Archive for January 1929

Man with a Movie Camera

January 8, 1929

Wild stuff. Experimental Soviet filmmaker Dziga Vertov uses everything in his bag of cinematic tricks to craft an exercise in “pure cinema” — sort of a proto-Koyaanisqatsi, only a lot more active and joyful. The film is very consciously about itself and the making of itself; every so often we see the movie’s actual cameraman cranking away on his camera (hence the title), and we see certain strips of film on the editing board before seeing them in motion in the movie. Anyone studying or teaching filmmaking technique needs to check this out just for Vertov’s mastery of editing and music (the newly recorded score was prepared according to Vertov’s instructions). Russian audiences of the day must have been either scandalized (there’s footage of childbirth and some mud-bath female nudity) or bored to see their own surroundings endlessly, but today the film works on another level as a snapshot of late-’20s Russia — the clothes, the transportation, the architecture, the machinery — and of the cinematic technology of the time, which here doesn’t seem limiting at all. In fact, Vertov doesn’t seem at all constrained by not having CGI or other modern toys — he gets his effects the old-fashioned imaginative way. I bet this was one of the films Coppola looked at before making Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Chaplin was a big Vertov fan, too.