Soviet Constructivism

What it is…

An outlook towards art that originated in Soviet Russia just after the Bolshevik revolution which rejected the idea of “art for art's sake” in favour of an art that was oriented towards social and cultural change. Specifically, it attempted to translate the abrupt political change that had taken place into the cultural domain, where old value systems still prevailed. It was propagandistic by inception.

Who were its pioneers...

The Constructivist philosophy's primarily interest was in the visual media because of its universal reach, and this manifested itself in the fields of architecture, poster design, photography and, of course, cinema. Filmmakers and theoreticians like Sergei Eisenstein, Vsevolod Pudovkin, Dziga Vertov and Lev Kuleshov were some of the leading names associated with the kind of cinema that fell in line with Constructivist ideas.

Why it is important...

Even though the rosy utopianism and political ideology that it espoused is non-existent now, Constructivist filmmaking, especially the kind that was montage-driven, has had an incalculable influence on the medium. It was perhaps the first school of filmmaking that put editing at the heart of film practice and, being an alternative to continuity editing, it still retains its polemic, intellectual edge.

Where to find it...

Dziga Vertov's legendary The Man with the Movie Camera (1929) encapsulates almost all the preoccupations of the Constructivist philosophy. Throughout the film, images of man and machine are conflated (as is summed up by Vertov's neologism “Camera Eye”) as we coast through a Russia that is marching gallantly towards the future with the worker on one hand and the industry on the other.

How it is defined…


Since it had directed itself towards inciting social change, Constructivist cinema usually worked towards a limited set of goals: criticism of the prevalent aristocracy, lionisation of the proletariat and an optimistic presentation of industrialisation and modernisation. But even with this predetermined trajectory, Constructivist filmmaking retained its experimental edge and placed itself right at the centre of the booming avant-garde.


For the Constructivists, mechanisation was a utopian idea which found its way into films. The conveyor belt production would find its equivalent in the metric montage techniques and industrial designs in the highly geometric compositions rife with strong verticals, horizontals and diagonals. The intellectual montage, specifically, became a major tool as it provided a forceful dialectic framework to galvanise the audience.

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Printable version | Jun 23, 2021 12:26:47 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/chen-columns/soviet-constructivism/article2820258.ece

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