Man With A Movie Camera (1929): Quick-shot review!

man_with_movie_camera_poster_1In Dziga Vertov’s experimental silent film Man With A Movie Camera (1929), we follow a cameraman as he films everyday scenes in Soviet life – busy streets, beaches, haircuts, birth, marriage, divorce, a funeral, working with machinery. We also see ‘behind the scenes’ as the film itself is being edited. The film shows both 24 hours in the Soviet Union, and the construction of those 24 hours into a film, in a very experimental and avant-garde way.

It seems like with this blog, I’m revisiting all of the early cinema that people watch at the very beginning of a film studies degree at university. Unfortunately I never had the opportunity to study film at university, so I’m okay with that! Tonight, I decided to re-watch Man With A Movie Camera. I hadn’t watched this one for a long time, and it’s always a classic. From the very first scene, where we see a little man with a little camera climb on top of a larger camera in order to start filming, I was hooked.

As with many early silent films, Man With A Movie Camera uses experimental techniques and effects to tell its ‘story’, such as dissolves, split screens, slow motion sequences, stop motion animation, and freeze frames. Some intriguing scenes of the film involves playing with the dimensions of objects – for example, using some of the aforementioned effects, in one scene the cameraman is a large, superhuman figure towering over the subjects he films. The use of freeze frames in conjunction with quick cutting can be seen in an emotionally moving scene where we are shown the circle of life – a baby being born (watch out for the graphic umbilical cord moment), a wedding, a funeral. Life, love, and death, all in 24 hours. Another scene contrasts the fit bodies of athletes with people utilising some strange weight loss instruments of the ’20s. The film’s construction is very clever in this way.

ManwithaMovieCamera_body

With the level of experimenting going on in Man With A Movie Camera, never once does it feel crowded or overpacked with special effects. This must have been a really difficult balance to maintain, between wanting to experiment with the newest techniques available to use at the time, and also using them sparingly enough that the viewer doesn’t feel bombarded by them. Despite having no dialogue, not even intertitle cards, and no clearly defined story, this film is compelling throughout its runtime. There’s an element of, “What will they do next?”, but the film is also interesting on a mundane level. Whilst watching, I was interested to see ordinary people in their ordinary lives in the Soviet Union of 1929. If anything, this film is an interesting historical document (and it is indeed described as a documentary by some). If you haven’t seen this one, you definitely should!

4/5
Watch the (unofficial) trailer here.

Watch this film at Amazon!

6 comments

  1. Lovely review! “The very first scene, where we see a little man with a little camera climb on top of a larger camera in order to start filming” – sounds fascinating! I’ll definitely give it a watch… if I’ll ever get my hands on it. 🙂

    1. Thanks! It is quite a fascinating film. I found it in a boxed set called The Beginners’ Guide to Cinema, which has a bunch of other interesting ones as well!

  2. The interesting thing about this film is the way it was made. Vertov would shoot all day, then bring the processed film to his wife to edit. The two really deserve equal credit. I love this one. Great review!

    1. The ultimate husband and wife team! Thanks! 🙂

  3. Very nice review! Oh, I should add that I also really like the new background of your blog.

    I only took one film class at university, but the professor focused on classic American films, so as you can imagine this one was excluded… but as I love just about anything set in the Soviet Union/Russia, I think I will definitely have to watch this one. Especially since your description makes it sound so intriguing!

    1. Thanks! I wanted something a bit brighter for the background because it’s warm and summery over here. Glad you like it! 🙂 This film is kind of amazing for what it is. I loved it, you should watch it!

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