In September, the filmmaker Artavazd Pelechian is coming to the Centre for Fine Arts BOZAR in Brussels, for an introduction, masterclass and screening of his films. The Armenian filmmaker only made eleven films, most of them short films. These films, primarily experimental documentary films, are most known for their distinctive montage. Pelechian himself calls it ‘distant montage’. One could describe it as organic montage instead of logical montage. Shots are often linked not by a direct, but by an indirect connection. Hordes of running animals can be followed by a mass of people moving in the same direction, stressing parallels and differences between them. Furthermore, in Pelechian’s films, associations are not predominatnly made between juxtaposed shots, but also between remote shots, between sequences and single shots, or by interrelated sequences. Sometimes singular images come back at several moments throughout the film, slowly developing more nuance in their possible interpretation.
Another characteristic of Pelechian’s films, is the use of sound as a key element. Not only in the montage, where the music can enhance or alter the interpretation of the images, but as he stated himself,
I can not conceive my films without music. When I write the scenarios, I must preview the musical structure of the film, the musical accents, the emotional and rhythmic character of this music, which is necessary, indispensable for each scene. (citation taken from Senses of Cinema that features an elaborate article on Pelechian)
These things become clear when watching his first film after graduating from the Russian films school VGIK, The Beginning (1967).
Commissioned for the 50th anniversary of the Russian revolution, the nine minute film, mainly consisting of archival newsreel material, offers a fast forwarded glimpse of 50 years of (Soviet) history. No voice-over, no text cards, no diegetic sound at all. At the opening of the film, church bells announce the beginning of something; some seconds later, non-diegetic shot gun sounds announce the revolution – stressed by a stroboscopic effect by interweaving black or white frames. The sounds and shots used here, come back several times. When an image of Lenin appears, the frantic music begins, evoking the sound of a riding train, an image emerging a little later. The agitated musical rhythm makes the fast cutting montage appear even faster. The composition used is ‘Time, Forward!’ by Gyorgi Sviridov, a theme that was commissioned for a propagandistic film two years earlier.
This brings us back to a previous post on The Heart of the World by Guy Maddin, a film with similar fast cutting pace, using the same musical composition. In my earlier post, I missed the connection between these two films, but music, images and montage in both films are clearly related. Another sign that the influence of Pelechian is more present than visible at a first sight.