Man with a Movie Camera

Released:  1929

SUMMARY:  This film is a documentary made by a Soviet director named Dziga Vertov; the cinematography was done by his brother, Mikhail Kaufman, while Vertov’s wife Elizaveta Svilova did the editing.  The film tracks various elements of everyday life in the cities of Kiev, Kharkov, Moscow and Odessa.  It starts with the day’s beginning, as people and town start to wake up and get to work.  As the film (and day) continues, the activity continues to hum along.  Towards the end, the focus moves from work to play, with a number of sports shown.  Finally, at the end of the film, the machinery stops, andt eh people and town rest for the night.

MY TAKE:  This is kind of like the silent, early-20th-century version of Koyaanisqatsi:  it focuses a lot on the small workings of large machines.  However, this film also tracks people in their daily lives.  Almost every facet of life is shown:  there’s a birth, a marriage, a divorce, a funeral, old people, middle-aged people, teenagers and children.  Vertov gets a little bit of everything.  It’s not horribly boring, but after Koyaanisqatsi it kind of pales.  Vertov did use a number of techniques that pretty new and innovative for the time, including double exposure, split screen, stop motion, fast-forward and slow-motion, and that was pretty interesting to see.  However, what I found most interesting was actually a handful of scenes that pop up late in the movie.  The first was during the athletic sequence, when various people are seen high jumping.  What’s interesting about this is that it was filmed before the 1968 Olympics, when American Dick Fosbury popularized the style of high jumping most people now use (the Fosbury Flop).  The Fosbury Flop is the method of going head-first and belly-up over the bar, which allows you to clear it while still having the majority of your body under it.  Since this movie was made in 1929, that method obviously wasn’t around yet.  The high jumpers are shown going over the bar almost like it’s a hurdle, standing upright to jump over it and landing on their feet.  While they probably were jumping pretty high for the time, it’s clear to see how much more effective the Fosbury Flop is.  Most of the sports are done competently, with the exception of women’s basketball, which was appalling.  I don’t know if that was common for the time period, but those women were terrible.  The other thing I found really interesting was the scene in which a woman is playing a shooting game, and shoots at a figure wearing a hat with a swastika.  There’s a caption in the scene, something about Fascism being the enemy or something like that.  What was so interesting about this is that Hitler was still a fringe figure in 1929.  He had attempted the Beer Hall Putsch in 1923, and published “Mein Kampf” in 1925.  He was the leader of the Nazi party, and had started to amass followers, but the Nazis weren’t recognized as legitimate figures yet.  In 1928, they won only 2.6% of the total vote in the general elections.  It wasn’t until after the Great Depression, which started in 1929, that they really became a force to be reckoned with.  Hitler wouldn’t be named Chancellor until the beginning of 1933, about four years after the release of this movie.  Vertov couldn’t have known what would happen with Hitler in the future, nor could anybody else in the whole world.  However, at least some Soviets were apparently aware of him and considered him dangerous even at this time (he was a notorious Communist hater).  Too bad more people didn’t heed this warning.


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