K-SH-E (1932)

One of the first Soviet sound documentaries, this portrait of the Young Communist League (Komsomol) portrays its attempts to bring electrification to the Soviet Union.

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“A marvellous sound-sight victory.”
Sergei Eisenstein, telegram to composer Gavriil Popov, 1933

A former associate of Sergei Eisenstein, Esfir Shub cut her creative teeth re-editing foreign fiction films to make them ‘ideologically correct’ before making her name with the archive-footage compilation The Fall of the Romanov Dynasty.

K. Sh. E (the title works better in Cyrillic, and is short for ‘Komsomol – Sponsor of Electrification’) was Shub’s first sound film, and necessitated a change of approach. Instead of relying on rapid montages, she pioneered what we would now recognise as cinéma vérité, albeit decades before the term was coined. Shub makes no attempt to hide her film crew, and her subjects are clearly aware of the camera. Much of the sound was recorded directly, though Gavriil Popov’s score would become a crucial element in the final product, not least through its use of the theremin, which at the time offered the ultimate in futuristic sound.

Shub continued to make documentaries, and her historically important memoirs were published in 1959, the year of her death.

Practically every documentary maker who works with archive footage has followed in Esfir Shub’s footsteps.

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