Man with a Movie Camera is a 1929 experimental documentary film by Dziga Vertov which upon watching for the first time earlier this week, instantly entered into my top ten films of all time. The film contains no plot, characters or actors and its only discernible arc is the depiction of the passing of a day in Soviet Russia. It captures the essence of life in 1920s Russia thanks to over 1,700 shots and scenes of everyday life as well as the life of machines and industry. The film is famed now, as it was on its initial release, for its revolutionary and still bold editing and filming style. It’s difficult to put into words the wonders contained within this hour and seven minute avant-garde piece but I hope that my brief description will attract new people to it.
The film opens on one of the more surreal shots which pepper the film in amongst the more traditional fare. We see a cameraman setting up his tripod on top of a giant camera which forms the ground upon which he stands. This is the first of many examples of double exposure used in the film and the camera trickery extends to the boundaries of what was possible in the late 1920s over the next hour. I remember watching Buster Keaton’s 1924 movie Sherlock, Jr recently and being enamoured with his mastery of camera slight of hand but Keaton’s noble efforts look like potato prints to Vertov’s Mona Lisa.