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Cinema and Social Analysis:
From Vertov to Rust Belt Skateboarders

Summer 2023

Vol. 23 no. 2

The articles—and connections among them—demonstrate how cinema can be a means for social analysis. Dragan Batančev’s “Economics of Shortage and the Archival Impulse in Revolutionary Socialist Cinema” and B. Dalia Hatalova’s “The Politics of Washed Bodies: Roma Women in Jiří Menzel’s Larks on a String (1969)” provide new insights into film and society in the socialist worlds of 1920s Soviet Union, 1960s Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia in the 1950s and 1960s. Equally important, Hatalova’s analysis of Roma Women in Larks on a String shares common ground with Stephanie Oliver’s work in “Minding the Gap (Bing Liu, 2018): Exemplifying the Intersectional Approach in Contemporary Documentary Filmmaking”; both articles illustrate the value of cinema that illuminates experiences of historically underrepresented people, especially when the films unmask socialist state constructions of social identity or depict class inequality that crosses ostensive racial and ethnic distinctions in a capitalist setting. Further, the research of Batančev and Oliver places documentary compilation films in new light, revealing their potential to model strategies to conserve media resources or offer nuanced autoethnographic explorations.          

                                                                                          ---Cynthia Baron, Editor   

Economics of Shortage and the Archival Impulse in Revolutionary Socialist Cinema

by Dragan Batančev

Image by Immo Wegmann

This article examines the dearth of film stock as a formative tenet of archive-oriented filmmaking in the first socialist revolutionary states, the Soviet Union and postwar Yugoslavia. Comparing the production practices and theoretical considerations of the seminal Soviet documentary filmmaker Dziga Vertov and his Yugoslav disciple Dušan Makavejev illuminates the economics of shortage as an underlying principle of the socialist cinema, which questions the material excess of dominant modes of media production. While investigating how the reused and appropriated archival footage helped Vertov find his creative independence and stimulated Makavejev to conceive of the moviegoer as the definitive film editor, this essay also situates film stock within the group of materials used for the construction of revolutionary utopias. The interrogation of various examples of the filmmakers’ incorporation of old/archival footage into their films ultimately suggests that Vertov’s and Makavejev’s economical cinema presents a potential alternative to the costly media overproduction of the digital era. 

The Politics of Washed Bodies: Roma Women in Jiří Menzel’s Larks on a String (1969)

by B. Dalia Hatalova 

Image by Jorge Bermudez

Filmed during the Czech New Wave, Jiří Menzel’s Larks on a String (1969) presents a critical view of socialist infrastructures and racial relations between the Slavic majority and the Romani minority in 1950s Czechoslovakia. However, Larks on a String’s representations of gender and racial relations in two narrative subplots on Roma women are significant given the overall lack of representations of ethnic “others” within Czechoslovak cinema. By including these Romani characters, which are absent in Bohumil Hrabal’s 1965 book, Inzerát na dům, ve kterém už nechci bydlet (Advertisement for a House I Do Not Want to Live in Anymore), upon which the film is based, Menzel enables visibility of an underrepresented culture. Significantly, the racial representations in Larks on a String form a critique of the enactment of twentieth-century Eastern Bloc state socialism that sought uniformity through obliterating racial and cultural differences. However, existing scholarship on Larks on a String fails to interrogate the way that race functions in the film. This article addresses this gap by examining Larks on a String’s depictions of Roma women and dominant political powers in 1950s Czechoslovakia through a combination of textual analysis, feminist perspectives, and political philosophy.

Minding the Gap (Bing Liu, 2018): Exemplifying the Intersectional Approach in Contemporary Documentary Filmmaking 

by Stephanie Oliver


This essay provides a close reading of the Hulu Original documentary Minding the Gap (Bing Liu, 2018) and its intersectional depiction of its subjects. Many other contemporary documentaries also take an intersectional approach in the depiction of their subjects (such as other Kartemquin Films releases), but Liu’s film is unique because of its equal focus on subjects from a diverse range of backgrounds – the film is a compilation of footage shot over twelve years, and the narrative primarily focuses on the daily lives of the filmmaker Liu (a Chinese American man) and his two skateboarder friends Zack Mulligan (a white American man) and Keire Johnson (an African American man). Through the complex weaving of the subjects’ perspectives and experiences as both shared yet distinctly unique, the film presents an intersectional look at the multiple causes of inequality that plague many Americans today and the film’s subjects in particular. The essay ends with a call for more documentaries to take an intersectional approach when examining the causes of oppression in American society moving forward.

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