View Full Version : Man With a Movie Camera (1929)

05-09-2007, 11:23 AM
This is a great work of cinematic art.

Dziga Vertov created a trailblazing silent film that is absolute dynamite.

Eisenstein said that the process of editing is the one thing that separates the film medium from all other artistic endeavors, and this film has a zillion edits. The editing is in the rhythm of life itself, and it is one kinetic, pulsating non-verbal experience.
Vertov edited it with Yelizavela Svilova and the film was photographed by Mikhail Kaufman.

The rapid-fire edits make the film come to blinding life, which is Vertov's real talent.
The casual viewer would probably scoff, pointing to the fairly normal stuff that is captured on film: trolley cars, pedestrians, buildings, people doing regular things like getting their hair done, going to the beach, having a baby- yes, umbilical cord and all!, locomotives, waterfalls, magic tricks performed for kids, etc etc. But man, it's the editing and the shot angles. All are endlessly interesting.
Vertov had an eye brother. But the real element that kicks this film into the stratosphere of cinema greats: the score.

The score is sheer genius. It was a commissioned project performed by
THE ALLOY ORCHESTRA and it might be the best score to a film I've ever heard. They really knock it out of the park. No shit. With each new "movement" of the film the score moves with it. With dazzling, foot-stomping, bang-your-head power. I kept thinking "this movie would be so much less without the score" and how Vertov would've been very very proud of what the Orchestra did for his film. The VHS sleeve said that this movie is modern, and it is. It's better than most pieces of shit films produced today.
It's one dynamic ride baby.
Everything is tried here: slow motion (Riefenstahl must've seen this and got inspired for Olympia. I instantly thought of her and her 1936 Games film when I saw all of the slo-mo athlete shots), reverse playbacks (chess & checker boards), cars going full-tilt, bicycles, rooftop shots, middle of streets, on train tracks and trains, suspended buckets- check out the waterfall coverage!

The film is about following a single cameraman with his 5-foot tripod mounted Zeiss, as he films the citizens of the Soviet Union doing whatever they do.

I gotta buy this one on DVD because I think it would be a wild ride when blasted at home- I watched at the Ottawa U sober and was damn impressed, so at home with some vino and mass hash...Look out mama!

The ending is Great.
Please check it out. You'll be glad you did.

oscar jubis
07-25-2010, 05:49 PM
I want to thank you for magnificent contributions to this Classic forum over the years. I have really enjoyed them. Your passion for cinema is so genuine and eloquent Johann. This piece is particularly sharp, dead-on as to what makes Vertov's MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA an absolute Classic. It happens to be part of the curriculum of a course I will be teaching in Fall 2011. I was wondering if it was OK to distribute your piece to my students (as well as another piece or two you have written about films pre-1940). Thanks either way!

07-26-2010, 09:23 AM
Thanks for the kind words, Oscar. Your post has erased my Monday blah

There are two scores for "Man With a Movie Camera", and in my opinion the only one that matters is the Alloy Orchestra's. It's just so right for this film. So watch out for the DVD you pick up- the Kino version has Michael Nyman doing the score. I love Nyman very very much but I can't ever imagine watching the movie with anyone else but the Alloy Orchestra doing the soundtrack.

I don't know if my writing is suitable for students (too much swearing, drug references, non-academic) but if you feel it's worth something to a reader then by all means pass it out!

I stand by everything I've written here in 8 years on FilmLeaf. There's very little that I would change. I meant it when I typed it, and
like Tarantino and Kevin Smith, I like my own stuff. Glad that others do too from time to time...

Vertov was a pioneer. Up there with the Lumiere bros. and all the others...

oscar jubis
07-28-2010, 05:44 PM
Thanks. I will pass it out. It is the perfect "appetite-wetter".
You are so right about the Alloy Orchestra score.

07-28-2010, 06:37 PM
You saw it recently?
It's just plain awesome as a film.

oscar jubis
07-28-2010, 11:28 PM
There are some films that get studied a lot in my school because they're great and important (and because the dept. head loves them). This is one of them. Other films we show a lot at UM are Lang's M, L'Atalante, Ozu's Late Spring and I was Born but..., Sunrise, Vertigo, Marnie, Marie Epstein's La Maternelle (aka Children of Monmartre), It Happened One Night, The Awful Truth, Stella Dallas, Chaplin's The Gold Rush, Renoir's Rules of the Game and his forgotten, "unfinished" Un Partie de Campagne, Yonggang Yu's The Godess, Letter from an Unknown Woman, The Magnificent Ambersons, etc. MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA belongs in this illustrious company. I see it at least once a year.

08-21-2010, 11:29 AM
Thanks, Johann. Great review. Been years. Saw it in film school... here's a helpful link to the DVD.


oscar jubis
08-31-2010, 11:47 PM
You must see it again because the score by the Alloy Orchestra truly turns it into a different, more vivid experience (the Kino disc has an inferior Michael Nyman score). Back in the day, bad prints of the film were usually the ones that got exhibited in college campuses. Digital versions now available are a marked improvement. By the way, I am showing this film tomorrow as part of a documentary course. This is one silent the kids never find boring.

09-01-2010, 09:46 AM
For a film from 1929 to not bore today's youth...that's quite an achievement.
Reminds me of Jim Morrison's quote: "cinema is a powerful infinite mythology, to be dipped into at will"

I think that's also why so many people respond to cinema- it's a record. A historical record. A record of varying degree of worth/significance.
Silent films become more and more precious as time marches on. As important as books are, films are a tad better to me as a historical document.
Celluloid doesn't contour the story to it's own ends. What you see is what you get (even though trickery may be involved from time to time).

The beauty of movies is that you can learn new things all the time- especially on repeat viewings of films by Masters.
If the auteur is conscious of everything he puts into his film (like Stanley Kubrick) you can literally study what's in the frames for years.
Your knowledge gets compounded and expanded as time goes on. (and to speak for myself, your cinephilia deepens and refines as time goes on).
I could watch Man With A Movie Camera over and over and it never loses it's punch.
It was made by a man who was passionate enough about a (primitive Zeiss) movie camera enough to try almost anything with it.
And it works gloriously.

This is one of those "100 most important films" to me. (If I ever tried to make such a list..)

Thanks for all the replies on this silent film thread. over 600 hits? Great!
It's an absolute MUST-SEE of cinema history. (and if you really love movies, this is a "must-buy" on DVD too :)

oscar jubis
09-02-2010, 04:14 PM
The kids, for the most part, enjoyed it. There were two or three who had seen it before and came to see it again, on a big screen. I played it at fairly high volume. The film's visual sophistication is awesome.The editing choices are very interesting. As you might expect MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA is included in my school's 100-film canon, a film all students need to know well if they hope to graduate. Your posts on it are fantastic. Thanks.

09-02-2010, 05:27 PM
Seeing it on the big screen would have a nice impact. Especially with the volume up!
Great to hear. I wish more people could see it. I think those who know about this film are cinephiles or students almost exclusively.
I'm willing to bet that the average joe has never heard of Man With a Movie Camera. a shame. Another Masterwork ignored.

In an unrelated note, I bought the DVD of Michael Moore's Capitalism: A Love Story and I'll post something long about it soon.
It's simply astonishing what Moore did with that movie. I shouldn't have been so glib about it when it came out.
As Mary Corliss said on the DVD sleeve, "this is Moore's Magnum Opus".
It is revolution on celluloid. Period.

10-22-2010, 03:00 PM
I picked up two tickets to Vertov's Man With A Movie Camera with Live musical score by the Michael Nyman Band today.
Can't wait- 8pm tomorrow night @ the Bell Lightbox. I will be sure to post about the experience. Pretty jazzed about it.
Seeing that film on the big screen with Legend Nyman & Band..wow. How can it not RULE?

Yes, the Essential Cinema exhibit that just closed was shut down because of the sheer volume of artifacts that have arrived for Tim Burton's showcase. Time was needed to determine the placement of all of his artworks. Thanks to a TIFF staffer for that info. At least they inform their staff of current events and hired smart, polite people to work the box office. Every question or concern I've raised to a tiff staffer has been met with polite and informed responses. So thumbs way up for their staff at the moment.

10-24-2010, 12:31 PM

Last night was a magnificent evening of music and cinema.
I just could not believe that I was watching the 12-piece Michael Nyman Band performing LIVE. Just incredible.

It began with a TIFF staffer introducing the man with a brief mention of his cinematic work (the Piano, Peter Greenaway films) and how Nyman's score for "Man With a Movie Camera" is the "Gold Standard". Then the band came out to do a 20-minute performance of selections from Nyman's film work. It was sweet music to my ears, hearing music from A Zed and Two Noughts, Drowning by Numbers and Prospero's Books.
In that acoustically perfect setting it was DIVINE. Really divine. These 12 musicians (Nyman included- he was seated stage left at a piano) are Masters of their intruments. It was basically 2 saxophones, a trombone, a trumpet, flutes, upright bass and 3 violins. (and Mr. Nyman's impeccable piano playing).
Just glorious.
After that awesome set of music they took a 15 minute break and came back for the Main Event: Dziga Vertov's trailblazing silent film with Live score.

Seeing that movie on such a large screen that way was just about the zenith of what a great movie going experience can and should be.
The sold-out crowd knew it was special, even though I hated the chatter before the movie and during the break. I went alone, and to have to sit there wedged between two annoying people who would not shut up whenever there wasn't a performance or dimming of the lights was agony for me. I just wanted the film experience, not the Chatty Cathy audience experience. People talk so much B.S. in movie theatres. Why??

I still prefer the Alloy Orchestra score, tho. Sorry Michael!
Mr. Nyman looked like Jean-Luc Godard to me. They resemble each other.

10-24-2010, 01:57 PM
There are no actors in Man With a Movie Camera. They are all real people, real citizens of the Soviet Union.
The camera angles must be mentioned again. Vertov often has very well composed shots, well-thought out or planned still shots.
You can feel that there is a MIND behind the shots. It's a very conscious film. It pulsates, it's ALIVE.
The host mentioned how many shots but I can't remember the number. 1400 maybe? All different.
The streetcars/electric trolleys reminded me of Toronto. We have the same labryinth of electric wires above our city and bustling streetcars.

Vertov was not afraid to go for a shot. He'd lay in the street, he'd lie on train tracks, he'd take risks (like going down around that waterfall and up above it in a bucket- probably never tried before). He was in love with making pictures. I loved the scenes of women splicing film strips and the reverse close-ups of that Zeiss lens- VERY innovative for it's time. The only thing that would've made this movie more alive is full color.

The slow motion and stop-motion shots are pioneer work, hands down. (theatre seats raising and lowering- athlete shots-chess and checker boards-transposed negatives, etc.etc.) The Michael Nyman score was great, fantastic. BUT! it reminded me too much of his work with Peter Greenaway, which is so identifiable. The Alloy Orchestra's score has more energy (not that the Nyman Band was lacking energy- not at all!).
The Alloy Orchestra's score had me banging my head like I was listening to Creeping Death by Metallica.
Nyman's score didn't pick up steam until the last 5 minutes (which is what sealed the standing ovation afterwards I'm sure)
And the changes in tempo were very abrupt with the Nyman band. The music would just suddenly stop! and then start again, on a completely different tone. But it was still incredible. If I didn't have the Alloy Orchestra's score to reference, then THIS score is indeed the "Gold Standard".

Also, something that reallly annoyed me was the laundry list of Major Sponsors that were mentioned right off the top of the show.
The TIFF host (Noah Cowan) mentioned Visa and Bell and made sure the audience knew that the Lightbox is SPONSORED by banks and telephone companies. Are they contractually obligated to mention their Masters at every fuckin' screening?

I don't give two flying fucks if Royal Bank, Bell or Visa's your Daddy.