Old 07-05-2009, 03:03 PM
Dziga Vertov's Man With a Movie Camera

Man With a Movie Camera (1929)

Dziga Vertov's "Man With a Movie Camera" is a film about the making of itself while at the same time it is also about a day in the life of the Soviet Union. Vertov wanted to make a film that didn't depend on a story and without the help of theater or intertitles. Today we simply know these kinds of films as documentaries, while in 1929 this was considered quite revolutionary.

The film basically follows around a cameraman as he films everyday life in some unnamed cities in the Soviet Union. The strange thing is, we rarely actually get to see the footage that the cameraman is actually shooting, but instead, we mostly see this cameraman filming. It can be said that the film is split into four sections: waking up, working, playing, with the final section being people watching a film; this film (This will make more sense in a bit).

I already mentioned that the film is about the making and displaying of itself. This turns out to be more than just simply watching the cameraman shoot the film. At the beginning of the film, we see a crowd of people pour into a movie theater to prepare to watch a film. The majority of the film then deals with the cameraman shooting the film, but at the same time, we get to see the film itself being edited. The film then concludes with the audience from the beginning watching the completed film.

The footage of everyday life in these towns is interesting to watch. We see people working away at several different jobs: box makers, packers, miners, various factory work, ambulance drivers, traffic cops, etc. Some of these jobs seem like they would become very monotonous, very fast, especially the box maker (who merely puts a piece of paper on a template and folds it into shape) and the packer (who grabs a handful of cigarettes and stuffs them into the box).

Even more interesting though is watching the cameraman set up various shots around the cities. At one point, we see him in a basket over a waterfall, at another we see him crouching in a mine, always with his old-fashioned (at least to us nowadays) and tripod. Most of the people he films don't seem to be bothered by the camera, but at least one woman does cover her face, while others look confused as to why he is filming them.

According to Roger Ebert's "Great Movie" essay on this film, the average shot length (ASL) is 2.3 seconds which was also considered revolutionary at the time. However, I found that this ended up hurting the film more than helping it. By having an ASL of only 2.3 seconds, he doesn't allow us to get a good idea of what he is trying to show us with each shot.

While he does a decent job of capturing everyday life, he seemed overly concerned with trying to pack too much into what was already a very short film (it runs about 67 minutes). He also seemed overly concerned with using flashy shots that didn't really have a place in a film like this, and by this I mean composite shots, reversing footage to make it look more interesting, and having people fade in and out.

There was one interesting series of shots near the end of the film that actually had a purpose. Using a kind of stop-motion animation, he brings a camera to life as it sets itself up and moves its tripod around. With this shot, he shows the camera taking on a life of its own, which can certainly seem like itís happening when a director and camera become one.

The score that was accompanying the film, in this case, the Vertov Cinematic Orchestra, works well for the most part. It starts off slow as people wake up and moves into a quicker tempo as we start to see the frenzied pace of these peoples' lives at work and at play. Apparently there are a few other scores to choose from, but this is the one that I found most available.

I was fascinated to learn that this took four years to film since it didn't seem like it would take that long at all. But then, if you take into consideration the vast amounts of footage that Vertov and his crew shot, along with an ASL of 2.3 seconds, then it starts to make a little more sense. What they ended up with is an interesting film about everything in itself and outside itself, which, considering all that that could entail, makes it amazing that they narrowed it down to 67 minutes. 3/4 stars.
Reply With Quote


Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump