Monday, February 28, 2011

The Man With The Movie Camera (Vertov. 1929)

“This film is an experiment in cinematic communication.”

The Soviet Union was a bad thing. Communism is bad. Moscow smells bad. Russia is forever the enemy of the United States of America (fuck yeah). I hate that the 1077 Films to See Before You Die has basically forced me to acknowledge how brilliant some of the early Soviet filmmakers really were. The Man With The Movie Camera is by far the most impressive early film I have seen so far. Its director, Dziga Vertov is easily one of the most groundbreaking pioneers in the history of cinema. Man, I wish he was an American.

That’s enough of my pro-American dangerous rhetoric. The Man With The Movie Camera is a simple, silent, documentation of a day in the life of a Soviet citizen. Though the whole thing seems incredibly simple, Vertov actually created one of the most complicated films in all of history. He showed off several never-before-done editing techniques that filmmakers have gone on to copy for decades. The Man With The Movie Camera features film’s first examples of double exposure, fast motion, slow motion, freeze frames, jump cuts, split screens, extreme close-ups, tracking shots, footage played backwards, animations and split screening. Though Vertov certainly did not invent these things, he was the first filmmaker that was able to make them happen. And the product is very impressive.

The film is labeled and presented as a documentary film, but this is not necessarily the case. Every shot in the film is deliberately set-up to create the proper stage for Vertov’s edits. He creates a fast-cut, spinning world that makes the Soviet Union look partially livable. The film’s concepts are interesting and perfectly complimented by the difficult variations of extreme long-shots and close ups. These tricks are needed to keep the film watchable because without them the film would be nothing more than looking out of your apartment window at the world below you.

The most memorable thing in The Man With The Movie Camera is the scene that features the animated movie camera. Vertov somehow manages to animate his large video camera and make it do what resembles some kind of dance. After the camera is done entertaining, it just scoots off screen like nothing happened. Remember, this is several years before Disney’s Snow White (1936), so people were not accustomed to seeing animation of this kind. With the proper mindset, this scene will blow you away.

In the years that The Man With The Movie Camera was being made, film was still in its infant stages. Vertov was not really making a film to entertain people, but more to explore what he could do with film making as an art form. There is no actual plot to the film, but it still stays entertaining throughout.

I do not like to consider The Man With The Movie Camera a documentary about the life of a Soviet, but I think if it as a documentary on the early innovations in film. I’ll admit, a casual moviegoer will not find this entertaining. But Vertov’s vision has remained a must see for historians, fans, filmmakers and critics. It is a compelling testament to the techniques we take for granted.

The Man With The Movie Camera: B+

My Next Film.....The Breakfast Club (Hughes. 1985)

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