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Kino-Heart: a web archive of psycho-formalist études on the film Angel Heart (1987) and its Soviet Russian dub Сердце ангела (1990)

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Kino-Heart is a digital archive of psycho-formalist études – short riffs and studies in various media including prose, audio collage, and translation – inspired by the film Angel Heart (1987, dir. Alan Parker). Across these études I carry out a dialogic examination of Angel Heart’s reception in the (former) USSR and my own personal reception of the film, which became a powerful catalyst for self-reflection when I first encountered it in August 2022 – the month I began therapy for PTSD related to my encounters with the Russian state police when I lived there as a (foreign) researcher on queerness in film.

I term my approach to art scholarship in Kino-Heart as “psycho- formalist” because it is a reflexive, dialectical process synthesized from the Formalist philology that is the base of my academic training and the literary-psychoanalytic approach to creative expression as a means of understanding deep mechanisms of the self. Or rather: it is an emulation of the interrogative and self-expressive strategies developed in the personal writings of thinkers and artists who developed the Formalist intellectual tradition in Russian letters. This project takes its particular shape in response to my time spent conducting dissertation research in the personal archive of Sergei Eisenstein between 2019-2022. The days spent reading his notes, diaries, letters, and drafts were some of the most intellectually exciting and emotionally moving of my academic career and instilled in me great appreciation for the potential of the archive as a form for disseminating knowledge in an open-ended, collaboration-inviting manner.

One of the founding rivalries whose polemical dialogues shaped the development of Soviet film was Dziga Vertov’s Kino-Eye, which positioned film as a means of seeing the world from other points of view through radically authentic documentation; versus Eisenstein’s Kino-Fist, which positioned film as a means of emotionally impacting the viewer through the psychological impacts of artistic devices. Both Vertov and Eisenstein extensively used references to detectives and detective fiction to explain and illustrate their ideas. Vertov defined his work against fiction, but once confided that he would like to make just one non-documentary film: a detective story. Eisenstein pioneered the cinematic language and techniques that would be used by suspense and thriller directors the world over and in his own work took much inspiration from early Hollywood genre films.

Kino-Heart is an experiment in film study that returns to the detective as a central figure, metaphor, and foil for the analyzer and viewer. It is an intimate casefile of transcriptions, impressions, hunches, and self-incriminating evidence, compiled by a down-at-heel private investigator who invites the audience to carry out their own examinations of his findings however they so will. My kino-heart is here for your investigation, I have hidden everything in plain sight. А товарищ майор, если Вы каким-то возмутительным чудом читаете этот, знайте что: ты ещё никогда не был так близок к провалу.

(she/they/he) is a PhD with a detective’s soul. Their academic work to date is based in archival research and draws on a variety of approaches including formal philology, historical musicology and queer studies. As a creative experimentalist, they have found outlets for expression in a variety of media including graphic art, costuming, and sound art.

Maya was born and raised in central California. They began studying Slavic languages and literatures as an undergraduate at UC Berkeley, graduating in 2014 and continuing their studies at Harvard University. Their dissertation, forthcoming in 2023 under the title “Ivan the Terrible’s Queer Legacy in Art from Tchaikovsky to Eisenstein,” investigates the role played by the first tsar of all Russia’s rumored relationships with men in Russian-language historical fiction. As an interdisciplinarian, Maya is especially interested in opera and film and has written for Opera magazine.

In the coming years, Maya seeks to forge a career that combines scholarly research and creative production while using their language skills to help those fleeing war and anti-LGBT persecution in Ukraine and Russia.