Saturday, May 19, 2012

Man with a Movie Camera

Chelovek s kinopparatom; silent art-film, Russia/ Ukraine, 1929; D: Dziga Vertov, S: Mikhail Kaufman, Elizaveta Svilova

A man with a camera films every day life in Kiev and Moscow: people attend a concert; passerbys walk though the streets; workers work in a steel mill; a daily routine in a hair saloon and tourists on a beach in Odessa; a magician entertains little children. Here and there people are puzzled by the camera. After the editing, the film is shown to the audience in the cinema.

Dziga Vertov's most famous film, "The Man with a Movie Camera" is a pure experimental film without a story, an avant-garde exercise in exploiting all possible cinematic techniques from every day events caught on celluloid: slow motion and fast motion (very inventive at that time, used only on a couple of occasions before, like Murnau's "Nosferatu"), double-exposure, split screen, footage played backwards (pigeons flying and landing in reverse), huge close ups, focus from out of focus (the camera "sharpening" the image of flowers out of focus), stop-motion animation (the tripod "walking" and the camera "jumping" out of the box on top of it) as well as metafilm ideas (the editor, Vertov's wife Svilova, assembling the filmed footage in the editing room; viewers watching this film in the cinema near the end). Despite a spontaneous anti-narration and its artificial setting, "Camera" is still an interesting and stimulative documentary that was enriched with 'anti-documentary' stylistic means, aimed at separating it from other art forms like theater and literature. Similarly like the Russian cinema made a tremendous leap forward with Eisenstein's "Battleship Potemkin" that showed all the rich possibilities of an "active"-dynamic editing and filled several gaps in the early days of cinema, Vertov's "Camera" showed all the potentials of cinematic techniques in the 20s, which is why some consider it a pure film and a major influence on avant-garde cinema and its successors (Godard, Cocteau, Cassavetes), diverting the history of that art form into a more advanced and complex direction.


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