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CLARIAH Media Studies and MIMEHIST in Zürich – A Report

This is a cross-posting of a post I just published on the CLARIAH Media Studies blog on a colloquium I recently participated in in Zürich. I repost it here as the CLARIAH Media Studies blog is still under development and therefore a bit hidden because of a somewhat cryptic URL.


Early September, Liliana Melgar and I received an invitation from Barbara Flückiger, Professor in Film Studies at the University of Zürich, to participate in the “Colloquium Visualization Strategies for the Digital Humanities”. The aim of the day was to bring together experts to discuss film data visualization opportunities in relation to Professor Flückiger’s current research projects on the history of film colors. Currently, Flückiger leads two large-scale projects on this topic: the ERC Advanced Grant FilmColors (2015-2020) and the Filmfarben project funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (2016-2020). A presentation of the projects’ team members can be found here.

As a scholar, Barbara Flückiger has in-depth expertise on the interrelation between film technology, aesthetics and culture covering especially aspects of film sound, special effects, film digitization and film colors in her research. In recent years, her research has increasingly focussed on film colors, especially since the launch of the online database of film colors Timeline of Historical Film Colors in 2012 after a successful crowdfunding campaign. The Timeline of Historical Film Colors has since grown to become one of the leading authoritative resources on the history and aesthetics of film colors – it is presented as “a comprehensive resource for the investigation of film color technology and aesthetics, analysis and restoration”. It is now consolidating this position as it is being followed up by the two large-scale research projects mentioned above which merge perspectives from film digitization, restoration, aesthetic and cultural history.

These projects are entering a phase in which the involved researchers are beginning to conceive ways of visualizing the data they have created so far and need to consider the potential value which data visualization may have for historical research on film color aesthetics, technology and reception.

In the following we share a few impressions from the day and thoughts on the discussions which arose.

Organising and mining film data

The first speaker of the day was Eric Hoyt, Associate Professor of Media and Cultural Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In spite of having just arrived the previous day, Hoyt was not visibly jetlagged and gave a fantastic presentation on his research activities in the Arclight and Lantern projects. Both projects work with materials made available through the online Media History Digital Library (MHDL) and offer different ways of visualizing patterns in them. The Lantern project involved the digitisation and OCR’ing of 900.000 pages from public domain trade journals made available in this collection, while Arclight works with around 2 million pages also available through MDHL.

The tools developed in these projects enable data mining and visualisation in combination with simpler, standard search queries to supplement traditional archival research on silent era periodicals – among other periods of media history – in order to advance our understanding of film’s cultural history. Using the visualization options developed by these projects it is possible to analyse word patterns within the MDHL’s journals, so as to understand how certain topics and trends emerged and understand the historical networks of popular cultures that conditioned them. Taking a distant reading approach, the projects thus explore “the great unread” of tradepapers to broaden the horizon of media historians and to open new research avenues. As Hoyt has poignantly pointed out, previous scholarship and access projects on relying on analogue formats, especially microfilm, have established a reference frame in which periodicals such as Variety and Photoplay appear as canonical source material. This has had the effect that a wide range of magazines which were published in large numbers back in the day have been largely neglected in contemporary scholarship on film exhibition, distribution and reception. For example, as Hoyt has discussed in one of his articles, the magazine Film Fun, which – while published in relatively large numbers – was never cited in any article available in the widely used academic journal database JSTOR. There is much more to read on the development and use of Arclight and Lantern here and here.



Eric Hoyt presenting at the Colloquium “Visualization Strategies for the Digital Humanities” in Zürich.


Based on his experience in these projects, Hoyt presented a set of concrete and highly intriguing suggestions for further development of the Filmcolors-project and the functionalities of the Timeline of Historical Film Colors. The suggestions ranged from specific ways of organising data in the Timeline’s database so as to make it more searchable to different ways of visualizing the data created by the Filmcolors/Filmfarben researchers.

As Hoyt pointed out, when it comes to allowing users to explore a digitised collection through visualizations it helps their reasoning to be able to do this by making use of a wider range of visualization formats. This allows researchers to see different views and perspectives and make them understand that there is not one finite and ideal representation of data. On the other hand, Hoyt also pointed out that while we tend to favour interactive visualizations and multiplicity of viewpoints because they highlight and facilitate research as (contingent) processes, rather than finite end products, we may also consider whether static visualizations are not sometimes more efficient for getting our point across poignantly to a broader public, in order to create discussion among researchers. In both cases it is key to think about who we are making visualizations for and presenting results to.

Another very interesting suggestion was to enable the comparison of scanned film frames included in the timeline with computational methods. In the Timeline, users can currently select frames for comparison manually based on their impressions of the images’ visual features. To develop this feature, it would, as Hoyt pointed out, be interesting to see how a computer would compare images as a way to both assist and challenge human vision. With these suggestions, Hoyt nicely built a bridge from the more information theoretical parts of his talk to the rest of the day’s presentations which would focus to a greater degree on the visualisation of film data and pattern recognition in images.

Visualising film data

Following Hoyt’s presentation the focus of the day’s program turned to video annotation, analysis and visualization. This comprised a presentation on the Filmcolors project with a general introduction and discussion by Barbara Flückiger which outlined the goals and components of her research projects. As Barbara explained, the research projects’ comprise different steps, in particular off-line video segmentation and annotation, the creation of a Filemaker database based on the annotation work as well as (semi-) automatic color analysis and visualization. This was followed by brief introductions to the programming work which supports the annotation and visualization procedures of the projects’ film analyses.

In the first short presentation following Barbara’s introduction, Gaudenz Halter, programmer in the Filmcolors project, explained how he is currently developing an extension for the video annotation software ELAN, used in the projects for film segmentation and labelling, to tweak it in such a way that it better fits the project’s purposes. ELAN is a video annotation software developed at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen in the Netherlands used mainly for annotating video and audio material in linguistic research. For this reason it is not the best suited for film and media historians’ purposes, and has some drawbacks in particular when it comes to color analysis (this is a topic which Barbara discusses in an article forthcoming in the Moving Image journal). However, ELAN is attractive to work with because its userbase and institutional backing secures its sustainability, something which has not been the case for the otherwise excellent annotation software programs such as Anvil, Lignes de Temps and Advene which were tailored to film and media analysis to a greater degree.

Subsequently, Enrique Paredes gave a presentation of the work he is currently involved in carrying out at the University of Zürich’s Department of Informatics’ Visualization and Multimedia Lab to support the projects’ visualizations work, which explores the YOLO (You Only Look Once) detection method. This extremely exciting work entails the use of computational procedures to detect and distinguish between foreground and background and to visualize patterns in their interplay as a basis for film analysis.


Enrique Paredes explaining principles of foreground detection.


The interplay between foreground and background in the use of colors in mise-en-scène may be seen as a particularly important one as Flückiger explained, for instance in the way they contrast each other. The results achieved with these procedures also seem to support this assumption. The detection of foreground and background allows the researchers to produce image sets consisting of respectively foreground and background categories. Subsequently, the researchers can use ImagePlot to visualize the interplay between foreground and background color schemes throughout a film’s duration, making visualizations of the respective image sets separately or in combination as a basis for comparative analysis. So far the team has experimented with ImagePlot analysis of three films, among which Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (dir.: Howard Hawks, US, 1953) and Jigokumon (dir.: Teinosuke Kinugasa, Japan, 1953). These visualization results are still not published and can therefore not be shared here. But they were impressive and striking in their ingenious use and appropriation of ImagePlot to reflect film’s temporal dimension and in their support of a close reading analysis of films attending to color patterns in foreground and background.

Following up on this presentation after a break, Everardo Reyes, Associate Professor in Digital Humanities at the Paris 8 University, gave an introduction to his work with ImageJ and ImagePlot, which he has carried out in the context of media scholar Lev Manovich’s Cultural Analytics Lab. As a trained semiotician and highly skilled Java programmer, Reyes has tweaked ImageJ to be able to give shape to his image sets in multifarious ways experimenting with shapes, different levels of interactivity and interface design. His work is absolutely stunning and explores a broad range of subjects in visual culture from the covers of the skater magazine Trasher, the visual features of rock album covers and bands – in particular of Nirvana – to the history of modern art works and painters and patterns of hue, saturation and brightness in them. Reyes’ work can be explored here.


An example of Everardo Reyes’ interface design and visualization work for navigating Paul Klee’s paintings.


Considered in connection to Paredes’ presentation, Reyes’ work seemed to underline the versatility and broad range of possibilities offered by ImageJ for media studies. While ImageJ has been in use for approximately a decade now in media studies – if not more – it is intriguing to see how scholars find new ways of tweaking it to different analytical ends and reach a level of theorization of the visualizations they produce which can accommodate for the reflexive and ambiguous perspectives which are cherished and necessary in humanistic interpretation. Reyes’ visualization work for instance, as was discussed after the presentation, show how scholars may try to display their work processes and procedures rather than producing finite epistemic images.

In this part of the workshop, Liliana and I also presented on our work in CLARIAH. Liliana presented the Media Suite and the research pilot projects, and we made a short demo of the video annotation functionalities that are being built as part of the CLARIAH research infrastructure. This was followed by a presentation of the MIMEHIST project which has previously been discussed in depth on this blog.



Closing expert panel discussion at the Colloquium “Visualization Strategies for the Digital Humanities” in Zürich.


To conclude the colloquium, the presenters answered questions from Professor Flückiger and her team about the interrelation of her project with the tools we presented, and inquired about our opinions of what the next steps should be in relation to video annotation – manual, semi-automatic and automatic – in a collaborative perspective.

Film Scanning and/as Source Criticism

Outside of the colloquium program, and benefiting from the fact that we had almost a full day available before going back to Amsterdam, Bregt Lameris, Postdoctoral Researcher in the Filmcolors project, helped us organizing a visit to the lab where Giorgio Trumpy, also Postdoctoral Research in Filmcolors, is currently carrying out his research on illumination and film scanning techniques. The Filmcolors project is working closely with the Cinegrell film development lab (formerly Egli Film) located on the outskirts of Zürich, which is the last exisiting film lab in Switzerland. Here we were given a tour by staff members who generously shared their time to show the lab’s facilities and talk about their work.

At Cinegrell, Giorgio Trumpy – together with Martin Weiss, Senior Researcher and Restorer in Filmcolors – have their own work space where the project’s Kinetta Archival Scanner is being used and modified to experiment with different scanning techniques for the films selected for the project. This work is fundamental not only for perfecting existing restoration methods but also in questioning and reconsidering already established practices.


Liliana Melgar and Giorgio Trumpy at the Cinegrell lab on the outskirts of Zürich together with staff members who kindly showed us around and explained their work.


Inspecting the set-up of Giorgio Trumpy’s experiments with lenses and illumination for scanning silent color films.


Basically, one of the fundamental hypotheses being explored in Trumpy’s research is that the scanning techniques which are currently used for archival films are not the best suited to bring out the visual properties of the material of films stocks used during the silent period. Consequently, film restorers and historians may need to rethink their assumptions about present-day color film restoration a great deal as well as the way in which we understand silent films as historical sources. The results of this research are extremely illuminating (pun intended!) in terms of understanding the intricate relations between film scanning and the appearance of historical film colors.

Yet, these results – while partially published – are not entirely public at this point and – as Trumpy explained – still need a firmer empirical foundation, so the details of this work will have to wait until they are presented by the team in media studies conferences and in the archival film festival circuit. As with the research team’s visualization work this is really something to look forward to!

Concluding impressions and thoughts

We got back from the colloquium with many fresh perspectives on what it means to do film history in an increasingly digital age with new research tools and methods in a process of interdisciplinary collaboration. From the hermeneutical work which goes into a close reading analysis of films through segmentation and labelling to the scientific processes through which the evidence – the films – we work with are shaped, Filmcolors promises – and will surely also deliver – a fundamental historical reconsideration of a significant aspect of film technology and aesthetics. It is impressive to see an entire research area being reviewed and scrutinized on so many levels in such a large-scale research project, something which is also the goal of a “high risk” funding scheme as the ERC Advanced Grant.

Moreover, from a film studies perspective, where archival research is often a lone endeavor which produces exegetic readings of a microscopic area and body of evidence it is intriguing to see how a project such as Filmcolors allows for thinking media history on a grander scale in a large team. In particular, in a time when it is customary for researchers in film studies to cautiously add an “a” before history or to use the plural “histories” to distance oneself from the universalizing aspirations of historical research in early film studies – think for instance of the recurrent critiques of Georges Sadoul’s world film histories or the universal filmographies of a French historians such as Jean Mitry – the presentation of the Timeline of Historical Film Colors as a comprehensive resource may initially seem bold. Yet, it is justified and exciting exactly because of the wide range of scientific activities, processes and critical theoretical perspectives it covers: spanning innovative scientific research on spectroscopy to cultural studies perspectives on film colors. The Timeline is certainly the most qualified and convincing attempt to produce a comprehensive resource on historical film colors to date.

Beyond the Timeline of Historical Film Colors one may also tentatively ponder if the project can be seen as reflecting an emerging renewed interest in the comprehensiveness promised by encyclopedic formats for the exploration of film’s technological history. For instance, the recently launched project of the Canadian research program Technès to develop an encyclopedia of cinema techniques (Encyclopédie raisonnée des techniques du cinéma) seems to share ambitions with the research projects currently being carried out under Professor Flückiger’s supervision in its aspiration to cover the broad historical lines of film technology in a multi-authored, interdisciplinary database format.

Based on these examples, one may contend that one of the great advantages which the digital humanities’ emergence has had for film studies is that it allows for collaborative forms of database creation which brings notions of comprehensiveness back into historical research in refreshingly dynamic and engaging ways by involving a greater number of researchers in the creation of reference resources and by nurturing critical discussions of the foundations of previous and current historical research across disciplinary boundaries in this process. This will be extremly interesting to follow in the coming years, especially with regard to the Timeline’s future development and results.



Durteste, Pierre, “Faut-il oublier Georges Sadoul ?”, 1895. Mille huit cent quatre-vingt-quinze, no. 44 (2004), 29-46.

Hoyt, Eric, ”Lenses for Lantern: Data Mining, Visualization, and Excavating Film History’s Neglected Sources”, in Film History: An International Journal, Volume 26, Number 2 (2014): 146-168.

Hoyt, Eric, Kit Hughes, Derek Long and Anthony Tran, “Scaled Entity Search: A Method for Media Historiography and Response to Critiques of Big Humanities Data Research.” IEEE BigData 2014 Proceedings. (October 978-1-4799-5666-1): 56-64.

Flueckiger, Barbara, “Material Properties of Historical Film in the Digital Age”, in NECSUS – European Journal of Media Studies, no. 2, vol. 1 (2012)

Stutz, Olivia Kristina, Algorithmische Farbfilmästhetik. Historische sowie experimentell-digitale Notations- und Visualisierungssysteme des Farbfilms im Zeichen der Digital Humanities 2.0 und 3.0. MA Thesis, Universität Zürich, 2016. 

What Is Hyperkino? Ruscico’s Academia DVD series and the historical-critical film edition

The post below is a translation of a post which was originally published on my old blog in danish, arkivfeber, on august 26, 2012 as “Hvad er Hyperkino? Ruscicos Academia DVD series and the historical-critical DVD edition”.


I have wanted to write a blog post on the large variety of DVD formats which have appeared in later years in the European film archive world in the slipstream of the numerous digitization projects in especially the past decade. There exist several DVD formats today which represent quite sophisticated digital forms of dissemination developed by individual film archives and museums which conceptualize new ways of analyzing archival films making use of the DVD format’s database structure from new angles. Two projects in particular which have caught my attention in these last couple of years are the editions of respectively Dziga Vertov’s film’ Sestaja Cast’ Mira (A Sixth Part of the World, USSR, 1926) og Oddinnadcatyj (The Eleventh Year, USSR, 1928) published by the Austrian Filmmuseum, which was the result of a three-year research project called Digital Formalism, carried out between 2007-2010 in a collaboration between the Technical University of Vienna and media theorist and Lev Manovich. This project was particularly interesting because of its theoretical underpinnings which explored one of the most significant, if not the most significant – Vertov collections in the world which the Austrian Filmmuseum holds – taking as its point of departure the software developed by the research team of Lev Manovich at UCLA in San Diego. One of the interesting tools which the Digital Formalism-project developed was a visualization software which could track the reuse of film material in Vertov’s films to demonstrate, to a much larger degree than it had been possible before, how Vertov used his own image archive to incorporate his own and other’s footage in different filmic contexts. That Vertov, which plays such a crucial part in Manovich new media theory for the conceptualization of what he names the “database logic” of digital meida in his early and widely influential foray into digital media The Language of New Media (MIT Press, 2001), should become the very object of analysis for a research and dissemination project was partially conceptualized by Manovich was a quite interesting turn for Vertov fans.

The other project, which has caught my attention and which takes a quite different theoretical position with regard to the use of DVDs as a presentation format is the Hyperkino format developed by RUSCICO (abbreviation for the Russian Cinema Council) developed by theorists and film historians Nikolai Izvolov and Natascha Drubek. It is this format which this blog post will focus on.

Hyperkino, an introduction

Where Manovich’ method and the Digital Formalism project is more visually driven and relies on the use of multiple windows and frames as the basis of comparative analyses of film clips and stills, Hyperkino takes its point of departure in a literary tradition of historical-critical book editions. That means editions of a work with footnotes which places it in a historical-critical perspective by situating it in relation to other works within the oeuvre of the same author or to explain it in the historical and geographical context the work was created in. In 2006 Drubek and Izvolov penned an article together that formulated this vision, Critical Editions of Films on Digital Formats, which was published in the eighth edition of the international film studies review Cinema & Cie. in the fall of 2006.

The article departed from a critique of current presentations in academic and contextualizing analyses of films on DVD  to conceptualize a new way of DVD editorship relying on annotations and a more extensive and effective use of the hyperlinked structure of the DVD format. One of the points of critique was that existing DVD editions much too often overburdened the works in question with information by inserting explanatory texts or references to other films in the form of boxes or film clips placed within a screen space which was too small. For this reason, Drubek and Izvolov instead advocated for a use of annotations which could appearh in conjunction with the film but also exist independently of it. As the basis of this proposition they proposed a distinction betwen the film in itself as textus, which should be able to stand alone and be viewed independently of an analytical interpretive layer, and on the other hand an apparatus including all that which is not part of the filmic text itself: notes on the film’s historical context, script, stills or for example correspondences or business documents related to the film’s production. As they point out, the DVD format opens for a much wider range of possibilities than simultaneous commentaries as for example the mentiond forms of multiple frama analysis or commentary tracks. Instead, the authors point out, that it is possible to use the DVD’s database structure to explore the film as a form of hypertext, while not regarding the film as a text in a literary sense. Instead of adhering exclusively to literary text-centric notions, they propose to regard digitized films on DVD format as Hyperkino.


Hyperkino’s logo


In practice this means that as in hypertext where words can contain links which will send the reader to another page within or outside of the the text it finds itself in, it is possible to mark off specific areas in a digital film edition to contain a link, indicated by a specific symbol on the screen, which the viewer can click on to obtain access to a new page which contains contextualizing information on the clip.

The technique and the principle is in no way revolutionary one could add. It has been seen in many DVD edtions since the mid-1990s as for example easter eggs appearing in the form of hyperlinked icons placed within a picture frame in a film or in a DVD menu to give access to hidden extra material. However, the fundamental difference from this common use and Drubek’s and Izvolov’s principle is that the hyperlinks are systematized with the objective of adhering to academic standards for film analysis and to historical-critical principles of annotation. Therefore, in the Hyperkino-format the hyperlinks are each assigned an individual number, which indicates the link’s function as a footnote commentary to a film on for example its style, history and conception.



Example of a note as it appears in a Hyperkino edition. This is a screen capture taken from the first KinoAcademia edition: Lev Kuleshov’s debut feature Engineer Prite’s Project (1918)


As an actual DVD format Hyperkino materialized itself only in 2008, two years after the programmatic article by Drubek and Izvolov. First in the fold of the German DVD publisher Absolutmedien and later as the series KinoAcademia published by RUSCICO. The film to launch the format was Lev Kuleshov’s debut feature Proekt inzhenera Prayta (Engineer Prite’s Project), USSR, 1918). Not only was it the first time the film was made available digitally, it had also, as pointed out by film historian Kristin Thompson, for a long time only existed in a version without intertitles, which left the impression that the film was incomplete.

In line with the proclamation in Drubek’s and Izvolov’s article, the DVD edtion consists of respectively a textus and an apparatus separated on two discs. On disc two, one finds the film subtitled in russian, english, french, german, spanish, italian and portuguese. Disc 1 contains the annotated version, with footnotes appearing during playback in the upper right corner. This is the basic setup for all the series’ releases which at this time of writing counts thirteen titles.

What follows here are my impressions of the edition of Aleksandr Medvedkin’s classic Schastye (Happiness, USSR, 1934), the fifth release in the series.

KinoAcademia 5: Aleksandr Medvedkin’s Happiness/Schastye (1934)

Medvedkin’s silent film Happiness is a film which I have already had for a couple of years as it is included on a separate disc as a part of the DVD edition of Chris Marker’s portrait of the director Aleksandre Medvedkin Le Tombeau d’Alexandre (The Last Bolshevik, 1993) which was released in 2005 by French Arte. As curious coincidence film historian Nikolai Izvolov who is behind Hyperkino plays a very large part in this film, giving both a passionate and insightful introduction to Medvedkin and his time. The DVD’s extra material for example includes an interview with Izvolov which was not included in the final edition of the film with a detailed and highly interesting explanation of why, according to Izvolov, Medvedkin and Vertov as two prominent directors working in the same period never became more conscious about each other’s works and theories. And that Medvedkin’s film holds a very special place in the cinephile memory of Izvolov is something which becomes clear in a place in Marker’s film, when he proclaims that the explicit nature of the scene in which nuns are seen in transparent black dresses which have later become iconic for the film appeared so strong and enigmatic to him – how could it avoid censorship in that period!? – that this film is the reason why he chose to dedicate his life to film history.

This was one of the main reasons why, without hesitation, chose to get hold of this title in the series to test the format and to experience Izvolov’s notes on the film.


A young Nikolai Izvolov explains the relation, or rather lack of, between Dziga Vertov and Aleksandr Medvedkin in the 1930s USSR. The screen capture is taken from the extra material to Chris Marker’s The Last Bolshevik (1993).


Aleksandr Medvedkin’s comedy about the loafer Khmyr (Khmyr means something like a man without great merits) is about a man who has great difficulties finding his place within traditional as well as modern ways of living. He is not a great success as a farmer and he is not capable of, or interested in for that matter, to dutifully take care of the tasks assigned to him by the church nor the army. It is only when he accidentally finds a wallet full of money a day where he has parted on a trip in a search for luck in his life that he begins to get a sense of what the good life consists of.

The money allows him to create a base for him and his wife, but even with his newly achieved social status Khmyr has to face after a short while that happiness in life is fragile and that the money he has found is not a ticket to a better destiny nor the happiness he wished for. It actually reaches the point where Khmyr considers death the only proper solution and begins to prepare a coffin for himself. But typical of the absurd tone in which the film is told, the church presents itself at Khmyr’s house with great pomp to avoid him taking his own life as a blasphemous act against the church.

Exactly this scene is characteristic of the film’s comedy which unravels in a long series of absurd situations where Khmyr mostly appears as an apathetic character in a fantasy world where the line between life and death, fantasy and reality becomes blurred. One of the features of the mise-en-scène which underlines this aspect is its consequent use of props that are out of proportions compared to the characters, mostly too big and inspired by old folk tales and manners of speeking, giving room to the unexpected. As the story unfolds characters appear and disappear while some even die and reincarnate out of the blue.


A screen capture from Aleksandr Medvedkin’s Happiness. An example of the characteristic mise-en-scène which throughout the film creates a fantastic universe and tone.


In the Hyperkino format the film includes forty notes in total of which three thematic tracks seem to dominate the commentaries and observations incuded in them:

– The film’s distribution and censorship history

– The film’s iconography with particular regards to the film’s references to Russian folk tales and sayings

– The film’s place within Medvedkin’s oeuvre and within contemporary Russian film

In exploring the footnotes what appears fascinating initially is not so much the written notes in themselves. Had the format only comprised written notes I would probably been left with the feeling that this format was a bit too static and that very little would distinguish it significantly from a purely written presentation of the work. The aspect in which this format appears to me to show its strength is in its inclusion of a wide variety of documents relating to the film’s production, reception and later scholarly research on it. From the included documents one can for example see how easily the film obtained its distribution visa, and how it was renewed without any problems year after year, until 1938 when it on the basis of a critical review in a provincial newspaper Bolshevik was taken out of distribution for having supposedly ridiculed the relevance of class struggle.

Subsequently the notes bring into play a mutitude of references to Russian culture by explaining in particular the motifs characterizing Medvedkin’s visual style. The visual motifs are often explained as references to orthodox christian art or as explanations of old folk tales. There are several examples in the film of for example sayings used in informal language being used to create specific pictures. In the first part for example, an old man falls dead after which his spirit is seen leaving his body in the from of smoke puff coming out of the man, seemingly playing with a way of a saying on how the spirit leaves the body after death.

The best feature of the format in my opinion, are the film clips included in the footnotes. This is where the visual motifs of Schastye are directly put in relation to Medvedkin’s other films, or to for example the work of other directours such as Lev Kuleshov or Sergei Eisenstein.

One note is particularly interesting. It explores how water and the motif of falling and jumping into water represents a visual trope which was the subject of particularly interesting artistic explorations in Soviet silent cinema. The note illustrates how Medvedkin distinguished himself from contemporary directors by using for example manipulation of playback speed to a comical effect. Where this in for example the work of Kuleshov is usually used as a motif to motivate formalist motion studies, Medvedkin’s Schastye explores it in a comical tone. A woman which falls into the water in one of the film’s early scenes – as it is explained with reference to notes from Medvedkins script – sinks into the water in slow motion as if, the note points out, the water does not want to receive her. In this way the manipulation of speed creates a touch of fantastic absurdism in Medvedkin’s film while, while it in Kuleshov’s use (perhaps) predominantly motivates a stylistic playfulness.

In my experience it is these kind of comparisons which make the Hyperkino format special and really demonstrate that the DVD contains a hitherto unexplored analytical potential for film historical study. It really offers something which writing cannot in terms of comparative analysis, that you are suddenly enabled jump across film clips from the works of different periods and directors.


Screen captures from the note described above which explains the different uses of speed manipulation in Soviet silent cinema as respectively a formalist and comical effect in Medvedkin’s and Kuleshov’s films.


The only minus about the information provided in the footnotes to this presentation of Happiness are the commentaries on the music. Several times throughout the film I was wondering what the music’s relation to the film was. The soundtrack which was composed by both music and sound effects created from real recordings clearly had been created to fit a specific version of the film. Only one note, the very last one, explains this aspect of the film’s presentation. It specifies that the soundtrack used for the DVD edition was put together by Chris Marker, who had obtained the distribution rights for the films re-release in France in the 1970s. On this point one misses further explanation supposing that one could assume that Marker probably had many interesting thoughts on this and that Izvolov for could be supposed to be quite knowledgeable on this. But perhaps that will be receive more attention on another occasion.