Man with a Movie Camera - A Revolutionary Cinematic Experiment

                          Godffrey Reggio's mesmerizing 1983 "Koyaanisqatsi", Ron Fricke's dazzling, inevitable images in "Baraka" and the recent "Samsara" all paints the wordless images of the modern technological world running amuck. However, there is grand-father to these cinematic experiements. It is Dziga Vertov's "Man with a Movie Camera" (1929). For a Russian film made in 1929, it amounts to a catalog of all the tricks, movies can perform.

                       Dziga Vertov is a Polish-born Soviet director. After working on the Soviet newsreel and various other documentaries, he directed a manifesto for stripped down film-making, "an experiment in cinematic communication of real events without the help of intertitles, without the help of a story, without the help of theatre."Vertov takes us to see his homeland and people through his camera's perspectives. The documentary commences by showing inside a movie theater. It visually signals that we are about to witness a film process itself in inventive ways. As people pile up to the music, the projectionist gets ready for the screening. And so, we see the camera in question, intercutting footage of its position to make certain that we are paying attention to his artistry. 

                       "Man with a Movie Camera" is a chronicle of city life. An amalgamation of vignettes, each smartly cut to give a viewer, a feel for the frantic world of post-revolutionary Russia. All humans -- in Moscow and Odessa -- are here in this movie: from tramps  in the parks to the tourists on dry land. Each individuals rituals is entwined with the footage of others until dusk. Through the camera, we see couples signing their wedding certificate, followed by the less-ecstatic couples signing their divorce certificate. There are also some galvanizing shots of a woman giving birth, which is intercut with the procession of an open coffin.

                       Vertov and his co-creator, cinematographer and brother Mikhail Kaufman, along with the film cuts is the real star of this documentary. His camera is always moving at a rapid pace and even takes a bow at the final moments. Many innovative cinematography techniques such as variable camera speeds, dissolves, split-screen effects and superimposed montages gives us intoxicating visuals. Nothing is impossible in front of this camera, from shots of an oncoming train, which appears to practically run Kaufman over, to animated prawns scrambling over one another on a plate. Here, the cameraman also takes role of a magician and stuntman.

                       The film cuts has an amazing fluidity to it. The cross-cuts between all images, creates an increasingly hypnotic viewing experience. One of the excellent sequence shows still photographs of peoples and roads along with the editing process before revealing the these same things in moving images. Man with a Movie Camera has a huge impact than ever thanks to a brilliant new score by The Cinematic Orchestra. Vertov always intended his movie to be accompanied by music and he would be pleased by TCO's work. The soundtrack is astoundingly  effective, soaring along with the rush of images. Words simply can't describe the feelings conveyed by the music and Vertov.

                    A man traveling with a movie camera in a 1929 Russia. That kind of sounds like a dry premise, but brace yourself for a shock. For the 65 minutes, the movie is a whirling delight, elation, a kinetic  overload of motion and unrestrained optimism. Vertov's "Man with a Movie Camera" is a pioneering experiment that stands as an icon for cinephiles all around the world. Like Bunuel's landmark surrealistic short "Andalusian Dog", it still remains as a fascinating souvenir. 

Best of the Best Blogathon - A Potpourri of Vestiges

Man with a Movie Camera - IMDb

Roger Ebert - Great Movies


Murtaza Ali Khan said...

Had I not watched The Man with a Movie Camera, even the thought of making a comparison to Bunuel's Un Chien Andalou would have sounded like a blasphemy to me. But, I know better now. And what can I say of your review? It offers a great insight into this brilliant yet complex work of cinema. Kudos to you for your achieving this.

PS. Thanks a lot for contributing such a brilliant post (that analyzes such a formidable work of cinema) to the Best of the Best Blogathon. Bro, it would be great if for navigation sake you could also add a link to the main blogathon page in addition to the blogathon logo.


This film drew my attention back to the silents. I was mesmerized to see how people lived in the Soviet Union few years after the Russian Revolution.