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Man with a Movie Camera (1929)

Chelovek s kino-apparatom (original title)
Not Rated | | Documentary, Music | 12 May 1929 (USA)
A man travels around a city with a camera slung over his shoulder, documenting urban life with dazzling invention.

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Cast

Credited cast:
Mikhail Kaufman ...
The cameraman
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Storyline

This playful film is at once a documentary of a day in the life of the Soviet Union, a documentary of the filming of said documentary, and a depiction of an audience watching the film. Even the editing of the film is documented. We often see the cameraman who is purportedly making the film, but we rarely, if ever, see any of the footage he seems to be in the act of shooting! Written by George S. Davis

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The Greatest Documentary Ever Made.

Genres:

Documentary | Music

Certificate:

Not Rated | See all certifications »

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Release Date:

12 May 1929 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Living Russia, or The Man with a Camera  »

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1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Concerned about how the film would be received, and indeed that it might be destroyed, Dziga Vertov took out messaging in Pravda to try to explain the film's intentions and its anti-conventional stance against regular filmmaking. If anything, this created greater interest in the film. See more »

Crazy Credits

At the beginning there is a long explanation of what this film is about and that it is of experimental origin. See more »

Connections

Featured in Nós Que Aqui Estamos por Vós Esperamos (1999) See more »

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User Reviews

 
A revolutionary experiment in cinema
29 January 2002 | by See all my reviews

Dziga Vertov's `The Man with the Movie Camera' begins with a prologue that explains that the director is attempting to stretch the boundaries of the cinematic medium, trying to achieve `a total separation from the language of literature and theater.' It accomplishes this by throwing out conventional storytelling and taking a non-narrative approach. Basically, the entire film consists of different series of shots that illuminate day-to-day life in Moscow and Odessa. The periods of the day- dawn, working hours, and resting hours- are represented by the activities of the ordinary people that make up the `cast' of the film, while the activities of certain citizens are contrasted with activities of others to create a panorama of Russian urban life in 1929.

The first thing we see is a projectionist threading film through the spools of a projector. An audience pours into the movie theater as the seats magically flip out; this stylized movement establishes a sense of choreography that will frequently reoccur. The projector comes to life and images appear on the movie screen.

Now we see the details of a woman's bedroom. The camera starts by focusing on her window, then moving inside and examining her belongings, such as pictures that hang on the wall and items scattered on her dresser. The woman herself rests in her bed. Then we gradually move outside to see the world in a seemingly frozen state; streets are empty, the parks and benches are unpopulated, telephones are silent, and the wheels and gears of the factory remain still. More people are seen resting in their beds. Then a solitary car moves out onto the street with a cameraman perched in it, and, as if the filmmaker was signaling the start of the day, the city comes alive. The woman wakes up, begins washing herself and attending to her appearance, and flickers the shades to her window. Intercut with this are the images of trolley cars leaving their stations and moving about in synchronized motion, as well as people arriving at factories to begin labor. The gears that were previously silent begin to shift and churn, and they grow more and more rapid in movement as the film progresses. Similarly, there are images of a train moving at high speed, quickly intercut with images of crowds in parks, cars streaming through the streets, and telephones buzzing with activity. They make the working hours of the day seem all the more hectic.

Another interesting aspect of Vertov's editing is the way he contrasts the upper-class members of society with the lower-class. One scenario involves the residents of a barber shop: women get their hair primped while men sharpen razor blades for shaving. This is intercut with images of workers in a factory: women get their hair dirtied as they shovel coal, while men sharpen axes for chopping. Shots of trolleys moving about in various directions are placed in almost every sequence, to convey the idea of people moving constantly, anywhere at anytime.

When the working hours end and the resting hours begin, the gears come to a sudden halt and, moments later, we see people's bodies at rest, this time on the beach. Athletic events are photographed in a way that makes them seem energetic, but still allows for slow-moving photography to show that such activities are intended to be relaxing. We see a buff athlete jumping a hurdle; his expression is very animated, but his body moves with slowness and ease. We see families on a merry-go-round intercut with bikers on a motorcycle track. Eventually, we are back in the movie theater, where the audience watches joyfully as stop-motion animation shows a tripod and camera moving about on their own.

There is no actual `story' to Vertov's film. It is an attempt to use the camera to capture things other mediums of entertainment, such as books and plays, cannot. It is fascinating for its dazzling technical skill, and noteworthy for its movement towards a new cinematic direction.


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