MoMA Presents

Alex Ross on Three Songs of Lenin

Jun 24–Jul 8, 2021


Three Songs of Lenin. 1934. Russia. Directed by Dziga Vertov. Courtesy Amkino Corporation/Photofest

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Alex Ross, longtime New Yorker music critic and a Pulitzer Prize finalist, introduces Dziga Vertov’s Three Songs of Lenin (1934/38), commemorating the publication of his revelatory new book Wagnerism: Art and Politics in the Shadow of Music (Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 2020). Ross reconsiders the German composer Richard Wagner’s mythic hold over European and American culture in the late-19th and 20th centuries. Devoting a chapter to the unbridled use of Wagner’s music, or Wagnerian music, throughout the history of cinema (“from Birth of a Nation to Apocalypse Now”), Ross observes that “on the soundtrack of Vertov’s Three Songs of Lenin, we hear the halting drumbeats and upward slithering figures that introduce Siegfried’s Funeral Music, which was indeed played at Lenin’s memorial…. With the music’s transition from tragic minor to heroic major, we see hopeful signs reading ‘The revolution lives on’ and ’Lenin is our immortality.’”

“One of the greatest and most beautiful films I have ever seen” (H. G. Wells). In 1938, Dziga Vertov was instructed to re-edit his most celebrated film, which he had made in 1934–35 in silent and sound versions, and to remove any references to “enemies of the people” who by then had become the victims of Stalin’s purges. This sound version features images of Stalin himself, which had been removed from yet another edit in 1970 during a period of anti-Stalinist revisionism. The film is structured in three parts and glorifies Lenin’s life and legacy through folkloric songs, tales, and mythologies. “In this film,” Aleksandr Deriabin writes, “Lenin is Vertov’s Future Adam, and the spiral montage is his genome, discovered by Vertov before it was by geneticists. Vertov tried to do what the Internationale promised in words, and what Bolsheviks failed to do in practice: build the New World on the debris of the Old.... Those in power made sure Vertov would never get another chance to make a messianic movie like this.” Courtesy Austrian Filmmuseum, Vienna.

Organized by Joshua Siegel, Curator, Department of Film. Thanks to the Austrian Filmmuseum, Vienna.

  • This film series is part of Virtual Cinema and MoMA Presents.

    Film at MoMA is made possible by CHANEL.

    Additional support is provided by the Annual Film Fund. Leadership support for the Annual Film Fund is provided by Debra and Leon D. Black and by Steven Tisch, with major contributions from The Contemporary Arts Council of The Museum of Modern Art, Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder, MoMA’s Wallis Annenberg Fund for Innovation in Contemporary Art through the Annenberg Foundation, the Association of Independent Commercial Producers (AICP), The Junior Associates of The Museum of Modern Art, the Samuel I. Newhouse Foundation, Karen and Gary Winnick, and The Brown Foundation, Inc., of Houston.


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