Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Man With a Movie Camera (1929)

Soviet director Dziga Vertov's experimental film grew out of his belief, shared by his editor, Elizaveta Svilova (who was also his wife), and his cinematographer, Mikhail Kaufman (also his brother), that the true goal of cinema should be to present life as it is lived. To that end, the filmmakers offer a day-in-the-life portrait of a city from dawn until dusk, though they actually shot their footage in several cities, including Moscow, Kiev, and Odessa. After an opening statement, there are no words in the film (neither voice-over nor titles), just dazzling imagery, kinetically edited - as a celebration of the modern city with a marked emphasis on its buildings and machinery. The Image Entertainment DVD edition of the film offers a musical score composed from notes left by the director, which adds greatly to the impact of the film. ~ Tom Wiener, All Movie Guide

Theatrical Feature Running Time: 68 mins
The Man With a Movie Camera (1929)
The most strange aspect of this DVD is that the commentators track does not have the musical score behind it. Imagine any other film where no sound was except the commentator? So I did watch it twice to catch both the dialogue from commentator and to experience the sound track as used on this DVD. Which by and large the sound track was chaotic and dis-congruent. Some scenes are trying to show that dis-congruency. As in the various scenes of trains going in different directions and especially with the split screen shots.

Of course this is meant to be a propaganda film to glorify the Russian peoples Revolution. But for most of the film, it could just have easily been a piece about capitalism and modern life along with development of machines to help humankind to achieve more.
Kinoks{Wiki}:At the same time Vertov emphasized that his Kino-Eye principle was a method of "communist" deciphering of the world. For Vertov there was no contradiction here; as a true believer he considered Marxism the only objective and scientific tool of analysis and even called a series of the 23 newreels he directed between 1922 and 1925 Kino-Pravda, "pravda" being not only the Russian word for the truth but also the title of the official party newspaper.[1]

Man with a Movie Camera, sometimes The Man with the Movie Camera, The Man with a Camera, The Man With the Kinocamera, or Living Russia{From Wiki}
Dziga Vertov, or Denis Arkadevich Kaufman, was an early pioneer in documentary film-making during the late 1920s. He belonged to a movement of filmmakers known as the kinoks, or kinokis. Vertov, along with other kino artists declared it their mission to abolish all non-documentary styles of film-making. This radical approach to movie making led to a slight dismantling of film industry: the very field in which they were working. This being said, most of Vertov's films were highly controversial, and the kinoc movement was despised by many filmmakers of the time. Vertov's crowning achievement, Man with a Movie Camera was his response to the critics who rejected his previous film, One-Sixth Part of the World. Critics declared that Vertov's overuse of "intertitles" was inconsistent with the code of film-making that the 'kinos' subscribed to.

But ultimately, other than historical aspects of the movie, this film provided little insights into a developed ideology of the film producer of director. The film has many shots of a camera man filming not only other angles to a scene but also at the camera directly. Thus the Kinoks show the viewer how the film was made in many ways. Something quite similar to what Jean-Luc Godard tried to do in the movie Contempt.

According to the commentator (sorry could not catch his name):
The problem was that people reacted of the camera, so "life at is", on film, could not be recorded exactly as it was in real life.

The Kinoks were conscious of this inconsistency, between theory and practice.
... and formulated a number of methods to bypass it.
Method 1: was the use of telephoto lens to observe people from afar.
There existed another method, to conceal the camera, for this purpose Kauffman often used a tent or disguise the cameraman as a telephone repairman or some other noisy technician.
Method three: and I liked it a lot, was to use a dummy camera. A noisy but empty mechanism to distract people's attention from a smaller and a modest looking debris camera.
Method four: was a desperate solution proposed by Vertov but was not endorsed by Kaffman. If people do not know how to behave in front of the camera we wait 'til they get used to movie cameras clattering on every street corner, which he believed was bound to happen in the nearest future. And meanwhile, concentrate on the work of machines.
To counter this idea, Kauffman proposed the following: in the narrative feature, one has to know how to act. In the documentary cinema one has to know how not to act. Why don't we teach our subjects to ignore the camera? This was not a very happy idea either, and later you will see some samples of method five acting, which does not look natural at all.
Victor wrote: "rather than invite a few trained actors, the Kinoks are going to teach the whole population of the Soviet Union how to act for the camera.
So there remained method six: taking advantage of necessities so to speak. If we are unable to capture life as it is, let us catch life "unawares". Let them react, maybe provoke them to react. And I believe that this was brilliant idea perfectly consistent with the whole concept with "The Man with the Movie Camera" being actively involved in the reality his camera records.
The last technique was used by Werner Herzog in Nosferatu-1979. Although I hated the movie Werner does point out that he used that technique when filming the loading and unloading of the ships and other everyday life events. He would continue filming or even pretending at times until he felt the subjects were more involved in the manual work than in his filming.

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