This is a review of a collection of Artavazd Peleshian’s works: Earth of People (1966), Beginning (1967), We (1969), Inhabitants (1970), Our Century (1983), Life (1993).
I was directed to this man, who Sergei Parajanov called ‘one of the few authentic geniuses of cinema’, by a friend who knows my tastes and on the basis of my strong affinity for Soviet montage. Now all those people - Eisenstein, Kuleshov, Vertov, etc - by the time sound rolled in were scattered to the four winds by Stalin and the censors. At least this revolution was prematurely brought to a halt, in my estimation the most defining and important in the first half of cinema and possibly to this day. The most experimental work in this field was never really allowed to blossom. What we got in these 10 years was enough to change the way we see.
Now my notion of Soviet montage is simple: a world that is animated in full rigor and solely by the impulse to see. Story in this mode is not our reason to see but rather the tumultuous after-effect of being engaged to do so. It emerges but only as we edit and synthesize continuously shifting glimpses into one.
Enter this guy, who came to the scene a few decades later and was allowed to work unobstructed and in complete anonymity. No doubt he has intimately studied all these past masters, the genius that was Vertov above all. Outwards his movies are composed symphonically, as paeans, with every intersecting set of images - about work, war, nature, or mundane life - annotating overarching destinies.
Now you may be told that Beginning celebrates the Revolution or We the fate and place of the Armenian people, but that goes against the grain and soul of the work. Leave that for commentarians. No, this is specifically designed to be open enough to complete you and some part you lacked the images for. You will know this as about your strife, perhaps internal. Your fate and place in the world at large.
This is important to note: every pull of the cinematic eye in any direction, say suddenly a set of images about conflict or animals being tugged away, is a pull into blank narrative space. You fill from experience. The threads disperse again and intersect.
Now all of these are worth at least one watch for just the consummate craft on display. For just the eloquence of images and the talent to edit, equalled only by a few. I have been playing and re-playing these on and off for about a week now. But if there’s one that you absolutely have to watch before you die, that is Our Century. It is a 2001 but with none of Kubrick’s vaingloriously Roman touch. Scratch that, its film cousin is Solyaris: a vast space odyssey mapping inwards, conflating every tragic, manic, ludicrous, funny, anxious, insane, desperate, poetic contraption of humankind to grow wings and fly into a swirling evocation of the soul’s primal desire to soar. Let it be about your flight, air that supports it.
This is one to keep and this man worth getting to know.