“The film Man with a Movie Camera represents an experimentation in the cinematic communication. Of visual phenomena without the use of intertitles. Without the help of a scenario. Without the help of theatre. This new experimentation work by Kino-Eye is directed towards the creation of an authentically international absolute language of cinema – ABSOLUTE KINOGRAPHY – on the basis of its complete separation from the language of theatre and literature.”
I’ve seen Man With a Movie Camera on enough greatest-of-all-time-lists to know it’s a movie I had to eventually watch. But I’ve also read enough about it for me to assume it was going to be more like movie nerd homework than actually enjoyable in any way. That suspicion was only intensified when the movie opened with above disclaimer / warning.
Man With a Movie Camera was filmed with no narrative in mind. Director Dziga Vertov just filmed a shit load of interesting, real life visuals of 1920s Soviets going about their daily lives. He also invented plenty of new, interesting and cool ways to do it. Things like slow motion and fast motion, split screens and images dissolving into one another. Things that we’ve seen in all regular narrative cinema ever since. But it all started here.
He then gave that random footage to his wife and editor, Elizaveta Svilova. Elzaveta was left to her own devices to use the footage in any way she saw fit, with no real direction or guidance from Vertov. What she came up with, was basically an overview of life in the Soviet Union at the time. Young people, old people, rich people, poor people. We get to see what life was all about for every kind of person.
And just because it doesn’t have a story, it doesn’t men Man With a Movie Camera isn’t about anything. Apart from this documentary look at life, it’s ultimately a movie about movies. It’s an exploration of everything that can be captured and said with a movie camera, that can’t be done with any other medium for storytelling.
Man With a Movie Camera felt a bit like homework. But it also felt like the good kind, like I learned something valuable by doping it. As an experiment, it’s entertaining enough, and Vertvo obviously broke a lot of ground for what could be done visually. But I’m glad it didn’t kill narrative cinema like he intended it to.