Man With a Movie Camera

Dir: Dziga Vertov, 1929. Cinematography: Mikhail Kaufman. Silent Film.
Man With a Movie Camera

Man With a Movie Camera is an experimental film directed by Dziga Vertov. In this film Vertov was attempting to create an "absolute language of cinema" that is "based on its total separation from the language of literature and theatre." Dropping the use of actors, story lines, sets, and inter-titles, the result is a video diary made up of very powerful imagery.

Although this is an experimental film, and Vertov used a wealth of cinematic trickery (variable camera speeds, dissolves, split-screen effects, the use of prismatic lenses, stop motion etc.). The subject matter is of the everyday sort, or rather, the exposure of some of the more esoteric aspects of day to day life. The viewer is taken to see the heart of factories, a salon, a childbirth, and many other places where we normally might not go, we are shown a snapshot of urban life in a Russian city in 1929.

One of the more charming aspects of this film is its intimate treatment of an environment, and time, that is now lost to us. Vertov, and his brother Mikhail Kaufman (the cinematographer), had an almost prophetic sense of what might be of lasting interest to audiences in the future; shooting seemingly mundane things in great detail, these images bring the time and place to life in a very striking manner.

The overall effect of the film is that of a collage of images, rapid-fire editing, and images superimposed over each other to create a surrealistic atmospher - the city appears almost factory-like, as the film is interspersed with artful images of industry, and we are taken from panoramic overhead views down to street curb level. There is a constant stream of images, such that I'm sure you could point out new parts of the film with every consecutive viewing.

The soundtrack in my version (Image Entertainment 2002) provided by The Alloy Orchestra, leaves me with mixed emotions. As a matter of personal taste, I tend to shy away from overly anthemic orchestral blasts of music, and even though this soundtrack does relapse into that sort of boisterousness every now and again, there are also some really nice, subtle bits of music that make use of junk percussion, and detuned instruments, adding a complimentary industrial feel to the film. But when the analog synths kick in I'm reminded of how important it is to put an appropriate soundtrack to a film of a bygone era. Watch this without a score at least once.

Ultimately, Man With a Movie Camera is a fantastic and historical work of cinema that would be enjoyed by fans of silent film, fans of the 20s and 30s, and fans of experimental film.

Posted by:
Jonah Rust
Jun 29, 2009 4:17pm
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