1920's Archives - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

TSPDT 19-22: Man with a Movie Camera (1929)

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I'm going through the list of all the films I have not seen on They Shoot Pictures Don't They.  It is arguably the most comprehensive and varied "best ever" list assembled.  If I have seen a film on the list previously, I will write short thoughts followed by a full review of the unseen film alternating between the top and bottom of the list.  Today's film is from the top of the pile, Dziga Vertov's 1929 experimental documentary Man with a Movie Camera.

19. Persona (Like) - Discussed at this link.

20. Rashomon (Like) - Discussed at this link.

21. The Godfather Part II (Like) - I'm not big on The Godfather but finally broke down at some insistence and watched Part 2.  All the apathy I felt for the original turned around in this sequel.  A big reason for that is the parallel plot structure of the now deceased Vito and Michael struggling with the power his father built.  It requires no investment in the first film because of how clearly Coppola communicates the inter-generational cycle of violence.

22. Man with a Movie Camera -

In 1929 the Soviet Union was post-Lenin, pre-famine, and surging forward on a wave of industrialization that took Russia from a borderline feudalistic country to one of the great powers on our planet.  Even knowing what's to come, Stalin's brutal dictatorship twisting the foundation of communism into an unrecognizable ghoul away from its ideological roots, Man with a Movie Camera is a breathless and bold statement of a country ready to flex its newfound power.  There's nary a whiff of the military in Dziga Vertov's film, instead focusing on the everyday pleasures while not ignoring the strain rapid industrialization placed on the populace.

Shots come and go so quickly the most accurate descriptor of Vertov's style is that old cliche, "blink and you'll miss it."  That doesn't come close to correctly describing the affect of Man with a Movie Camera.  Vertov's montage is so crisp and precise that even when the shots change from apartment outcroppings to hospital cradles arranged in aesthetic similarity the connection is emotionally clear even if the intellectual threads aren't immediately apparent.  This is not a film interested in the artifice of fiction or keeping cinema rooted in stage theatrics.  Vertov's trying to usher us into a new way of thinking about, crafting, and experiencing cinema with all the confidence and bluster of his fellow citizens.

Man with a Movie Camera isn't entirely free of artifice or, at least, Man with a Movie Camera requires a certain suspension of disbelief regarding what we know cameras and the human body are capable of.  When the titular man emerges from a frosty mug of beer we know intellectually that he's not gearing up for the worst hangover in human history.  What we're seeing is in-camera special effects, superimposing one image atop another to emotionally prep the audience for a night of fun.