Jun 16, 2008

DZIGA VERTOV Man With a Movie Camera (1929) / Soundracks by The Cinematic Orchestra - Michael Nyman

“I am kino-eye, I am mechanical eye, I, a machine, show you the world as only I can see it.” Dziga Vertov, in a 1923 manifesto about cinema.
Man with a Movie Camera (a.k.a. Chelovek's kino-apparatom) is a 1929 silent avant-garde experimental film of the cinema’s pioneer soviet director Dziga Vertov (Denis Arkadevich Kaufman). The film portraits a typical soviet’s city day from dawn to dusk, using with driving rhythm the succession of images from the city’s life: images of urban transportation, images of industrialization and electrification (vitally elements of early 20’th century perception of urban development), images of people at work, in sports, in entertainment, images of their daily round. The succession of these images, tremendously fast and full of juxtapositions and visual comments, consists of an internal rhythm, and this rhythm creates a visual symphony, an orchestra that joyfully vibrates by the movement of people and things.
Vertov’s intention is targeting to an “absolute language of cinema”, a language that is “based on its total separation from the language of theatre and literature”, and the opening titles makes this intention clear:
Committed to these principals, Vertov’s filming denies the use of the above “aids” and instead tries to capture “life as it is”. For this purpose he uses the camera as an eye that can literally go anywhere and see everything: the moment of a child’s birth, the reactions of people caught unaware, the point of view from bizarre angles, the private moments that otherwise cannot be seen, the public places that are now viewed by a unique new perspective. The eye of the camera is everywhere, and this mechanical eye is the mean that can imprint and depict reality.
The result of this effort, thought, is slightly different from its intentions; life seen in this way actually serves as a tool for creating a new reality: this reality is the outcome of the mechanical eye’s mediation; in other words, the mechanical eye sees what it wants to see, and in the way it wants. This mediation, after all, is not tried to be hidden: in several scenes of the film, the fact that we are watching a film is always reminded. Watching the film, we also watch the audience that is watching the film in a theatre, and also, in several occasions, we look both from the point of view of the man with the camera, but also from the point of view of him watched filming. The self-referentiality of the film is one of its most significant qualities, a quality that always reminds us the fact that film making is an art based on illusion and artifice.

This effort is not free of ideological commission. Vertov is a Marxist, and with his film he praises the new order of the soviet state, and its transformation through socialist reformation. In the film the soviet citizen is praised as a worker who integrates with machinery, the new weapon for social transformation, and as the new type of human who, through the perception of truth that the futuristic city provides, can achieve new understanding of life and thus a new way of action towards the world.
Ironically, Vertov’s commitment to Marxism was not much appreciated by the Stalinists; his earlier works had already resulted to a disfavour by the regime, and this one just strengthened this disfavour. Vertov was accused of formalism (i.e. placing aesthetics before ideological commitment), and thus making inadequate use of art as a mean for the guidance of mass. What seems to be the real cause, however, is the fact that the regime realised that this powerful new way of seeing reality, “life as it is”, could be used exactly in this way; in other words, the totalitarian regime felt this perception of art as a potential threat.
Today, Man with a Movie Camera remains an important film not only for historical reasons; apart from its significance as a pioneer work in cinema and the history of moving picture, the film shows us the potential direction that cinema itself could have taken, much different from its actual contemporary one, and also the extents of “life as it is ” perspective, firstly as this is widely used nowadays in popular culture, and secondly as a means of political practice.
Some useful links:
The original (silent) film can be downloaded in various formats from Internet Archive here
The Man With a Movie Camera article in Wikipedia
Dziga Vertov in Wikipedia
It is also interesting to check out the experimental work for the film's "recreation" with modern footage here
The film has been released with several soundtracks. Below you can find two of them:
The first one is composed by Jason Swinscoe and performed by The Cinematic Orchestra (2002) (87 Mb)The second is by Michael Nyman (2002) (87 Mb)
The film can also be downloaded through torrents with The Cinematic Orchestra soundtrack.

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