Man with a Movie Camera

Man with a Movie Camera (1929) movie poster

(1929) dir. Dziga Vertov
viewed: 07/11/07

Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera is one of the greatest films ever made.  It’s a radical documentary film that utilizes a myriad of techniques and editing to construct a complex and multi-faceted image of Russia in the late 1920’s.  But it is so much more.  The film is exuberant, playful, and utterly replete with imagery and juxtapositions, commentary and depictions.  There is way more going on in 30 seconds of this film than I can begin to look at here in this entry.

I’d seen about half of the Man with a Movie Camera in a film class back more than 10 years ago and had been wanting to see the entire film for ages.  Vertov’s film addresses so much: life, birth, death, vision, cinema, Russian character, technology, industry…it’s a mad, hectic construct of images of a day in the life of Russia, with shots from a multitude of cities including Odessa and Moscow, shots from contrived images of the filmmaker transposed on top of the world and stop-motion animations, to close-up glimpses of everyday Russian people doing all kinds of things from waking, dressing, birthing, laboring, playing.

“This film is famous for the range of cinematic techniques Vertov invents, deploys or develops, such as double exposure, fast motion, slow motion, freeze frames, jump cuts, split screens, Dutch angles, extreme close-ups, tracking shots, footage played backwards, animations, and a self-reflexive style (at one point it features a split screen tracking shot; the sides have opposite Dutch angles).” — Wikipedia.

Actually, that little blurb from Wikipedia really captures what I would like to have stated myself, and it’s easier to capture it in a quote than to try to reiterate it myself.  The activity in the film, the hyper-usage of techniques that bring about fascinating, sometimes complimentary, sometimes contrasting juxtapositions is a real attempt at using film as a language, using images and movement to create new information, new expressions, wordless, yet clear and profound.  And sometimes outright hilarious.

The film is as radical today as it was in 1929.  Okay, that’s probably impossible, but it’s hard to overstate its power, its verve, its cleverness, inventiveness, and downright genius.  Absolutely, without a doubt, this is one of the greatest films ever made, so replete with ideas, visions, images that I can not say enough about it.  It’s brilliant.

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