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"We Were the River": Screenwriters of the Left Front of the Arts, 1923–1931


In 1923, the preeminent Russian poet Vladimir Mayakovsky gathered the main forces of the Soviet avant-garde under the umbrella of the Left Front of the Arts (LEF) and its two journals, LEF (1923–1925) and Novyi LEF (1927–1928). This dissertation examines the contribution of LEF’s screenwriters to the film industry in the 1920s and early 1930s by focusing on the screenwriting oeuvre of the journals’ editors—Osip Brik, Sergei Tretiakov, and Vladimir Mayakovsky. Part and parcel of a larger discussion about the role of screenplays in Soviet film studies, LEF’s screenwriting remains one of the most obscure aspects of the group’s engagement with cinema. The central argument of this thesis elaborates the view that these authors’ film-works had a closer connection to the group’s ethos than previously understood. My analyses rely on the examination of Brik, Tretiakov, and Mayakovsky’s screen ideas alongside relevant theoretical articles, extant film footage, archival sources, historical cine-press publications, and personal memoirs. The findings of this study contribute to a deeper understanding of the relationship between the group’s screenwriting theory and praxis.

This dissertation is organized into four chapters, an introduction, and a conclusion. The introduction delineates the research nexus, followed by chapter 1 that discusses the operational definition of LEF and traces the diachronic development of its engagement with the cine-medium. Chapter 2 uncovers links between LEF’s project and Osip Brik’s film-works and analyzes his authorship model through Viktor Shklovsky’s paradigm of literaturnaia podenshchina (daily literary labor). Chapter 3 demonstrates how Sergei Tretiakov’s idea of production screenplay was implemented in the corpus of his Georgian films. It also discusses Tretiakov’s authorship model through the concept of operative author, as theorized by Walter Benjamin. Chapter 4 evaluates Vladimir Mayakovsky’s screenplays written during the LEF period by drawing out their auteur features and juxtaposing them against the broader scope of the group’s film-works. By charting LEF’s contribution to cinema via categories of production principles, ideology, innovation, and authorship models, this dissertation advances a comprehensive view of the group’s participation in cinema. It contributes to the interdisciplinary field of avant-garde studies, as well as to the scholarship on Soviet cinema of the silent era.

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