Man with a Movie Camera (1929)






















Everything about "Man with a Movie Camera" is experimental and it is a movie that could not be made today. At the beginning the viewer is told that there is no possible plot or story to the movie, though it is not pointless. It is an "experiment" (a word used more than a few times) in film, trying to stretch the possibility of the fast and growing industry.
It starts with people ushering into a movie theater, they all take their seats and watch the screen. The conductor is having his musicians warm up and then, the movie starts. The movie is "Man with a Movie Camera" it's a movie inside a movie...or movie-ception, if you were wondering.
This movie begins with barely moving scenes—the side of a building, a store front, the inside of a deserted factory. These shots go on for a while, fooling the viewer into thinking that the entire film will be consisting on these blank, unmoving shots. But even in this scene, there is a beauty to what is brought to the screen.
There are two players here, Dziga Vertov (the writer and director) and Mikhail Kaufman (the actor and cinematographer). Vertov allows so much freedom for Kaufman to create amazing shots of everyday life and daring clips of action.
"Man with a Movie Camera" is a movie about life like "The Tree of Life". While Terrence Malick's feature is much more cosmic and epic, Vertov's is just as impactful and emotional. By representing a "typical day", he can make such subtle comments about what life is—the happiness and sadness, the life and death, the success and the poverty. I'm not sure that Vertov has a single facet of the film that doesn't scream humanity.
What's surprising about the film is how diverse it is—it is not biased, racist, or elitist. The film doesn't flinch away from unpleasantries, nor does is shy from showing bliss.
The film is all-encompassing.
As an experiment, the film works because of shots that looked decidedly modern. Rapid-fire editing creates a style of back-and-forth jump shots similar to dubstep (yes, I realize how odd that sounds). The movie also features shots in reverse that work shockingly well.
Not only does this movie dare to show what life is, but it also shows the technical side of making a movie. We watch as Kaufman drives around and captures the world with an always grinding arm, working the camera. We see him film and then we see the film that he recorded.
There are also moments in the editing room, where we see what it was like to put the movie together.
I mentioned before that this is a movie that couldn't have been made today and this is why I said it: today we are accustomed to having a camera in our face wherever we go—they're in the malls we shop at, on the stoplights that we drive through, on the ATMs that we get money out of—it's impossible to find a place without a camera.
This was not the case in 1929, when the film was released and certainly not in the year that it was filmed. Kaufman will ride alongside a carriage and obnoxiously point the lens right at people as they travel. The people are polite enough, some hiding their faces but most just give a quizzical smirk to the camera and then going along their day.
This is how Kaufman recreated life on camera—by the people cooperating without realizing it.
The film, though not structured, has another element: a look into the mind of a cameraman. He sees things differently than we do and his mind is always racing and the film manages to show even this remarkably well.
I was shocked by how good "Man with a Movie Camera" was. It's a film that is as rapturous as is it inventive.






Score: 4 out of 4 stars

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