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Vertov - a "Man with a Movie Camera"

Posted at 2:09 PM on April 17, 2007 by Euan Kerr

Dziga Vertov had some big plans in his day. Not only did he set out in the 1920's to create a new language of cinema as he described it, he and his followers known as the Kinoks declared they wanted to abolish all non-documentary film making.

Thankfully they failed in this latter aim, but watching Vertov's classic "Man with a Movie Camera," captures the excitement of its creator as he went about changing cinema.

"Man with a Movie Camera," made in 1929, captures ordinary Russians going about their daily lives: sleeping, eating, working, playing, even giving birth and dying. It's a breathtaking montage delivered at breakneck speed.

Vertov said he wanted to document reality, but that doesn't stop him from using the cinematic tricks available to him including split images, animation and even editing film in backwards so a pile of chess pieces miraculously set themselves in place.

The film is just over an hour long, and while Vertov may not have accomplished his goal of inventing a new cinematic language either, he certainly created a remarkable snapshot of a period in Russian history. It's well worth seeking out.

I recently watched the version with the soundtrack developed in the 1990's based on Vertov's notes and performed by the Alloy Orchestra. It's a percussive piece that includes various sound effects. It would be intriguing to watch one of the other versions available on DVD to see how that might change the film.

April 2007
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