Dziga Vertov, “Man with a Movie Camera”, 1929, Film Scene Gifs, Cinematographer Mikhail Kaufman, Silent Film, Running Time 68 Minutes, All-Ukrainian Photo Cinema Administration/Dovzhenko Film Studios
“Man with a Movie Camera” is a 1929 experimental film which was written and directed by the Soviet pioneer documentary film and newsreel director Dziga Vertov. His filming practices and theories influenced the cinéma vérité style of documentary film-making which combined improvisation with the use of the camera to unveil truth or hidden subjects. This style would sometimes involve stylized set-ups and interaction, at times provocative, between the filmmaker and the subject.
The cinematographer was Mikhail Kaufman, the younger brother of Vertov and the actor who played the man of the film. The film was edited by Vertov’s wife, Yelizaveta Svilova, who became known for her documentaries on World War II and for her work as co-director of the 1945 “The Fall of Berlin”, the 1946 Stalin Prize winner. The film is famous for its cinematic techniques which included multiple exposures, fast and slow motion, split screens, extreme close-ups, tracking shots, and jump cuts, in which footage from a scene is removed to render a jump in time.
“Man with a Movie Camera” presents urban life in Moscow, Kyiv, and Odesa during the late 1920s. Ordinary Soviet citizens are shown, from dawn to dusk at work and at play, in scenes where they interact with the structure of everyday life. Divided into six separate parts, one for each film reel printed, the film is done in an avant-garde style with varying subject matter. Mixed in with scenes of laborers at work and sporting scenes are scenes of Mikhail Kaufman traveling to locations and setting up his camera, as well as Svilova cutting and editing strips of film. Several staged situations are also on the film, including a spliced scene of falling chess pieces played backwards.
Dziga Vertov was a member of a movement of filmmakers know as the kinoks whose mission was to abolish all non-documentary styles of film making. Most of his films were controversial and despised by many filmmakers. Vertov’s “Man with a Movie Camera” was a response to critics who rejected his previous film “A Sixth Part of the World”. Produced in 1926, it depicted through a travelogue format the multitude of Soviet people in remote areas and the wealth of the nation. Although well received by Pravda, the newspaper of the Communist Party, prominent critics gave it bad reviews.
“Man with a Movie Camera” was not always a highly regarded work; it was criticized for both its stark experimentation and for its staging. Vertov’s Soviet contemporaries criticized its focus on form rather than content. The pace of the film’s editing, four times faster than a typical film of the era, with about seventeen hundred individual shots, bothered many viewers and critics. Today it is regarded by many as one of the great films ever made; it ranked nine in the 2022 Sight & Sound poll of the world’s best films. Throughout the years, many notable composers have written soundtracks for the film.
Note: Dziga Vertov’s “Man with a Movie Camera” in its entirety can be seen on YouTube and on the DailyMotion website located at: https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x21992b