"Pure Cinema"
February 13, 2012 7:18 PM   Subscribe

Человек с киноаппаратом ("Man with a Movie Camera") is a classic experimental documentary film that was released in 1929. Directed by pioneer Soviet filmmaker Dziga Vertov, this classic, silent documentary film has no story and no actors, and is actually three documentaries in one. Ostensibly it documents 24 hours of life in a single city in the Soviet Union. But it is also a documentary of the filming of that documentary and a depiction of an audience watching that documentary and their responses. "We see the cameraman and the editing of the film, but what we don't see is any of the film itself."

Reviews: Old School Reviews and Roger Ebert:
"Born in 1896 and coming of age during the Russian Revolution, Vertov considered himself a radical artist in a decade where modernism and surrealism were gaining stature in all the arts. He began by editing official newsreels, which he assembled into montages that must have appeared rather surprising to some audiences, and then started making his own films. He would invent an entirely new style."
Wikipedia on Vertov and Man with a Movie Camera:
"This film is famous for the range of cinematic techniques Vertov invents, deploys or develops, such as double exposure, fast motion, slow motion, freeze frames, jump cuts, split screens, Dutch angles, extreme close-ups, tracking shots, footage played backwards, stop motion animations and a self-reflexive style (at one point it features a split screen tracking shot; the sides have opposite Dutch angles)."
Version with an alternate soundtrack. (Alloy Orchestra)

A number of other Dziga works are available in their entirety on Youtube, including A Sixth Part of the World, Soviet Toys, The Eleventh (1, 2, 3, 4), Kino-Glaz and some of his Kino Pravda newsreel series: 1, 5, 7 (in all, 23 were produced.) There is also a video with additional excerpts. At Ubu.com, Kino Eye and Three Songs About Lenin.

Interpreting Vertov: Previously on MeFi
posted by zarq (25 comments total) 48 users marked this as a favorite
If you're in Los Angeles, last Saturday was the first installment of the UCLA Film & Television archive's Vertov retrospective at the Billy Wilder Theater, showing some of his works that are held in the collection of the Austrian Film Museum and are not publicly distributed. The films will run through March 31. (They were previously screened at the NY Museum of Modern Art.) A second film was screened this evening. The series continues this coming Friday (2/17).
posted by zarq at 7:23 PM on February 13, 2012

The Cinematic Orchestra soundtrack to this film is absolutely fantastic. As is the film - totally ahead of its time.

Nice post!
posted by Sebmojo at 7:30 PM on February 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

First year university I saw this in Introduction To Film. I would have guessed in retrospect it was well shorter than 68 minutes, more like 40. What I mean to say is that it swept me away and really impressed me, perhaps more than any other film I watched in that class. Soviet Cinema really can be mind-blowing stuff, and between this and Soy Cuba, you've got some serious bragging rights on the rest of the world, including Hollywood.
posted by stinkycheese at 7:34 PM on February 13, 2012

My favorite thing about him is that he apparently named himself after the sound a film camera makes spooling film. Dziga, Dziga, Dziga, Dziga, Dziga.
posted by euphorb at 7:42 PM on February 13, 2012 [4 favorites]

One of the most awesome experimental films I've seen. Awesome use of the camera's mobility, and just so wildly creative. It's above and beyond later film conventions, and every time I watch it it makes me understand what film since /isn't/.
posted by LucretiusJones at 7:46 PM on February 13, 2012

Saw this last month at the Art Gallery of Ontario, playing in the middle of an exhibition floor. It was impossible to walk away from. I was suprised at the amount of nudity (all female, I think). The shot that hit me hardest was of a young woman folding cigarette packs around a wooden form, over and over, really fast. Nice post.
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:06 PM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Dziga Vertov, Toys, 1924.

Animated Soviet fun!
posted by Wolof at 8:07 PM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Which I see zarq has linked upthread. Enjoy it anyway.
posted by Wolof at 8:08 PM on February 13, 2012

Just saw Jean Vigo's "a propos de Nice" which is a notable contrast to "man" and is shot by Vertov's brother, Boris Kaufman.
posted by borges at 8:12 PM on February 13, 2012

The soundtrack by Biosphere is excellent as well, and it certainly doesn't hurt that those tracks appear paired with a disc containing arguably one of the best ambient albums ever recorded.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 8:26 PM on February 13, 2012

This will probably not mean much to several people but Man with a Movie Camera is pretty much exactly the Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman of cinema.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:52 PM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I first saw the film with the Alloy Orchestra's soundtrack when I was a freshman. Seven years later, a cinema degree, and a mildly successful start to a career and I can soundly say that it was this film that led me into experimental filmmaking.
posted by erro at 8:57 PM on February 13, 2012

Sebmojo: The Cinematic Orchestra soundtrack to this film is absolutely fantastic.

I purchased a promo edition of the PAL DVD, as the film disappeared from US retailers for a while. And then I had trouble finding a DVD player that would play PAL.

But looking on Discogs just now, it seems there's a native NTSC version. Bother.

Which is to say, thanks for the post!
posted by filthy light thief at 8:59 PM on February 13, 2012

This will probably not mean much to several people but Man with a Movie Camera is pretty much exactly the Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman of cinema.

Its running time includes a length of blank film, which is intended to allow the viewer to splice in self-made home movies?
posted by Nomyte at 9:20 PM on February 13, 2012

Yeah I remember a friend ordering the Cinematic Orchestra version in to Videomatica here in Vancouver (R.I.P.!) and it being a big deal. He organized a viewing party at the time but I missed it for some reason ... kind of forgot about it until now, perhaps it's time I hunted it down. Nice post!
posted by mannequito at 9:50 PM on February 13, 2012

Last time this came up someplace online (here, possibly), I pointed out that about 20 minutes into Buster Keaton's The Cameraman, Keaton nods directly at Vertov. His huge grin is, of course, nowhere to be seen on camera.

Happily, this time around, I can cite a minute mark. At 18 minutes in, in the Archive.org hosted version, we cut into a shot of a diver falling and then rising, and back to a shot of Keaton, stock-still, as an audience laughs. A series of shots employing double exposures and other non-narrative techniques follow. In the context of the film, Keaton is playing a novice cameraman, and these "accidental" quotations from Vertov are played for laughs.

The Archive.org version is missing the beginning if the scene, however, in which Keaton returns to the dispatch office excited about his day's shooting. I kinda think there may be other examples of non-authorial cuts in the version I link to.
posted by mwhybark at 10:31 PM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Such a great movie, but I haven't seen it in years. Thanks for the post.
posted by brundlefly at 12:04 AM on February 14, 2012

Cool movie, saw it a few years ago at EbertFest with the Alloy Orchestra live.
posted by octothorpe at 4:47 AM on February 14, 2012

I created an account just so I could say how much I love this movie. Historically, it's such a revolution in conceptual editing and alternative approaches to narrative---I had one friend stumble out of a screening saying "I feel like I just watched a 70-minute music video". But even setting aside its "importance", it remains a stunning movie. The camera tricks are consistently clever, funny, and not infrequently beautiful---the moment with the barbells is an image at once incredibly weird and deeply right.

Most exciting to me is the way it uses its "pure cinema" concept as an emotional and thematic center. The sequence that genuinely breaks my heart happens about half an hour in, when the camera has started to follow carriages around Odessa. At first, we're just looking at folks moving around, in a montage of transport. Then people start to notice the camera! Some are pleased, some are annoyed, some preen and others hide their face. We see groups of people---are they families? Couples? Friends? We don't know---they're reacting to the camera instead of each other. Then, suddenly, they freeze. The day is stopped. We see another group, also frozen. A moment ago, everything was rushing by, and now it's stillness. Then we get a wider shot, but not of the street... It's a wide shot of the strip of film. What seemed a moment ago like a rush of motion is now revealed as one still image after another. We see the editor, hanging strips in her office---but isn't she just a strip of stills as well? Now another strip of film---people on a beach. A child. A girl in a swimsuit. Slowly, slowly, they start to move again. The movie resumes, but the disquiet never leaves us.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 7:54 AM on February 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

Previously on metafilter, Ebert lauds the much more recent short film "Man in a Blizzard," whose filmmaker Jamie Stuart was directly inspired by "Man with a Movie Camera."
posted by bz at 8:47 AM on February 14, 2012

This will probably not mean much to several people but Man with a Movie Camera is pretty much exactly the Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman of cinema.

As someone who loves both and doesn't really see any connection between them at all, I'd love to see you flesh this claim out.
posted by yoink at 9:46 AM on February 14, 2012

Biosphere - Man with a Movie Camera on Vimeo.
posted by Substrata at 11:30 AM on February 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

As someone who loves both and doesn't really see any connection between them at all, I'd love to see you flesh this claim out.

Well with all standard IMHO and YYMVs, both are in many ways about the creation process and inherent difficulties of their respective media, aggressively experimental and metafictional long before those tropes became in any way part of the broader-scoped narrative of each of their critical worlds. Tristram Shandy explores the difficulties of whittling down of detail to isolate story in narrative (by way of mocking its longwinded and discursive narrator) such that the vast majority of the story we expect to get from the book never even shows up (although a great deal of the characters are actually fleshed out in the lengthy asides); Man with a Movie Camera does quite a bit to discuss the difficulties and innovations a filmmaker must endure in order to get to his film (although the film is a lot less cynical and satirical about itself than the novel), and we never see any of the film that the film is purportedly about.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:49 AM on February 14, 2012

Lev Manovich wrote a book on digital media anchored on Vertov. _Language of New Media_ argues that current (circa 2000) digital media are/were in the same kind of creative position as Vertov was, inventing new forms and techniques on the fly.
Not sure I buy it - the lack of attention to sound is a problem - but it's a fun, inspired riff.
posted by doctornemo at 12:02 PM on February 14, 2012

Before Man with a Movie Camera, there was Walter Ruttmann's Berlin: Die Sinfonie der Großstadt. It's on archive.org.
posted by muckster at 12:22 PM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

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