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Man with a Movie Camera


Welcome to the past.

…because why wouldn’t you be interested in a silent documentary with little to no story, dialogue, scenario and spectacle? Even with a title like “Man with a Movie Camera,” Dziga Vertov’s film remains inventive and compelling to jaded media consumers like us. Simply filming a day in the life of pre-World War II, post-Revolution Russia, Vertov’s kino-eye assembly of images created the “man in the street” aesthetic through serial and collision editing. In addition to being a document of social history, “Man with a Movie Camera” spearheaded the movements of formalist cinema, futurist art and the communist aesthetic – which as you know from reading about Vertov’s rival Sergei Eisenstein was extremely important to the concept of film as we know it!

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In the same way that Eisenstein used “Battleship Potemkin” to test his ideas about montage, Vertov made “Man With A Movie Camera” to implement his “Kino-eye method” in which the filmmaker uses all the available tools of cinema to present fact instead of fiction. Of course, that was about all the two great Soviet filmmakers had in common, as Vertov personally hated the work of Eisenstein (a feeling that was quite mutual) along with the entire concept of narrative cinema. “Man with a Movie Camera” offered a daring form of realism by representing the shared experience of the everyday citizen without artificial drama. Vertov’s film not only pioneered the idea of pure cinematic realism and the communistic aesthetic, but also the entire genre of documentary film.

Long before Orson Welles and the French new wave, “Man with a Movie Camera” attempted to push cinema beyond the limitations of a static camera on a set. Vertov’s film made innovative use of cinematography through zooms, pans, Dutch angle shots and double exposures as the camera literally moved around the streets of Soviet Russia. In the cutting room, the filmmaker experimented with intersplicing slow motion, superimposed images, freeze frames, jump cuts, split screens and even stop motion animation. The combined kaleidoscopic effect allows the cinematic mastery to overcome the film’s lack of a plot or characters, empowering the commonplace subjects of Vertov’s lens.

By literally documenting everyday life in “Man with a Movie Camera,” Vertov sought to establish cinema’s role in society. Instead of filming in a closed set with people in costumes, Vertov brought the camera into the street to show how the new technology of cinema could be a part of the human experience. The film attempted to document social interactions as they really are, not as the director told people how to act. Vertov ultimately believed that cinema would create a new visual language that could cut across cultural and communication barriers. While some of this may sound like idealistic Soviet mumbo jumbo, it did cause filmmakers to consider how their new art form might be distinct from theatrical and literary traditions.

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2 comments

  1. Chandan Bhatt ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    It’s cool that you provided this early 20th century gem. I have seen it once before but the camera-editing tricks are amazing for the time. A nice analog to Sergei Eisenstein’s dramatic approach. Too bad the Michael Nyman score was not included as I have not heard it before. Having said that, you can always sync your own desired 1 hr+ score to this. Many orchestraic adaptations will suffice.

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