(Man with a Movie Camera)
Director: Dziga Vertov
Production: Vufku (Ukraine); black and white, 35mm, silent; running time: 67 minutes. Released 1929. Filmed 1929, mostly in Moscow.
Screenplay: Dziga Vertov; photography: Mikhail Kaufman; editor: Dziga Vertov; assistant editor: Yelizaveta Svilova; special effects: Dziga Vertov, Mikhail Kaufman.
Vertov, Dziga, " The Man with the Movie Camera ," in Film Comment (New York), Spring 1972.
Marie, Michel, "Dziga Vertov: L'homme à la caméra " (photographic continuity) in Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), 1 December 1978.
Dickinson, Thorold, and Catherine De La Roche, Soviet Cinema , London, 1948.
Leyda, Jay, Kino: A History of the Russian and Soviet Film , London, 1960.
Abramov, Nikolai, Dziga Vertov , edited by Barthélemy Amengual, Lyons, 1965.
Sadoul, Georges, Dziga Vertov , Paris, 1971.
Barsam, Richard, Nonfiction Film: A Critical History , New York, 1973.
Barnouw, Erik, Documentary: A History of the Non-Fiction Film , New York, 1974.
Feldman, Seth, Evolution of Style in the Early Works of Dziga Vertov , New York, 1977.
Feldman, Seth, Dziga Vertov: A Guide to References and Resources , Boston, 1979.
Marshall, Herbert, Masters of the Soviet Cinema: Crippled Creative Biographies , London, 1983.
Vertov, Dziga, Kino-Eye: The Writings of Dziga Vertov , edited by Annette Michelson, Berkeley, 1984.
Waugh, Thomas, editor, "Show us Life": Toward a History and Aesthetics of the Committed Documentary , Metuchen, New Jersey, 1984.
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Vaughn, Dai, in Films and Filming (London), November 1960.
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Michelson, Annette, " The Man with the Movie Camera: From Magician to Epistomologist," in Art Forum (New York), March 1972.
Bordwell, David, in Film Comment (New York), Spring 1972.
Helman, A., "Dziga Wiertow albo wszechobecnosc kamery. Nasz kamery," in Kino (Warsaw), May 1973.
Vronskaya, Jean, "The Man Without a Movie Camera," in Film (London), May 1973.
Tuch, R., "Vertov and the Picaresque Spirit: Man with the Movie Camera ," in Film Library Quarterly (New York), no. 1, 1975.
Cornand, J., in Image et Son (Paris), June-July 1975.
Crofts, S., and O. Rose, "An Essay Towards Man with a Movie Camera ," in Screen (London), Spring 1977.
Mayne, Judith, "Kino-truth and Kino-praxis: Vertov's Man with a Movie Camera ," in Ciné-Tracts (Montreal), Summer 1977.
Brejc, T., "Slikovno polje in podoba v filmu," in Ekran (Ljubljana, Yugoslavia), no. 9–10, 1979.
Interview with Mikhail Kaufman in October (Cambridge, Massachusetts), Winter 1979.
Williams, A., "The Camera Eye and the Film: Notes on Vertov's Formalism," in Wide Angle (Athens, Ohio), no. 3, 1980.
Carroll, Noel, "Causation, the Amplification of Movement and Avant-Garde Film," in Millenium Film Journal (New York), Fall-Winter 1981–82.
Beller, J. L., "The Circulating Eye," in Communication Review (Thousand Oaks, California), no. 2, 1993.
Crofts, S., "Constructivism in Film: the Man with the Movie Camera: A Cinematic Analysis," in Metro Magazine (St. Kilda West), Winter 1994.
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Tsivian, Yuri, "Dziga Vertov's Frozen Music," in Griffithiana , October 1995.
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The product of post-revolutionary Russia, Man with a Movie Camera reflects that era's excitement with film and anticipates modern techniques and concern for capturing actuality. Its creator, Dziga Vertov, in the film's treatment, called Man with a Movie Camera an "experiment in conveying visual phenomena without the aid of titles, scenario, or theatre (a film without actors or sets)." The result of Vertov's experiment is a film about filmmaking and the illusions it can create.
Without the usual props of plot, titles, or sound, Vertov gives the film its structure by using the format of the city symphony films of the mid 1920s, but he brackets the scenes with references to the cinematic process. The film's protagonist is the cameraman, a picaro travelling through the city, involving himself in its daily dawn-to-dusk activities, and observing all walks of life through the eye of his camera. The camera eye takes on a persona of its own by turning frequently to the audience as though addressing it. The camera is the same apparatus Vertov personified in his early manifestos on film: "I am a mechanical eye. I, a machine, am showing you a world, the likes of which only I can see." In an almost virtuoso performance of camera and editing techniques, the audience is treated to superimpositions, animation, split screens, fast motion, varying camera angles, trolleying and dollying, quick cutting, montage, and prismatic lenses, all in a rapid succession which gives the film an inherent vitality.
The scenes themselves are actualities—people working, playing, resting—but always with the constant reminder that these are filmed actualities. The film opens on an empty theatre; the audience arrives; the projectionist readies his film; the orchestra begins to play; and we see a film come on the screen, the film we will in fact watch. Throughout the film, we are always aware of the camera's presence; we see the camera reflected in windows and in shadows. We see the cameraman with his machine climbing a smokestack, climbing out of a beer mug, being hoisted by a crane, walking into the sea, running across roof tops, and going down a mine shaft. The self-reflexive aspects of the film become more complex as we see shots of a motorcyclist, then of the cameraman filming the motorcyclist, then the same scene being projected in the theatre. Later in the midst of an active sequence, the frame freezes; there follows a series of stills which lead us to a strip of film in an editor's hands. Now in the editing room, we see the editor hang the strip of film on a rack with other strips, some of which are shots we have already seen. At the end, we return to the theatre, the camera and tripod assemble on the screen, take a bow, and walk off. In the finale, we see a jumbling of shots from previous scenes intercut with shots of the audience watching these scenes, and finally the camera lens turned toward us with a human eye superimposed over the iris. Vertov's point is firmly established—he has shown us reality, he has expanded our vision of life, but it is a reality that only exists on film.
Greeted in 1929 as an exciting view into film's future, Man with a Movie Camera is still exciting to audiences because of its sophisticated approach to the art of filmmaking. The camera and editing pyrotechnics, in fact, seem quite contemporary. It is also strikingly modern in its basic concerns about the relationship between film and reality and the role the camera and cameraman play. These are also the concerns of the cinema verité filmmakers today.