Mechanics of the Brain (1926)
16mm. The year 1926 represents a privileged moment of the young Soviet film industry, with Eisenstein, Pudovkin, Kuleshov, Vertov, Barnet, Room, Kozintsev and Trauberg all represented by important work – and some, including Pudovkin, with more than one.
But Mechanics of the Brain, Pudovkin’s first film, was like no other. Interrupted on this project by work on The Mother, his extremely successful first major film narrative, Pudovkin returned later that year to complete his documentary on the theory and practice of Pavlovian reflexology. This film is of especial interest in a number of ways: first, as a clear indication of the importance of this filmmaker’s primarily scientific training and work experience, something we see in his texts on filmmaking and film acting which were to serve as a bible for successive generations of filmmakers, well beyond the borders of the USSR. Of more general importance is Mechanics’ role in the establishment of reflexology as the official base of psychology and psychiatry in the USSR, and its anti-psychoanalytic character. And of particular interest is the show-and-tell form of the demonstrations – compelling, and, in fact, disturbing. For the subjection of patients to Pavolvian technology and method generates images that recall, in their strangeness, certain aspects of Surrealist imagery – the work of Max Ernst in particular. This film that begins as a demonstration of scientific method develops in its appropriation of technology the aspect of a horror feature. – Annette Michelson
Print courtesy of the Reserve Film and Video Collection of The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.