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When "Man With a Movie Camera" had just been made, it must have been one of
the most distinctive movies of its time, and it is at least as interesting
now. In itself, it was a highly successful experiment: the variety of
creative camera techniques and the fast-paced progression of images create
an effective portrait of the city of Moscow as a typical day goes by. Now,
several decades later, it remains distinctive in its style and content, and
is even more interesting in that it also allows us a glimpse of daily life
in an unfamiliar place and time.
Starting with a look around the city in the morning before things start to happen, it then moves through the day, often coming back to the same site or individual at different times. The incidents shown range from routine daily activities to recreation to emergencies, with everything in between. The sense of realism is such that, despite the rather short clips of specific individuals, you can sometimes feel almost a part of what the persons on-screen are experiencing. At other times, it's just intriguing to have this kind of look at a different era.
The thorough-going experimentation, especially with the unusual camera methods, could easily have led to an unwatchable mess if not done with care. Even experienced film-makers, especially at the present time, too often over-indulge in such techniques to the point where the substance of their films becomes secondary to mere artifice. But here, Dziga Vertov achieved a skillful fit between technique and material, creating a film that has held up very well over the years.
The Man with a Movie Camera by Dziga Vertov made in 1929 is a silent film that clams to break away from the use of film cards, actors, and all other theatrical aspects that the film industry had been using as it has been developing. To capture this break from the set standards Vertov filmed life over the course of five to six years then edited down the film and added a score. There is no specific cast, nor a specific narrative them that the film follows. From the very first sequence of images of this film the viewer is brought into a world that focuses on the association of man and machine; how man not only controls the machine, it's out put and maintenance but also how man is like a machine. Man is the driving force of modern society; man is the backbone behind production and advances. Vertov expresses this idea without words, but instead shows a city waking up and dependent on the labor force. The pace of the images flows this slower morning pace to more of a flowing fast pace where images fly past the viewers at such a high rate it is almost impossible to see all action that has taken place. He interlays people and machines in both paces, to show not only the technological advances of that time but to also show how production, machines, and people enjoyment/fascination never stop. There is always this sense of progress. He shows that there is always two sides to every part of life. He shows images of life and death, marriage and divorce, young and old age as well as work and recreation. To offset the impact of all the images of only a workforce life, Vertov shows how society also has sports, games, pubs, and the beach to entertain the masses. The main theme of The Man with a Movie Camera is political. The film shows a Proletariat dominated society under the rule of Lenin. It is a propaganda tool of the time. All scenes show people in mass enjoying and partaking in the same action, whether it be working, travel, or recreation. The film tries to express a feeling of grandeur and delight with a society that shares everything and one that is based on a large working class. The repetitious images of machines and lower class individuals expresses the idea of a structured society that must function properly like a machine; that each person must carry their weight due to the whole nation's as well as society's prosperity being dependent on them. There is no difference of the sexes in this work force. That all individuals work and all do similar jobs. This idea is a complete opposite from Hollywood films and America's mindset of the same era. Vertov created a film where the view felt as if they were being shown a special side of society that not all individuals see. Tricks in editing and in photography allow him to interlay images of the camera and the human eye, which in turn implies the camera is a window into a different world. He wanted to create a film that showed society at the time. A film that broke away from the theatrical mindset that all films of that era followed. He wanted to show how all aspects of society are intertwined and that there is an over all happiness and contentment within Russia under Lenin. This propaganda film was used to invoke emotion as well as a feeling of awe for the association of man and machine.
The DVD of Man with a Movie Camera has a wonderful modern music score that is based on the director's notes. Experiencing the music along with the visuals makes for one of the best films ever. The idea of a film being made of a film about reality points out that we can only be shown reality but never quite get into it with film. The scenes of everyday life are wonderful...they show a city alive with hope and vigor. The editing is of course excellent and places images, such as trains and people moving and machines functioning, next to each other to create a greater impression on the viewer. Hey, that's montage! Seriously, it is a great experience and one that makes hope live for film. Maybe one day American filmmakers, with all their technology and money, can make something as vibrant and relevant as this.
Although I had obviously heard of this before watching it, and had been
enthusiastically by all that it was incredibly interesting, I found it
to believe that a film with a) no storyline, and b) no dialogue or
intertitles could be so exciting. I am now more than willing to eat my
This is quite simply the most amazing thing I have ever seen. Probably best described as a documentary about itself (although by no means only this), this film and it's creator were way before their time.
An interesting point to note: I've watched this twice, once with a traditional musical score, and once with a much more dynamic modern score, and it does have to be said that music can make the movie. I'm not a purist, so found the modern score much more interesting.
One of the most essential movies of all time.
After watching The Man with a Movie Camera, I was not only confused but
terrified at the same time. Experiencing many images in the span of an
made this movie mind-boggling and creepy. What caught my attention right
off the bat was how the director's camera and editing techniques were
amazing for being made in the 1920's. Throughout the film, there were
camera shots of a town, but in a unique way. Some angles were shot from
above, below, and even on objects that were constantly moving around the
town. A great editing technique used was a split screen showing a
movement on top of the screen then from the bottom. The town could be
moving at a regular pace at one point where the next time the film is sped
up conveying trauma and fast motion through the actual film. At one point
in the movie, a camera was setup to show a train coming right at the lens.
I thought the train was going to hit the camera and the person shooting
film. Right as the train gets to the camera, it lowers into a bunker
the train as it passes. Great camera techniques were used to give
feeling to that particular scene. Later in the movie, many images of eyes
would appear very fast and then disappear. This occurred frequently
throughout the movie and struck me as being weird and disturbing. Showing
women work and pack cigarettes and then flashing to a pair of eyes seems
very odd to me. What I do find interesting is how Vertov was able to edit
these scenes so quickly together. Over the whole movie, he muse have
so many random camera angles and shots that when he edited them together,
loved it. Overall, I thought this movie was educational in the history of
film. It shows how talented directors were back in the 20's and how
has played a big role in camera and editing techniques.
I have always watched Chelovek s kino-apparatom with a feeling of bewilderment. It's amazing how a movie this old can have such a great deal of things to say almost eighty years after it was released. This is more than a documentary; it's a meditation on how movies are constructed and about the artificial nature of art in general. At the beginning we have a prologue in which Vertov makes explicit his claim to separate the medium of cinema from the theater and literature and give it a particular, distinctive set of features that should identify it as a medium of communication. It has to be noted that both the media of theater and literature had become significantly stale by the time of Vertov, Modernism had managed to complicate the "rules of the game" so much that a shift of perspective was definitely welcome. Focusing on cinema a few early Russian directors hoped to produce a truer account of life than was previously the case with other media. This is why Vertov went against any fictitious plot for the movie. This attitude was at the same time O.K with the Party leadership and it represented a distinctive and very personal aesthetic vision on art. By now it is common knowledge that one of the most interesting things in this movie is its self-referential nature, in that it depicts the making of the movie we are actually watching. Immediately we are bothered by a certain peculiarity of the situation, because it becomes obvious that there must be somebody offering the perspective on the man making the movie and we wonder whose perspective is that. It is evident that the idea rests on the very artificiality of art, in this case cinema with its infinite capacity of lying. Put this together with the hyper-editing involved (I don't think there is one single shot in the movie that is longer than five seconds) and you obtain something that would only be equaled (and I dare say not surpassed) by the last movie by Welles, F for Fake, also a documentary with many peculiarities. From a cinematic standpoint the movie is pure eye candy. The shots are not always directed, as it was also the case with Lumiere and Melies (to whom the movie pays a well-deserved tribute) but the shots are constructed with a perfect sense of composition and they display a wide range of cinema tricks that make the movie a synthesis of cinema up to that point. Though there is no story attached, the director manages to abstract from the images, during the editing stage a range of patterns that focus on the image as the main semantic vehicle of the movie (no inter-titles are used). The image becomes much more important than in any other movie I have seen and with the help of editing the director creates a multi-layered plot that can be given diverse interpretations making the movie a challenge at each viewing.
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
literature and theater.' It accomplishes this by throwing out conventional
storytelling and taking a non-narrative approach. Basically, the entire
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
hours- are represented by the activities of the ordinary people that make
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.
Need more proof that the Russian Revolution actually did some good? Just watch Dziga Vertov's amazing experimental film and appreciate the creative energies that October 1917 unleashed. A clear (and superior) forerunner of films like Koyaanisqatsi, The Man With the Movie Camera will tease and provoke your eyes until it's quick cut ending will leave you gasping for more.
Dziga Vertov's "Cheloveks Kino Apparatom" is one of the greatest
documentaries to come out from Russia or from anywhere, anytime. It is
a silent experiment in cinematography and editing or as Vertov put it -
a film without a script, without any inter titles etc. His wife,
Yelizaveta Svilova edited the film and his brother Mikhail Kaufman
photographed it. Kaufman is actually the "man with the movie camera" in
When Kaufman saw the edited film he wasn't happy at all. Two brothers had a fight and never worked together again. Kaufman didn't agree with Vertov's style and his statement against cinema that was too dependent on literature and theater. Vertov's aim was to create a different language and he certainly succeeded. "Cheloveks Kino Apparatom" is a delightful work and it is too incredible for 1929 when it was made. I saw it with many different soundtracks and one of the most interesting ones is by Alloy Orchestra. By the way, Vertov's other brother Boris Kaufman won an Oscar for On the Waterfront. Some other documentaries I loved were Nanook by Flaherty, controversial Olympia by Riefenstahl, Last Spring on Sergei Paradjanov, and Sorrow and Pity by Ophuls.
I have had the opportunity to see Dziga Vertov's The Man with a Movie
Camera (Chelovek s Kinoapparatom) in my film documentary class. While
creating the film Vertov aimed at capturing real life. He used the
camera as the witness of true life. He believed that the camera was a
machine. He valued the reliance of machinery. Vertov alleged that the
machine would be the corner stone for the progress of
industrialization. He thought that industrialization and service of
people would liberate their society.
The Man with a Movie Camera was a silent film that was created in black and white. Vertov did not use a script for the beginning of the film because he did not want the audience to believe it was fictional. He used many different scenic shots in his film. There were clips of benches, land, buildings, water, and windows. He was able to capture everyday life among humans in Russia. He was able to capture all emotions as well as important events in their lives. He captured weddings, funerals, injuries, salon appointments, divorce, business, and birth.
His film was very kinetic. He was very concerned with making the subject and the camera movement perfect. The pace of the film was created to simulate the reality of what people are doing. The pace was also effected by the pace and direction of the Soviet Union in the 1920's. He was able to capture the vibrancy of life by showing the humans going about their everyday life.
Vertov used still frames for many of the athletes in his film. He would freeze frame the competitors one by one while they were performing. After he freeze framed each individual athlete, he would show them engaging fully in their activity. I thought this was very useful to keep the audiences attention. Dziga was able to create a distinction between classes. There were scenes with the upper class out at the salons, and other prestige's places among the city. He was able to create scenes where many of the humans were struggling for survival.
Vertov's film is one that I will need to see again to have a full appreciation of his talent. I was confused through out several scenes. I was not able to completely understand why he would change the pace of the film when he did. I really liked how he was able to capture humans during their everyday activities. Not once did I believe that any of the scenes in his film were staged. He is a very creative director who is worth learning more about.
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