Frustrated over the form that MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA had taken, and stung by the fact that he had been excluded from its editorial process, Mikhail Kaufman (1897–1980) broke ties with his brother and longtime collaborator and released IN SPRING (1929). This city symphony of Kiev, produced by VUFKU, the Ukrainian film authority, was a follow-up to his earlier solo project MOSCOW, but Kaufman also intended it to be a direct response to MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA, and a film that might serve to put the Kino-Eye movement back on track.
Kaufman saw himself as more of a technician and less of a poet than his brother, and he had a preference for clarity and logic. There’s no question that IN SPRING is a much less self-consciously avant-garde film than MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA, but it is still a showcase forcinematographic and editorial virtuosity, and it is distinguished by its frequent use of unusual and disorienting perspectives, including extreme high-and low-angle shots and canted angles, aerial shots, and trick shots, split-screen compositions, multiple exposures, time-lapse, reverse-motion, and stop-motion, as well as a conscious avoidance of intertitles. IN SPRING mightnot be as frenetic and challenging as MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA, but it was still highly adventurous and demanding.
As the film’s title suggests, this is not a portrait of one day in the life of Kiev, but instead is a seasonal portrait of the city, documenting its emergence from winter and its embrace of spring. Thus, shots depicting a typically brutal Russian winter make way for shots of the arrival of the thaw, the breaking up of the ice, and flooding, before windows begin to open, spring cleaning begins to take place, and children and young couples venture out into the sunshine. While the theme of spring persists throughout much of the film, the film simultaneously depicts the emergence of a modern, industrialized and revolutionary society, one characterized by its active factories and construction sector, its healthy and active citizenry, and its jubilant May Day celebrations.
Two years later, Kaufman published his most important theoretical work, an essay entitled “Film Analysis.” Here, he described a philosophy of cinema that was very much in line with Dziga Vertov’s Kino-Eye theory, as well as with Kaufman’s cinematography from the time of KINO-EYE (1924) onward, but he used examples from IN SPRING to illustrate his essay.
Anthony Kinik in Steven Jacobs, Anthony Kinik, Eva Hielscher (eds.), The City Symphony Phenomenon. Cinema, Art, and Urban Modernity Between the Wars, New York /Oxon: Routledge, 2019
Nearly a century ago, the beauty of Ukraine was captured by the man with a movie camera.
Even if you’ve not been to the city, you’ll know many of the streets by now. The news is filled with images of Kyiv. Of the city’s infrastructure shattered, of the resilient faces of Ukrainians ready to defend and rebuild their world. It’s impossible not to be moved by these scenes– families torn apart, lives lost and a city centre transformed into a theatre of war, where homes are newly vulnerable to violent attack, and to theelements.
In 1929, a film shot in those same streets, showing the people of the city rallying for a new start, provoked uncontrollable feelings of happiness. IN SPRING was directed by Mikhail Kaufman– he had been a cinematographer, and you may know him best as the man with the movie camera himself (on screen and off ) in MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA (1929),directed by his brother Dziga Vertov (aka Denis Kaufman) and edited by Elizaveta Svilova. Kaufman wasn’t just a talented cinematographer; he was a daredevil, laying down on railway tracks or balancing on a moving train to capture a shot. [...]
IN SPRING is a city symphony, like MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA in some ways, but where that film was shot across four cities( Kyiv, Odessa, Kharkiv and Moscow) and foregrounds its camera effects and editing, IN SPRING is devoted to Kyiv. The Kaufmans had a few disagreements while making MOVIE CAMERA, and some of the footage that Mikhail shot against his brother’s wishes ended up in IN SPRING.
[...] The film documents how Kyiv emerges from winter into the warmth – it is not a smooth transition but a concerted human effort. First the snow melts and floods the city, and then the people fight to contain the water and reclaim their streets. Then the snow returns and the second thaw disguises the streets as canals. The people of Kyiv retrieve their city once more: the water is drained, windows are unsealed and soon bonneted toddlers are playing in the parks. There are bicycle races, birds nesting and a church procession in defiance of Soviet protocols. The images become more wholesome, and more precious.
Kaufman’s camera effects, extreme close-ups,super impositions, stop motion and high angles defamiliarise the pleasures of the season to fill our senses with the wonder of life returning, the grandeur of the city’s architecture. When it was first screened, In Spring beguiled spectators – inspiring unprecedented joy. “If I were a poet,” said Mykhailo Makotynskyi, the president of the All-Ukrainian Photo Cinema Administration, “I would have written lyrics for this movie… I have watched hundreds of thousands of metres, but I’ve never felt anything similar to this impression.”
The French critic Georges Sadoul was smitten.“Be it a horse, the workers exiting a factory, the bird’s-eye view of the city, or a children’s game, Mikhail Kaufman always finds poetry, embraces it, and puts it into the camera.” The Ukrainian poet Mykola Voronyi praised Kaufman’s lyricism, which went beyond “mere intelligence”. “While watching this picture, you feel joy and youth, you love the land and want to live upon this land.” The poet and critic Yakiv Savchenko said: “The film is so impressive and stirs up emotions, thoughts and associations so powerful that one can hardly compile all of this into a coherent system.”
Viewed in 2022, months into the Russian invasion, IN SPRING stirs up feelings that are arguably even more complex, thatstill defy categorisation. [...]
IN SPRING is a testament to the city it celebrates and retains its capacity to spark not just patriotism but active resistance. In this sun-kissed Soviet Kyiv of 1929, there is a chill in the 2022 air: the writing on the shopfronts and street signs is all in Russian.
Pamela Hutchinson in Sight & Sound, No. 6, 5.7.2022