Mountain Vigil Review

AKA: Lernayin Parek, Gornoye Bdeniye
Genre: Slice-of-Life/Experimental
Year Released: 1964
Distributor: Unlicensed
Origin: Armenia/Russia
Running Time: 10 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: PG
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: Earth of People, Waiting for Happiness, Five
Notes: N/A
Fun Facts:
-Mountain Vigil is the debut work of Armenian director Artavazd Peleshyan. He was born in Gymuri, Armenia (then Leninakan during Soviet occupation of that country), graduated the VGIK which is one of the top film schools in Russia, and he invented the “distance montage” technique. For those not familiar with film production, it involves a depth of perception with oncoming subjects like a herd of animals running towards the camera from afar or oncoming vehicles that get closer to the shot. This has been common in film for decades now.

-This short film was actually a student project from Peleshyan.

Looks like I’m coming in straight out the gate to tackle one of my goals in covering countries that have never been featured on Iridium Eye and this one is a double whammy. It’s something from the transcontinental nation of Armenia as well as having a co-production with Russia regardless of this short film being made when the Soviet Union was a thing in the world. I was curious about Armenia’s history in film as I came into this blind. There wasn’t much I knew besides the capital being Yerevan or knowing a few people who are of Armenian descent. Some of those people who come to mind of that ethnic group are all the members of System of a Down, Cher, celebrity chef Geoffrey Zakarian, AEW wrestler Frankie Kazarian from the tag team/faction SCU (SoCal Uncensored), and sadly [sighs very deeply while shaking my head] the Kardashians. However, we’re not going to talk about any of them. This is going to be something avant-garde from a director who maybe overlooked in art house cinema as well as those who know about film from former Soviet nations.

Should Artavazd Peleshyan be in the annals of history much like so many of his contemporaries worldwide? Let’s take a look at this overlooked innovator of cinema.

Mountain Vigil is a short film that blurs the line between documentary and a feature film. This takes place in the rural mountain regions of Armenia as numerous workers do their best to make sure the railroads are safe and to make sure boulders don’t hurt anyone or anything. An entire crew is out to make sure these mountain roads and rails are on the level.

Out of context, this description would be dull, but this is surprisingly avant-garde and poetic than one would expect. It’s a black and white short film that barely has any dialogue (I want to say two or three sentences are spoken in Russian). While there were no subtitles, I could still understand what was going on. There’s the mundane tasks of dealing with the rocks and terrain for there to be transportation to go through, but there’s more than what was being shown. There was a message of man vs. nature done in an abstract way and doesn’t preach that motif to the audience. I thought that was very creative as the typical fuses with the artistic portrayal in a way I couldn’t put my finger on it. The music was great with the light symphonic works in the opening and ending as well as the minimal harp music were nice touches. Going back to my Fun Facts section, this would be the first film to use the distance montage technique which is seen with the swarm of mountain workers walking down the mountain in the bookend shots as well as the stationary camera mounted on the railway cars like a 60s black and white version of a typical moving GoPro shot, if that makes sense. Hey, give credit where credit is due. Peleshyan was certainly innovative with his camera work in multiple ways that would eventually become the norm in literally all genres and formats of film. That certainly gets a big up for me even though people may take that camera technique for granted. While Sergei Eisenstein still gets mentioned in academia and film history for inventing the montage technique when Battleship Potemkin was released almost a century ago, Peleshyan certainly deserves to be in the same conversation in terms of filmmakers who did new things. At least this Armenian director can say he wasn’t making propaganda to make it happen like that Russian silent film.

Mountain Vigil does have its shortcomings though. Since this was made in the 60s, it has certainly aged. I’m not just talking about some spots of burned film during the transfer, but there were cheesy lightning effects that looked outdated even by 1964 standards despite the b-roll being quite brief. While the mundane work shown adds to the message, it might be too mundane for the normal audience. There aren’t any characters to point to, so it’s hard to relate to any one person, since it’s shown as a collective instead of this person or that person as typical movies or even documentaries can and have done with different individuals. There was dated sound design with some of the natural sounds and mechanical effects sounded artificial and off. The portrayal of the film might be lost on people as they wonder if it’s a short mostly silent documentary about mountain workers or some slapdash montage for those types of jobs, so this can go over people’s heads with the presentation.

This was an intriguing debut from this Armenian cinematic pioneer. It was certainly different than so many films I’ve seen and I saw the poetic message in this experimental short. Mountain Vigil did do some creative themes and it certainly should be noted for inventing a new type of montage filming. However, I can see normal moviegoers not getting it or finding it too random. I’m glad to have been introduced out of the blue by Artavazd Peleshyan and I would like to check out more of his surviving filmography.

Adjustable Point Scores:
-Add 1-2 points if you like experimental silent films.
-Add 1 point if you’re a fan of realism.
-Subtract 1-2 points if you want dynamic characters.
-Subtract 1-3 points if you want straightforward movies.

-Debut of the distance montage which was very innovative
-Poetic themes about man against nature in a creative, yet realistic way
-Good soundtrack

-Dated filming
-Outdated sound design
-Not a character-based work and can be nebulous

Final Score: 7/10 points

Content Advisory: Mountain Vigil is a benign watch. The only offensive thing I can think of are some mountain workers smoking occasionally. Also, the work they do is dangerous with the falling rocks and dynamite, so please don’t copy what they’re doing.

-Curtis Monroe

All photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. Mountain Vigil is property of Artavazd Peleshyan. The screenshot is from YouTube and is property of Artavazd Peleshyan.

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