Posted at 12.18.2018
Dziga Vertov's 1929 film, The Man with the Movie Camera, documents life in a Russian city while also sharing with a tale about filmmaking. The film is a amazing mix of imagery and technique, inviting the viewer to see the location through the eyes of the cameraman, and share his understanding of the incidents and visions that he encounters through the filmmaking process. This review will analyze the film's narrative range and its underlying designs, its use of genre and common customs, the cinematic techniques applied and the potency of its approach to the materials.
At the beginning of the film, The Man with the Movie Camera identifies itself as something out of the ordinary. In the starting credits, the subject cards refer to the film as "an test in the cinematic communication of obvious events, carried out without the aid of intertitles, without the aid of a situation, without the aid of a movie theater" (Vertov). From the outset, the film distinguishes itself by looking to explore the natural fact of film-to file and record human life and activity in the form of moving pictures. The Man with the Movie Camera is put into four sections, and is also book-ended by imagery relating to film and filmmaking. It starts in a movie theater and closes with the lens of a camera shutting its "eye".
From a narrative point of view, the film is different from the norm in that it has no typical protagonist or antagonist. If a main character had to be defined, he would be the cameraman, with his main supporting persona being the editor. The town and its own inhabitants as a unified entity also turn into a major figure in the film, displaying how they interact with each other in the daily routine of work, slumber and leisure through the perspective of the filmmaker. The movie is mainly worried about depicting reality, somewhat than dramatized fiction or re-creations of traditional events.
The film's account is constructed in an unconventional narrative style, but is brought collectively through the repeating theme of the camera and the filmmaker. The happenings in the film happen over the course of a day, and although Vertov tests with physical and temporal continuity, the audience is given enough information to piece together the "plot". Upon first looking at, this "plot" might not be entirely clear, but as Roberts confirms, "THE PERSON with the Movie Camera does have a story" (1). Each portion of the film protects the different elements of the day (work, leftovers and leisure), and through this, Vertov establishes images which provide the visual language which is brought into play throughout the space of the film. By layering this imagery through editing and enhancing and montage, and incorporating them with the underlying account of the filmmaker and his camera, the overarching narrative is attached together. Roberts talks about that "all real human life is here now from labor and birth to fatality via childhood, marriage, divorce, work, leftovers and play" (2).
This avant-garde style of filmic storytelling became popular by means of the "city symphony" genre. Dimendberg talks about that the genre includes "around twenty titles and relies heavily upon montage to signify a cross-section of life in the present day metropolis" (109). In adhering to this genre, THE PERSON with the Movie Camera eliminates the original trappings of the documentary and becomes different things. There is absolutely no narration, no conventional narrative or plot elements, but rather a succession of rhythmic imagery describing the interior workings of an city. Graf describes the genre's composition as having a "dawn to dusk strategy in the visit a pure film form" (79).
Vertov utilized many cinematic ways to achieve the extraordinary momentum of imagery found in the film. These techniques included split-screen, slow movement, freeze-frame, fast movement, and stop-motion computer animation. The stop-motion animation sequence where the camera seems to come alive and walk around on its tripod remains startling right now. When juxtaposed with the day-to-day motions of human life that your film presents, it becomes clear that the camera itself has a life of its. It has its perception of situations separate from that of the filmmaker, and distinct from that of the audience. The variety of techniques used makes the film a show off of the power of cinema and its ability to transform everyday living into something completely different, using its own tempo and sense of unpredictability.
The editing and enhancing in The Man with the Movie Camera is one of the film's strongest points. There's a section which contrasts challenging footage of a delivery with that of your funeral. As you life ends, another starts. Similarly, there's a scene of marriage, with joyous atmosphere and smiling faces. In contrast, Vertov inserts a somber landscape of a couple signing their divorce paperwork. These binary oppositions are ubiquitous throughout the film, with juxtapositions between work and play, play and break, man and machine, and many others.
The musical rating also brings much life and energy to the film. The repeated designs complement the aesthetic language that Vertov founded. According to Feldman, "Vertov carefully organized the musical credit score and may well have designed the work to be produced as the first Soviet sound film" (qtd in Barsam 74). The synchronicity between sound files and onscreen action creates an extraordinary and fascinating mosaic of audio and imagery.
While the film is certainly a product of its time, it stands up amazingly well in modern day. Barsam state governments that the film "was well-received in the local and international press" (74). The inventive narrative structure and the multitude of cinematic techniques put the film sincerely ahead of its time. Vertov was successful in his attempt at documenting Russian life in a city without many of the normal elements typically found in documentaries. He were able to show an extraordinary cross-section of Russian contemporary society, by following daily lives of different classes of people. The Man with the Movie Camera remains a wonderful piece of experimental cinema, and offers a fascinating view of life as it was in the Soviet 1920s.