coffin and to plunge into the terrible thunder and iron clanging of Donbas” was taken with great scepticism and fear.

Another obstacle that hindered adequate sound perception by the audience was the imperfect sound projection in Soviet cinemas. The film was released in April 1931 and received contradictory reviews – from ironic comparison with caterwaul to complete awe.

Charlie Chaplin left one of the most lavish praises, “Never had I known that these mechanical sounds could be arranged to sound so beautiful. I regard Enthusiasm as one of the most exhilarating symphonies I have heard. Mr. Dziga is a musician. The professors should learn from him, not quarrel with him.” 

In his film Vertov continues Italian Futurists’ experiments with the Art of Noises, and takes over from the Soviet avant-garde composers; Arseny Avraamov’s Symphony of Factory Sirens was one of the most famous embodiments of their work with industrial sounds.

The film is not just named “a symphony,” but also has a structure of this musical work. This allowed Vertov to turn his documentary agit material into his last Futurist visual and sound experiment.