In the second of a series of short pieces about films in the public domain, I take a look at Dziga Vertov's increasingly acclaimed Soviet silent experiment, Man With a Movie Camera.
Mostly ignored or dismissed upon its original release in the Soviet Union in 1929, Dziga Vertov's Man With a Movie Camera eventually became one of the most celebrated experimental films of all time.
Born David Abelevich Kaufman, Dziga Vertov was a pioneer of Soviet documentary cinema in the 1920s. He was part of a group of fim-makers and theorists who held radical ideas. In particular, he rejected the use of films to tell fictional stories and believed that film-makers should cut themselves off from any influence from theatre or literature.
Described in its opening titles as "an experiment in the cinematic communication", the silent documentary Man With a Movie Camera is a dizzyingly innovative work. Made in four Soviet cities (Moscow, Odessa, Kharkov and Kiev) over three years, the film has no actors, intertitles, or story. Instead, it documents urban life through a vast variety of everyday scenarios which include the passing of trams, a birth, a woman getting dressed, a funeral, an athletics event, the workings of a steel mill, and countless others.
Vertov and his brother - cinematographer Mikhail Kaufman - deployed a vast range of camera techniques including multiple exposures, slow motion, stopmotion, Dutch angles and extreme close-ups. The film was edited by Vertov's wife Elizaveta Svilova, and her work adds much to its mesmerising effect. A film about film-making in which the titular "man with a movie camera" is frequently seen, Vertov's work is an inspiring and remarkable experiment.
Man With a Movie Camera is available on Archive.org. Numerous new soundtracks have been recorded for the film, several of these being available on YouTube.
Sometime film reviewer, Letterboxd user, novice Blu-Ray collector. Top 3 directors: Woo, Hill, Leone.
Henry V (UK, 1989) ★★★★½
The Fast and the Furious (USA, 2001) ★★★★
Goodfellas (USA, 1990) ★★★★★
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