Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Man with a Movie Camera

Man with a Movie Camera (1929), directed by Dziga Vertov, is a unique film. It has no actors nor story. It takes place over the span of one day and is a montage of the urban life in and around a Russian city. It follows an apparently avid (and brave considering the dangerous lengths he would go to in order to get the desired shot) camera man and his camera. It is largely about film techniques and the various processes required in making one.

There are a wide array of interesting camera angles and editing techniques employed throughout, demonstrating movie capabilities and methods that had been developed and explored at that time (1929).

An important aspect of this movie is in the ways scenes progress and the types of montage employed. Man with a Movie Camera contains both of what is known as series editing and collision editing. Series editing is the method of compressing time by the way of only showing the important things which happen in sequence to quickly show a progression and carry on the story. This editing was prevalent throughout the movie and served its purpose well. Many times it would show the man carrying the camera then it would quickly progress to the point where he finds his perfect spot for filming things. Film theorist Sergei Eisenstein argues that series editing is "merely one possible particular case" of editing. He views montage as a collision, where the collision of two factors gives rise to an idea (Eisenstein, Beyond the Shot, page 19). A conflict of two somewhat similar (to a varying degree) things to enhance a message and induce thought in the viewer. A clear example of this in the film was when a woman, apparently just waking up for the day, started to wash her face. The film cuts to high pressure water cleaning off a pole. These two things correspond in that they both include water and cleaning but differ in such a way to elicit thought as in the style Eisenstein favors.  As the scene progresses the woman begins to wipe herself with a cloth and then the film cuts to a woman wiping off a window with a similar cloth. Then as the woman cleans her face and starts blinking her eyes the blinds on the windows start opening and closing in unison to her eyes. These again are examples of collision editing utilized in this movie. This example of collision editing may have several interpretations as to meaning. It may imply that the life of a person (in this case a woman) is analogous the life of the city, in that both go through daily cycles and processes.

An interesting aspect of "Man with a Movie Camera" is that it is a universal film in the sense that there are no title cards and no needed prior knowledge of anything. It can be viewed by any person in any country without language or cultural barriers. Though this film does not have any overtly motivated messages it appears to have are a few themes throughout. Differences between the working class and a sort of upper class or people free without work for the day is implicitly shown in several scenes. For example, in one scene a woman is getting her hair washed and groomed at a hairdresser while the camera flashes to someone cleaning clothes outside in similarly soapy water and then to another working person doing a corresponding job to what is shown on screen (also an example of collision editing). Furthermore, the busy lives of workers moving throughout the streets and working in factories contrast to those enjoying the beach and sports. Another theme is that of the union of machinery and humans. Machinery is shown throughout in all forms. This lends to the idea the growing importance of machinery and highlighting the fact that machinery is an important component in film and that the only way a film (as well as many other things) can come to fruition is the combination of humans and machines.

Something that really struck about this version of the film was the accompanying music. Eerie combinations of chimes and xylophones being played while showing industrial parts of the city gave a distinct sense of coldness and unnaturalness. Fast and upbeat songs play as the busy streets of the city are shown. Rhythmically galloping music starts as horses are taking the camera for a ride. Poly-rhythmic beats are being produced by people at work at various jobs of the time while the camera quickly switches between them creating new and changing sounds. The sound in "Man with a Movie Camera" corresponds very well to what is being portrayed on screen as well as acting to enhance the atmosphere. It is important to note though, that the original movie had an accompanying orchestra and this soundtrack was added at a much later time than the film was released (2002), adding a compelling layer for moviegoers.


  1. Thanks for review, it was excellent and very informative.
    thank you :)

  2. Thaks for review, Movie is great even though the movie shows only the protagonist mixing with the life of the people, there are some hints as to the nature of activity for a person with a camera shooting the private lives of people , with acrobatic ability standing in moving cars and beneath rails finding the sweet spots is not an easy job and there is a feel of an adventure film, in this movie there is so many inspirational scenes, one scene is when the movement of the eyes of a person is shot along with the collision of the building with the rapidity almost giving another life to the object of the camera.

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