Man with a Movie Camera
Dziga Vertov was a known Russian filmmaker born on January 2nd, 1896, in Poland. He was a man that wanted to get away from mainstream cinema, and more importantly wanted to avoid American cliché’s. He began to be known worldwide for his unique approach to films, and more specifically coming up with new ways for making different styles of experimental film. It appears that he was not a big fan of fiction films either. He believed that narrative forms of cinema were simply not pure, and that they were delivering the wrong message to their audience.
He didn’t favor movies that were trying to deliver a single straight message, but instead he wanted his audience to interact with the images, think, and decide for themselves. In his movie Man with a Movie Camera, made in 1929 he is clearly challenging himself in creating a very unusual avant-garde style film. I believe that his style was not an accidental, and it was influenced by his surrounding culture and society. Jeremy Hicks describes Vertov’s style in his book, Defining Documentary Film, “explicitly partisan approach to newsreel.” (Hicks, p 5) Dziga Vertov’s new style and techniques emphasizes on the fact that a film can go anywhere in terms of narration, style, data and still be very meaningful.
Unlike any mass-produced movies made at his time he was instead looking for a purer form of cinema. In the beginning of his movie Man with a Movie Camera, he perfectly describes his style of filmmaking, and what he believes to be the true form of cinema. He writes, “This film presents an experiment in the cinematic communication of visible events without the aid of intertitles, without the aid of a scenario, without the aid of theater. This experimental work aims at creating a truly international absolute language of cinema based on its total separation from language, theater, and literature.” That is exactly what we see in his film. Besides being the director he is also taking the role of the cameraman. He records and interacts with different subjects in the city. He presents us with the urban life in Odessa and other Soviet cities to show us the working class, and rise of the industrialization. He avoids narrative style of story telling, and even at times he confuses us with time and space.
Man with the Movie Camera contains many different cinematic techniques, which made it stand out from all other movie that was made at its time. He used fast motion, slow motion, jump cuts, split screens, and etc. He shows the harmony between man and the machine, and how they are working and living amongst each other in peace. For example, he chose to do the split screen for the passing train almost showing them colliding on top of each other. He chose this technique to show his audience that the two trains can pass each other in a busy industrialized nation without any interruptions using it as a metaphor for interactions between humans. Vertov talks about how to approach a documentary film. He says, “Conscious behavior cannot be tolerated, character must be surprised by the camera if the whole ‘documentary’ value of this kind of cinema is to be achieved…” (Hicks, P 129) In Man with a Movie Camera, he practically becomes one with the camera. He records events and people catching them unaware living their daily lives in the city.
He also decided to record the process of the movie being made, and include it in the movie itself. We see him carrying the camera from one place to another looking for subjects to film. He shows still images of places, or people and sometimes freezes a moving image. We see the editing room, and how a woman (His wife) is editing the film. At the beginning of the movie we see the audience entering a theater waiting to watch the film. By including peaces of the post-production he is showing us that the movie it is not just about its plot, but instead its about the whole experience of watching, interacting, thinking, and the process of making a film. We see the interaction that takes place between humans, and machines while a movie is being put together.
He made this movie at a time of industrialization of his country. The country was moving towards modernization, and was working hard to improve its economy. These were the times that technology was beginning to enter people’s homes, and play in important role in their lives. We see a great deal of this in the movie. We see people working in mines, and women working in factories. Some people looked satisfied and happy, and some just didn’t. Showing their happiness or sadness was not as important as catching the real truthful emotions in this film. I think overall the movie is a genius work of art, which used many different cinematic techniques to show the life of people living in Russia around late 1920’s.
· Hicks, Jeremy, and Dziga Vertov. Dziga Vertov: Defining Documentary Film. London: I. B. Tauris, 2007. Print.
· Vertov, Dziga, and Annette Michelson. Kino-eye: the Writings of Dziga Vertov. Berkeley, Ca.: University of California, 1984. Print.