THE MAN WITH THE MOVIE CAMERA (1929) B/W "silent" 90m dir: Dziga Vertov

From Documentary: A History of the Non-Fiction Film by Erik Barnouw: "The Man With the Movie Camera (Chelovek s Kinoapparatom, 1929) presents, on one level, a kaleidoscope of daily life in the Soviet Union: sleeping, waking, going to work, playing. At the same time it presents constant glimpses of a film cameraman --- Mikhail Kaufman [Vertov's brother] --- in action, recording Soviet life for all to see. We see him climbing bridge spans, smokestacks, towers, roofs; riding on cars, trains, motorcycles; lying on the ground for underneath views of trains, traffic, marching men. We see the making of a film and at the same time the film that is being made. The interweaving of the two is constant and, in its playfulness, disarming, stimulating, often baffling. We get a through-the-camera view of a passerby; see him reacting to the camera; then we see the camera as seen by him, with his own reflection in the lens. The film incessantly reminds us that it is a film. The shadow of the camera is allowed to invade the shot.

"In a startling sequence, action suddenly ends in a frozen frame. The frozen frame becomes a series of stills. We then see these as frames on a strip of 35mm film being examined, image by image, by a film editor --- presumably [Yelizaveta] Svilova [Vertov's wife]. For a while, we cut back and forth between images as seen individually on the editing table, and related motion sequences in the finished film. Occasionally, we also see an audience seeing the finished film. The film digresses to note parallels. A woman washing at her washbowl is linked with a window-washing shot; paper rolling through a printing press is associated with water flowing over a dam. Shots of a wedding, a death, a childbirth, a divorce, are joltingly intercut. Superimposures and trick shots become frequent as the film progresses. At one point we see a camera putting itself together, and the tripod walking off with it. Is Vertov telling us again about the superhuman abilities of the camera --- or is this just playfulness? In a superimposure we see a camera on its tripod, seemingly the size of an Eiffel Tower, standing with the cameraman in the midst of a vast crowd of tiny people: a highly expressive image. Elsewhere we see a cameraman, with camera and tripod, climbing out of a glass of beer: what is Vertov telling us here? At the end of the film, camera and tripod take a bow by themselves.

"Since much of the film shows Mikhail Kaufman in action, as photographed by assistants, The Man With the Movie Camera involves staging and contrivance to an extent previously rejected by Vertov. But the artificiality is deliberate: an avant-garde determination to suppress illusion in favor of a heightened awareness. The film is an essay on film truth, crammed with tantalizing ironies. But what did it finally mean for audiences? Had Vertov demonstrated the importance of the reporter as documentarist? Or had his barrage of film tricks suggested --- intentionally? unintentionally? --- that no documentary could be trusted? Of the brilliance of The Man With the Movie Camera there was never a doubt. It was dazzling in its ambiguity. [The great Russian director Sergei] Eisenstein, usually a Vertov supporter, felt he was slipping into 'unmotivated camera mischief' and even 'formalism.'"