Man With a Movie Camera, The (1929)

“This experimental work aims at creating a truly international absolute language of cinema based on its total separation from the language of theater and literature.”

Man With Movie Camera Poster

Synopsis:
Soviet filmmaker Dziga Vertov chronicles life in Moscow in the late 1920s.

Genres:

Review:
Dziga Vertov’s cinema verite documentary about life in Moscow remains a groundbreaking, highly experimental, oddly overlooked cornerstone of cinematic history. Even modern viewers used to rapidfire MTV editing and the tenets of Godard et al.’s avant garde cinema will find themselves duly impressed — and perhaps a bit overwhelmed — by Vertov’s unceasingly busy, almost dizzying camerawork. As noted in TCM’s review, Vertov “experimented wildly with his camera, strapping it to motorcycles and to trains, using multiple exposure, time lapse photography, still imagery, dissolves, superimposition, and making the camera an obvious participant in what is being filmed.” Indeed, pretty much every possible cinematic trick of the day — both with the camera itself and in the editing room — is evident here.

Without any meta-narrative or voiceover, Vertov shows us strategically “representative” snippets of urban Soviet life, from morning to night, inside and out. We see couples getting married and divorced, factory employees hard at work, teeming crowds on streets, trains coming and going, athletes showing off their prowess — even an actual birth in graphic detail (though it comes and goes too quickly for us to feel anything other than basic recognition). Naturally, all these events didn’t actually take place in just one day, or even in one city — in truth, it took Vertov and his team over four years to gather the extensive footage across Moscow, Kiev, and Odessa. Meanwhile, Vertov frequently cuts away either to the editing room (where the footage is being manipulated), or to a movie theater, where viewers are watching the scenes unfold — thus reminding us continuously about the highly constructed nature of his narrative. It all makes for an invaluable, multifaceted snapshot of an era and a society, while simultaneously providing an audaciously radical commentary on the very nature of cinematic representation.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • A fascinating glimpse at “everyday” 1920s Russia
    Man With Camera Russia
  • A groundbreaking display of creative editing, framing, double-exposure, and other innovative cinematic techniques
    Man With Camera Techniques1
    Man With Camera Techniques2
    Man With Camera Techniques3

Must See?
Yes, for its undeniable historical relevance.

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(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

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One Response to “Man With a Movie Camera, The (1929)”

  1. A must. Something you may want to return to at some point in your film travels.

    This is pure cinema. A kinetic montage of imagery. It may have documented an era, but it continues to mirror life as it is. Life in perpetual motion. Life lived, almost regardless of where you live. The cameraman invites his audience in to show them this life. To show them themselves…and him, omnipresent, as he captures them – as he sees them; first as they are, then progressively with whimsy. As if to prove life is both ordinary and magical. And that it is largely to be celebrated.

    Snapshots of the fullness of living – in 67 minutes.

    …..
    From Wikipedia:
    2002 – A version was released with a soundtrack composed by Jason Swinscoe and performed by the British jazz and electronic outfit The Cinematic Orchestra (see Man with a Movie Camera (album)). Originally made for the Porto 2000 Film Festival. It was also released on DVD in limited numbers by Ninja Tune. This DVD edition is currently very much in demand and goes for prices higher than the other DVD versions.
    …..

    That is the version I saw on this revisit. The soundtrack is perfectly complementary as it shifts appropriately with the various moods of the film.

    A one-of-a-kind experience. 80+ years on, still as fresh as ever.

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