Rhythmic Thinking: Svilova and Vertov’s Extended Mind

by Karen Pearlman

This paper will look at the collaboration between Dziga Vertov and his wife, editor, and lifelong collaborator, Elizaveta Svilova. It will define the expert, embodied processes that occur in the editing of their films as ‘editing thinking’, and suggest that Svilova is a significantly under recognized figure in the Soviet montage era. Her contribution via editing thinking was central to Vertov’s achievements.

The discussion starts with evidence. Clips of Svilova editing in Man with a Movie Camera (1929) reveal how editors extend their ‘machinery of mind’ (Clark 2008) with their editing tools and the filmed material. Svilova’s expert actions, which can be seen onscreen, reveal that a film’s edited passages are not results of editors’ thinking, rather the edits are her thoughts. The clips reveal that editing is thinking and that it occurs in action, and in the brain, the body and the world.

Having established that the films are not just being composed in one mind but are the result of thinking distributed between Vertov, Svilova and the filmed material itself, we then turn to the question of rhythm specifically. What kinds of ‘editing thinking’ expertise do editors develop to shape rhythms? I propose that ‘kinesthetic imagination’ is one of editors’ unique skills. Using the quicksilver rhythms of Man with a Movie Camera as an example, this paper will develop an idea about what ‘kinesthetic imagination’ is, how it is developed and how it works to shape the rhythms of a film.


Karen Pearlman