Greg DeCuir - Serbien cutting

Greg DeCuir Greg DeCuir Serbian cutting[1]

The following was reported by Julius Strauss in London’s Daily Telegraph, regarding Serbian involvement in the Yugoslav Wars of the 90s:

“In a crime reminiscent of Nazi reprisals in occupied Europe, 45 Kosovan Albanian farmers were rounded up, led up a hill and massacred ... At Srebrenica four years earlier Serbs had killed more than 7,000 Bosnian Muslims in three days … When the Serbs entered the Croatian town of Vukovar in 1991 they took nearly 300 wounded from the hospital and executed them.”[1][open endnotes in new window]

Vucicevic in a scene from the film Innocence Unprotected (1968).Vucicevic in a scene from the film Innocence Unprotected (1968).

Furthermore, the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States of America reported in April 1995 that nearly 90 percent of all the atrocities in the Yugoslav Wars up to that point had been committed by Serb militants.[2] Not being sure of the official margin of error on that statistic (assuming one exists), perhaps it would be fair for us to round up and say “nearly” 100 percent! Taking yet one more rational (and humorous) leap, screenwriter and film critic Branko Vucicevic in his book Paper Movies proposes the following theorem: “If Serbs are fond of slaughtering people, there must be a method of film cutting that corresponds.”[3] And if such a method exists it seems logical, as he does, to call it “Serbian cutting.”[4] “Unless an image displaces itself from its natural state, it acquires no significance. Displacement causes resonance.” — Shanta Gokhale

Ahmed (Slobodan Aligrudic) at work exterminating rats in Love Affair (1967).Ahmed (Slobodan Aligrudic) at work exterminating rats in Love Affair (1967).Serbian cutting is an act of displacement that posits the following question: “What would happen if an image, or a series of moving images, were to be ripped asunder from their original habitat and relocated to a new one—what would happen to the images themselves as well as to their new housing?” This essay will attempt to gauge the significance and resulting resonance of filmic assemblage in a uniquely Balkan (or, more politically correct for some—Southeast European) manner and context. Serbian cutting has historical antecedents in Soviet montage theory, which is where this analysis will begin.

In his theoretical writing Dziga Vertov defined intervals as “the transitions from one movement to another.”[5] As such, “Intervals are the material, the elements of the art of movement, and by no means the movements themselves.”[6] This theory of intervals as material elements is echoed in Serbian cutting in the use of archival materials to aid and abet cinematic movement. These materialist intervals “draw the movement to a kinetic resolution”—a resolution that Vertov labels “kinochestvo.”[7] By that, he means the ciné-ness of things, a sort of cinematography personified in its natural form.

The reflexive interval as nonsensical play on the frame in Love Affair (1967).The reflexive interval as nonsensical play on the frame in Love Affair (1967).Vertov goes on to note that “the visual ‘interval’ … is … a complex quantity.”[8] This complex quantity “consists of the sum of various correlations,”[9] of which the fundamental ones he notes are: planes, foreshortenings, movements, light and shadow, and recording speeds.[10] However, Serbian cutting offers an additional correlation that Vertov leaves out: the correlation of (displaced) sources. It is this correlation that gives Serbian cutting a unique identity.

Serbian cutting seems to embody Vertov’s idea of a “montage battle:” movement between shots and of adjacent shots in relation to the whole.[11] This battle reflects the compilation of diverse shots (and sources) struggling for supremacy over the narrative—struggling to convey meaning. Just like kino-eye, Serbian cutting “plunges into the seeming chaos of life”[12] in search of a “resultant force amongst the million phenomena related to the given theme.”[13] The only difference is that Serbian cutting dives into the chaos of recorded history of life in an effort to plunder and raid, to resurrect and reassemble for its own filmic humanity or, kinochestvo. Serbian cutting is therefore not concerned with documenting life but rather that documentation which is performed by others. It is a critical inquiry which, as filmmaker and theorist Trinh T. Minh-ha has written, is less about “attacking the illusion of reality”[14] than “displacing and emptying out the establishment of totality.”[15] Serbian cutting gives you the world in fragments.

Love Affair (1967) -- the correlation of archival sources.Love Affair (1967) -- the correlation of archival sources.For Trinh the interval is a break, “what persists between the meaning of something and its truth.”[16] Here again the interval aids and abets or acts as a bridge—not for aesthetic ends but rather political ones. The correlation of displaced sources that is Serbian cutting is construed with meaning that “can be political only when it does not let itself be easily stabilized and when it does not rely on any single source of authority, but rather, empties it or decentralizes it.”[17] This notion of decentralized and destabilized meaning characterizes Serbian cutting in both formal and thematic ways. The variety of archival sources utilized in this method is “at once plural and utterly singular.”[18]

Love Affair (1967) -- the archival source as surrogate.Love Affair (1967) -- the archival source as surrogate.The reflexive interval is the “core” of representation in Trinh’s conception while the overtly-reflexive nature of Serbian cutting is conducive to realizing the “play within the textual frame [which] is a play on this very frame.”[19] Serbian cutting as an anarchic practice is a destabilizing force that “causes the work to fall apart”[20] at the same time that it fuses odd ends together. This destructive play frees the work from “the tyranny of meaning”[21] for Trinh, which dictates that the films to be analyzed in this essay cannot be categorized simply as either documentary or fiction. The films exist “on the borderlines of the textual and extratextual, ... where the work ... can only be itself by constantly risking being no-thing.”[22] Assemblage is an anti-authoritarian form. This rebellious spirit “allow(s) the work to live, and to live on independently of the intended links …”[23]

Innocence Unprotected (1943) -- the gaze of the heroine.Innocence Unprotected (1943) -- the gaze of the heroine.Defining Serbian cutting on a very practical level it is a mode of assemblage that results in a cinematic form that is very similar to a compilation film. To explicate this mode we can utilize the concept of “collective assemblage” as outlined by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari in their book A Thousand Plateaus. This collective assemblage “does not speak ‘of’ things; it speaks on the same level as states of things and states of content.”[24] The refusal to speak “about” mirrors Trinh’s interval which persists between meaning and truth. “I do not intend to speak about/just speak nearby,” she intones in her 1982 film Reassemblage. Collective assemblage rejects “the tyranny of meaning” in favor of collectivizing content (and form).

Displaced and resonant documentary footage in Innocence Unprotected (1968).Displaced and resonant documentary footage in Innocence Unprotected (1968).Deleuze and Guattari insist that “every statement of a collective assemblage of enunciation belongs to indirect discourse” and “indirect discourse is the presence of a reported statement within the reporting statement.”[25] This explains the archival impulse in Serbian cutting, the attempt to “speak nearby”—displaced sources as indirect discourse(s). The notion of a reported statement within the reporting statement harkens back to Vertov’s idea that, “A composition is made of phrases, just as a phrase is made of intervals of movement.”[26]

Deleuze and Guattari further elucidate on the multiple axes of assemblage. Regarding the vertical axis “the assemblage has both territorial sides, or reterritorialized sides, which stabilize it, and the cutting edges of deterritorialization, which carry it away.”[27] Trinh’s decentralized and pluralized break is evoked again here, along with the idea of an interval that cuts both ways. The displaced sources that characterize Serbian cutting and the oftentimes harsh transitions that mark their passage threaten to carry the film off on a tangent at the same time they attempt to stabilize (and pluralize) the larger reporting statement. This disjunctive editing scheme is conceived upon a vertical axis, a burrowing trajectory which is produced by the archival impulse. These displaced archival sources are stacked against each other as building blocks and as such, assemblage has a staccato pattern—it is a resonant patchwork, not a self-effacing flow.

Innocence Unprotected (1968) -- Allied-Axis cutting.Innocence Unprotected (1968) -- Allied-Axis cutting.Vucicevic defines Serbian cutting in the following manner: “Using existing material, as in archive footage, to substitute as original footage within a scene in a film.”[28] To this end the usual (though not only) form of Serbian cutting is an interjection of illustrative documentary material into the dramaturgy of a fiction film as a surrogate, producing an ideological effect through dialectical alternation. Here, we must allow a few cautionary notes on Vucicevic before concerning ourselves with illustrating his idea through textual analyses. [Figure 1]

Branko Vucicevic worked as a film critic throughout the 50s and 60s writing for important Yugoslav cinema journals of the day such as Filmska kultura and Film danas; he also eventually began writing screenplays (he co-wrote the film Rani radovi/Early Works [1969] with writer-director Zelimir Zilnik, which won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival). In 1967 Dusan Makavejev asked him to be an assistant director on his film Ljubavni slucaj ili tragedija sluzbenice PTT/Love Affair, or the Case of the Missing Switchboard Operator (which Zilnik also worked on as an assistant) and the two teamed up again to work on the film Nevinost bez zastite/Innocence Unprotected in 1968. Vucicevic was interested in the theoretical constructs of editing, so he sat in on the post-production process of Love Affair and suggested certain creative choices.[29] This partnership resulted in the style of Serbian cutting, which Makavejev exhibited in these and even his later films that Vucicevic did not work on (this style was not utilized in Makavejev’s first film Covek nije tica/Man Is Not a Bird [1965], which predated his working relationship with Vucicevic). As such, being the birthplace of Serbian cutting, Makavejev’s early films will be at the center of this analysis.

The viewer as the final link in the human chain of solidarity in WR Mysteries of the Organism (1971).The viewer as the final link in the human chain of solidarity in WR Mysteries of the Organism (1971).“The form of wood, for instance, is altered, by making a table out of it. Yet, for all that, the table continues to be that common, every-day thing, wood. But, so soon as it steps forth as a commodity, it is changed into something transcendent. It not only stands with its feet on the ground, but, in relation to all other commodities, it stands on its head, and evolves out of its wooden brain grotesque ideas, far more wonderful than ‘table-turning’ ever was.”[29b] – Karl Marx

In 2008 the film editor and director Mihailo P. Ilic published a book entitled Serbian Cutting (Belgrade: Filmski centar Srbije)—the first to attempt to investigate this radical form of montage in detail. Not coincidentally, displayed on the cover of the book is an iconic image from Makavejev’s Love Affair featuring the main character Izabela (Eva Ras) as she lays naked on a bed with a black cat perched on top of her. As the descriptive title of the film indicates Love Affair is about the love affair between Izabela and Ahmed (Slobodan Aligrudic) and its eventual descent into tragedy. Izabela, a Yugoslav-Hungarian, works as a telephone switchboard operator and lives alone as a single woman in the city of Belgrade. Ahmed, a Yugoslav-Muslim who is also a forthright member of the Communist Party, works as a sanitary inspector specializing in the extermination of rats. [Figure 2] The film gives a detailed (at times documentary) account of the pair’s meeting, relationship, infidelity and break-up, eventually leading to death for Izabela and imprisonment for Ahmed.

WR Mysteries of the Organism (1971) -- the reflexive pull of Maoism.WR Mysteries of the Organism (1971) -- the reflexive pull of Maoism.A demonstrative example of Serbian cutting can be found by examining the moment when Izabela decides to cheat on Ahmed. When the flirtatious postman Mica (Miodrag Andric) successfully seduces Izabela she sits on his lap and looks directly into the camera—the “reflexive interval” that Trinh discusses, introducing the nonsensical play on the frame that immediately follows. [Figure 3] Then, a sudden cut to archival footage titled “Adam und Eve” from the 1903 German film Akt-Skulpturen. Studienfilm fur bildende Kunstler/Live Sculptures (directed by Oscar Messter) details the sexual exploits of Adam and Eve through stylized alterations in their positions on top of a rotating platform, eventually ending with them sleeping. [Figures 4-5]

The infinitesimal loop of ideology in WR Mysteries of the Organism (1971).The infinitesimal loop of ideology in WR Mysteries of the Organism (1971).The brief correlation here produces the effect of being able to infer what happens next in the story: Izabela having illicit sex with her new lover. However, the archival footage only allows us to view a substitute for this scene while also commenting on the scene in question by adding a new level of meaning. Izabela has been called Eve earlier in the film by Ahmed, a religious reference to her tempting him to abandon his traditional values such as not drinking alcohol and refraining from having physical affairs with a woman who is not his wife. Through Serbian cutting this association is exemplified and reiterated, creating a moment that not only communicates narrative content but also comments on that content through an extra-cinematic plane of signification.

The title sequence introducing the Katyn footage in Sweet Movie (1974). Documentary footage as indirect discourse..jpgThe title sequence introducing the Katyn footage in Sweet Movie (1974). Documentary footage as indirect discourse..jpgThe entire basis for and structure of the film Innocence Unprotected is an extended assemblage. Makavejev found a forgotten movie in the Yugoslav Film Archives called Innocence Unprotected (1943) directed by Dragoljub Aleksic, a film that had been cited as the first sound feature made in Yugoslavia (and which he subsequently named his own film after). In as much the work of a film historian as an archivist Makavejev decided to resurrect this production in the form of a documentary about the film’s making and its director/star Aleksic. Throughout this documentary compilation Makavejev utilizes long sections of the original Innocence Unprotected, so much so that the original film almost plays out in its entirety as a reported statement within the larger reporting statement that is Makavejev’s film.

Soviet cutting in Sweet Movie (1974).Soviet cutting in Sweet Movie (1974).The original Innocence Unprotected is a traditional story about a young girl named Nada (Ana Milosavljevic) hopelessly in love with Aleksic (playing himself) though relentlessly pursued by an objectionable older man named Petrovic (Bratoljub Gligorijevic). One of the more powerful moments that exemplifies Serbian cutting comes in an early scene in the film within the film when Nada fends off the advances of the persistent Petrovic. She moves away from him to a nearby window and, despondently, looks out of it while thinking of her true love. [Figure 6] After she glances out of the window (her glance close to a direct address as she looks just past the lens of the camera) Makavejev cuts to actuality footage of the aftermath of the World War II bombardment of Belgrade. Fire spews out from shelled buildings and rubble dots the streets, people scramble to find loved ones or just to escape the hellish carnage, corpses lie in rigor mortis awaiting recovery. This displaced and resonant documentary footage is substituted for the gaze of the heroine. [Figures 7-8]

The original Innocence Unprotected was shot amid the German occupation of Belgrade—two years before Rossellini shot Roma, città aperta/Rome, Open City (1945) in the streets of a freshly-liberated Rome. This actuality footage affixes a sub/contextual meaning to the reconstructed film and simultaneously makes it palpable while the indexical tie to reality presented functions as Trinh’s break between meaning and truth. The very title of the film refers to Nada, the modest heroine who is stalked by the menacing invader Petrovic. Nada is also made to represent the city of Belgrade itself suffering under a relentless attack. This is the pluralized meaning of the text. The truth of the text is rendered in documentary form with the actuality footage of a battered Belgrade. However, this truth is decentralized, as it is used in the form of Serbian cutting to represent the point of view of a fictional character.[30] [open endnotes in new window] Through this decentralization or displacement, again as Gokhale notes, the documentary images lend resonance to the scene as a whole by pluralizing meaning.

The archival impulse in Sweet Movie (1974).The archival impulse in Sweet Movie (1974).Makavejev directed WR: Misterije organizma/WR: Mysteries of the Organism, his most well-known film, in 1971. Similar to Innocence Unprotected two narrative strands are woven together: a documentary investigation into the life and work of sexual psychologist Wilhelm Reich and a fictional tale about a Yugoslav woman named Milena (Milena Dravic) who searches for an improved socialism through sexual liberation. Near the opening of the second act in the film Milena delivers an impassioned speech from her apartment building balcony addressed to her neighbors, advocating for the position that there can be no conflict between socialism and physical love. Milena’s speech ends with the neighbors embracing hands, dancing the kolo,[31] and collectively singing about life not being worth a thing without sex. When the audience of neighbors locks hands and begins dancing up the stairs and across the floors Milena is eventually reached and absorbed into their train. As Milena forms the final link in the human chain of solidarity while approaching the camera she suddenly reaches out and grasps the hand of the cameraman—thus absorbing the viewer, as the camera can be seen to reflect our point of view. [Figure 9] This is yet another reflexive interval that triggers the play on the frame that is Serbian cutting.

Sweet Movie (1974) -- Archival work is similar to an autopsy.Sweet Movie (1974) -- Archival work is similar to an autopsy.After this reflexive pull at the audience Makavejev cuts in a correlative pattern that creates another reflexive pull. The next shot arrives as a result of a match cut in movement and composition but comprised of a huge disjunction in space and time when we are immediately transported to Peking’s Red Square in China and a huge demonstration in support of Maoism. On the exact same axis of the previous shot walking in the same screen direction along a balcony are Chairman Mao and a few party officials. [Figure 10] This archival footage plays under the continued sound of the Serbian singing and creates a dialectical opposition and linkage. The fictional strand is given a documentary correlative in reality and as we witness the massive Chinese crowd surging forward with their little red books held high Makavejev delivers an ironic underscoring and warning: what starts as a spark can quickly grow into an unchecked revolutionary inferno with misguided principles and disastrous outcomes (as was the case with Mao’s Cultural Revolution). The power of Serbian cutting as a practice, as cinematic rhetoric, is expressed here. The alternation between fictional and documentary footage produces a third logic that is greater than the sum of its parts yet is able to maintain a continuity of form through discontinuity.

After the newsreel footage of Chairman Mao’s rally the “montage battle” continues, not only with a correlation of displaced sources but also a continued correlation of movements within the frame. The next cut introduces footage from the Soviet fiction film Pitsi/The Vow (1946) by Mikheil Chiaureli. The contrast between the surging mass that is the Chinese crowd and the stationary spectators who wait in frozen anticipation for the arrival of Stalin in this scene recalls the rhythmic artistic whole that is Vertov’s kinochestvo. The ideological implications in this short sequence are animated by the respective representations of Yugoslav self-managing socialism, frenzied communist fervor in China, and dogmatic totalitarianism in the Soviet Union. They are visually symbolized by the celebratory movement of Yugoslavia in the form of a culturally-specific dance (as self-managing socialism was a unique path toward communist goals), the powerful human wave of movement in the Chinese footage, and the rigidity in the Soviet clip. Makavejev uses visual styling to comment on and criticize these respective socialist ideologies presented in this collective assemblage.

Sweet Movie (1974) -- That which one has already known and loved.Sweet Movie (1974) -- That which one has already known and loved.The controlled movements of the actor playing Stalin (Mikheil Gelovani) along with his high party functionaries bring this collective assemblage full circle. Milena and her train of collaborators dance in a counter-clockwise direction towards the bottom of the frame; the Chinese crowd matches this movement, continuing towards the top of the frame; Stalin appears from the top of the frame and continues the movement again, slowly pacing downwards in the frame. [Figure 11] This correlation of movements is also a correlation of planes. Makavejev links the ideologies in question in an infinitesimal loop, which is either a polemical appeal to solidarity or an equalizing critical view on ineffectuality. This juxtaposition is dialectical in nature; the elements in the equation inflect each other in a transformative pattern as was the case in reality, as Stalin’s break with Tito in 1948[32] ultimately led to Yugoslavia’s unique socialist path while the youthful fervor of Maoist revolution in the 60s helped spark a generational break in Yugoslavia which culminated in the Belgrade student demonstrations of 1968.[33] The socio-historical picture evokes the complex quantity that is Serbian cutting.

Makavejev directed Sweet Movie in 1974 as a Canadian-French-West German co-production. In this film, yet again, two (fictional) narrative threads are correlated: the journey of sexual awakening for Miss Canada (Carole Laure) and the fateful boat journey of one Captain Anna Planeta (Anna Prucnal). The most affecting instance of Serbian cutting in the film is the insertion of a scene detailing the Katyn Forest massacre. [Figure 12]

The Katyn Forest scene is composed of archival actuality footage shot by the Nazis in 1943 when they excavated the site of the mass killings of Polish officers and civilians by the Soviets in Katyn Forest. This disturbing documentary footage is not necessarily used as a surrogate for incomplete scenes but more as a thematic extension of those scenes, as indirect discourse that reports on atrocities and hushed memories. The actuality footage realizes the capability of the documentary to bear witness and it also serves as visible evidence in a literal sense. When Nazi Germany discovered the mass graves in the Katyn Forest and documented their exhumation they used the footage as proof of Soviet culpability and the fact that there were butcherers of men in the world other than themselves (perhaps we can call this an instance of “Soviet cutting”). [Figure 13]

The Katyn sequence in Sweet Movie also symbolizes the archival impulse that governs Serbian cutting in a multi-faceted way. Archival work functions on two axes, like Deleuze and Guattari’s theory of assemblage. It can bury items for safekeeping, deterritorializing them for future reference; it can unearth items, rescuing them, or reterritorialize them in an effort of rediscovery (or reassembly). Here, the archival impulse as digging into the past for clues to understanding the present is mirrored by the Germans digging in the ground to unearth corpses. [Figure 14] When these corpses are raised they are examined for the evidence they contain. Archival work is akin to an autopsy and ironically then, Serbian cutting reanimates rather than slaughters. [Figure 15]

In his book The Laws of Imitation the sociologist Gabriel Tarde writes that

“the work of art answers, not to the need of knowing something new, ... but to the truly loving need of seeing again, of finding again with tireless and ever keener eagerness, that which one has already known and loved ....”[34]

The actuality footage in the Katyn sequence testifies to this need of seeing again. The corpses that are raised are not scientific objects but rather former human beings. [Figure 16] We see evidence of this as the examiners look through identification cards, pictures, and other effects that reveal smiling faces and indomitable spirits. These corpses were once known and loved and the proof of this refuses to stay buried.

The archival impulse and assemblage of Serbian cutting represents this tireless and keener eagerness, this triumph of life in the face of death. Through the loving need of seeing again a method of montage is born that reawakens us to a world once lost and reclaims it.

“Cutting. Passage of dead images to living images. Everything blossoms afresh.”

— Robert Bresson


A number of questions arise when considering the particulars of this essay. Perhaps the most immediate is why this demonstration of Serbian cutting is focused on Makavejev and further, can this concept not be extended to cover the operations of other directors? This leads to the more pointed question, “Does Serbian cutting exist elsewhere?”

Certainly the influence of Serbian cutting can be felt elsewhere whether it exists, per se, as specifically explicated in this essay. Serbian cutting stands along the evolutionary continuum of radical forms of montage as a continuation and an outgrowth. In this particular iteration of that continuum it seems to find a unique housing in the films of Makavejev. The theory behind Serbian cutting can be used as a conceptual framework that opens up the films of Makavejev to a greater understanding, putting them in dialogue with this continuum—the theory was in fact conceived for this purpose and not to posit a broader classification or a generalizing national trend in Serbian cinema. This is maybe its shortcoming as a theory, being that theories typically generalize to achieve their effect. Of course then, Serbian cutting must likewise be critiqued for its particularizing use of the descriptive “Serbian.” Funny how that adjective in and of itself often requires an apologetic disclaimer upon its application.

Perhaps it is problematic to call this aesthetic mode “Serbian” cutting for any number of reasons, not the least of which being the fact that the films referred to here were produced during the era of Yugoslavia when Serbia was not an independent nation but rather a constituent republic. Problems of this sort may arise if we want to air this conception out and test its functioning with other films and filmmakers (whether Serbian or not). Both Makavejev and Vucicevic are of Serbian ethnic origin, which lends some understanding to the humorous self-branding and identification initiated by the latter. In order to further understand its creation we must consider the era when Serbian cutting was conceptualized, which was after Makavejev ceased his filmmaking activities (and decades after the films described in this essay).

As previously mentioned the notion of Serbian cutting was a tongue-in-cheek response forwarded by Vucicevic during the time of the Yugoslav wars of secession. This was a time when Serbs were largely demonized both internally and internationally as the bad guys, as those that were at fault in the wars and who must ultimately carry the blame for “nearly 90 percent” of its horrors. A sly cultural and political commentator, Vucicevic’s joke can also be read as a cynical comment on Serbian nationalism, which was perverted and used by those in power to fan the flames of intolerance (and which ultimately made pariahs out of Serbs). With this sort of ironic contrast of essentialisms in mind Serbian cutting can only be “Serbian” to hold consistent as a critique, it can only be “Serbian” to redirect that critique towards an outside world that has been all too eager to participate in the continued “Balkanization” and dismemberment of the Republic of Serbia. Serbian cutting truly is a double-edged sword, as described earlier.

Because of its playful yet biting nature as satire it is possible that Serbian cutting (as cinematic practice) does not exist at all, which then provokes a question: “Can jokes be theorized?” The truth is that all theories are jokes because they are not reality—they simplify reality. They attempt to explain reality but only by creating their own (false) realities. Serbian cutting is part and parcel of the uniquely cynical sense of humor (often self-deprecating) and absurdity that permeates life in Serbia, which is often bitterly ironic because of the cruel conditions one must survive through. This savage and destructive sense of humor characterizes Vucicevic’s book Paper Movies from start to finish, just as an eruptive and often dark sense of humor characterizes the films of Makavejev.

Though all theories are false there is a little bit of truth in every joke. It is almost certain that Vucicevic would find laughable here the academic leaps and postulates that his writing has served as a launching ground for. We shall end this essay then as its point of departure began, with a wisecrack:

“A father from the Serbian countryside brings his son to the big city. The father asks his friend, a wealthy business owner, if he can help out and give his uneducated son a job. His friend says, ‘Sure. I can make him president of the firm. No questions asked!’ The father says, ‘No, that’s too much money. It will spoil him. Do you have something smaller?’ The friend says, ‘Sure. Why don’t I make him the manager?’ The father says, ‘No, he’s not ready for that. He’s not so smart. Do you have something smaller?’ The friend tries to think of something but draws a blank. The father says, ‘Can’t you just start him out as an assistant?’ The friend shakes his head and says, ‘Sorry. He needs a university degree for that.’”


1. “This is described in Julian Strauss’ article (Daily Telegraph, June 30, 2001) on the Kosovo killings.” [return to page 3 of essay]

2. Stjepan G. Mestrovic (ed.). Genocide after emotion: the postemotional balkan war (London-New York: Routledge, 1996), p. 8.

3. Branko Vucicevic. Paper movies (Belgrade-Zagreb: Arkzin & B 92, 1998), p. 36.

4. A condensed version of this essay was presented during the international documentary studies conference Visible Evidence XVII at Bogazici University (Istanbul, Turkey), August 9-12, 2010.

5. Annette Michelson (ed.). Kino eye: the writings of Dziga Vertov (Berkeley-Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1984), p. 8.

6. Ibid.

7. Ibid.

8. Ibid., p. 90.

9. Ibid.

10. Ibid.

11. Ibid., p. 91.

12. Ibid., p. 88.

13. Ibid.

14. Trinh T. Minh-ha. “The Totalizing Quest of Meaning” in Theorizing documentary edited by Michael Renov (New York: Routledge, 1993), p. 107.

15. Ibid.

16. Ibid., p. 92.

17. Ibid., p. 100.

18. Ibid.

19. Ibid., p. 105.

20. Ibid.

21. Ibid.

22. Ibid.

23. Ibid.

24. Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. A thousand plateaus: capitalism and schizophrenia (London-New York: Continuum, 2004), p. 96.

25. Ibid., p. 93.

26. Annette Michelson (ed.). Kino eye: the writings of Dziga Vertov (Berkeley-Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1984), p. 9.

27. Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. A thousand plateaus: capitalism and schizophrenia (London-New York: Continuum, 2004), pp. 97-98.

28. Branko Vucicevic. Paper movies (Belgrade-Zagreb: Arkzin & B 92, 1998), p. 38.

29. Interview with Branko Vucicevic conducted by Greg DeCuir, Jr. in February 2008.

29b. Karl Marx. “Capital, Volume One” in The Marx-Engels reader edited by Robert C. Tucker (New York-London: W.W. Norton & Company, 1978), p. 320.

30. It should also be noted that Belgrade was bombed multiple times by both Allied forces and the Axis powers during World War II. One cannot be sure which bombing raid resulted in the actuality footage presented. [return to page 4]

31. The kolo is a traditional Yugoslav folk dance featuring groups of people holding hands and moving in unison. Kolo can mean “circle” or “ring” when translated and the dancers often appropriate this shape.

32. This break occurred when Yugoslavia was expelled from the Cominform, which marked a political/philosophical turning point for the newly-formed country. On June 27, 1950 Yugoslavia’s famous Law on the Management of State Economic Associations by Work Collectives establishing self-management in the workplace was introduced. At the Yugoslav Communist Party’s 6th Congress in Zagreb in 1952 Tito rejected Stalin, the writer Miroslav Krleza rejected socialist realism, the Department of Agitation and Propaganda (Agitprop) was disbanded and the party voted to change its name to the “League of Yugoslav Communists” all while Tito spoke of the need to have the party step back from direct control of central government.

33. The Belgrade student demonstrations occurred in June 1968 partly in response to the May ‘68 unrest in Paris. The flashpoint for the student unrest was a bloody confrontation between students and police in the Student City district of Belgrade. This led to students occupying the building of the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Belgrade and renaming it “Karl Marx Red University.” Generally speaking the students were agitating for an end to corruption and an improved socialism while the targets of their critique were party functionaries who they derisively labeled “red bourgeoisie.”

34. Gabriel Tarde. The laws of imitation (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1903), p. 354.


Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. A thousand plateaus: capitalism and schizophrenia. London-New York: Continuum, 2004.

Ilic, Mihailo P. Serbian cutting. Belgrade: Filmski centar Srbije, 2008.

Mestrovic, Stjepan G. (ed.). Genocide after emotion: the postemotional balkan war. London-New York: Routledge, 1996.

Michelson, Annette (ed.). Kino eye: the writings of Dziga Vertov. Berkeley-Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1984.

Renov, Michael (ed.). Theorizing documentary. New York: Routledge, 1993.

Tarde, Gabriel. The laws of imitation. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1903.

Vucicevic, Branko. Paper movies. Belgrade-Zagreb: Arkzin & B 92, 1998.


[1] Published originally at

Greg DeCuir