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CREES Noon Lecture. “Chaplin and the Russian Avant-Garde: The Law of Fortuity in Art.”

Wednesday, January 16, 2013
12:00 AM
1636 International Institute/SSWB, 1080 S. University

The cult of Charlie Chaplin launched by West European avant-garde artists and poets of the 1920s (Goll, Aragon, Léger, Chagall) reached Russia early in 1922. This talk looks at those aspects of Chaplin’s acting style that fascinated Soviet left-wing artists and what they made of them: Chaplin’s image in Russia as a “Taylorist actor;” Chaplin’s impact on Kuleshov’s workshop; and, more closely, a strange reference in both Mayakovsky’s poem and Stepanova’s to a “Chaplin” film which the real Chaplin never made, Man on a Propeller. This was not, as it would seem, a fictional film by a fictionalized Charlie, but (as it turns out) a real film by a different comic actor shown in Russia in 1922 and taken for real by Mayakovsky and Stepanova. What was this film and why was it interesting to the revolutionary artists of the 1920s? The paper approaches this episode not as a mere filmographic conundrum or a cultural curio; instead it looks at this pseudo-Chaplin movie through the lens of artistic programs declared by the LEF and Constructivist groups, tracing the way the cult of Chaplin converged, in Russian, with the cult of flying, the cult of propellers, and the worship of Wells' Time Machine in the work by El Lissitsky and Nikolai Aseev.

Yuri Tsivian studied film history in Riga and Moscow, combining it with studying semiotics under the guidance of Yuri Lotman (1922-93), a prominent cultural scholar of Tartu University in collaboration with whom Yuri has written a book on film language Dialogues with the Screen (Tallinn, 1994). The author of over one hundred publications in sixteen languages, Tsivian is credited with launching two new fields in the studies of film and culture: carpalistics and cinemetrics. The former studies and compares different uses of gesture in theater, visual arts, literature and film; the latter uses digital tools to explore the art of film editing.

Sponsors: CREES, Avant Garde Interest Group