Tuesday, September 8, 2009
Man With a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov) **1/2
Director: Dziga Vertov
Background: Dziga Vertov was a documentary filmmaker who did not hide his contempt for fictional storytelling. He worked on a newsreel series known as Kino-Pravda where he pushed buttons with his experimental technique. He was hired by the Ukrainian government to direct a documentary about a man with a movie camera, and set out to change the way films were seen and understood.
Story: The day in the life of an unnamed large Russian city, as recorded by a cameraman who shows up frequently in the action.
Thoughts: It's really hard not to be impressed somewhat by this film. Vertov completely changed film language with his frequent use of stop motion and split screen, among many other innovative techniques. It's clear to see how influential the film is today. And it looks so great. There are a number of beautiful, memorable shots that completely amazed me. But what is all of this in the service of? No, a strong narrative isn't necessary for a film like this, but if you compare to Ruttman's Berlin: Symphony of a Great City, there was a film that took a similar premise (day in the life of a city) and made it work because Ruttman didn't feel the need to call attention to himself in every single shot. Vertov was going for a more personal and intimate view of city life, focusing more on the individuals within the city, but the problem is that his own technique severely detracts from that as the subjects get buried under layers and layers of fancy camerawork and rapid fire editing. Vertov may have accomplished his goal of influencing film language, but he did not accomplish his goal of making a good film.
Postscript: The Man With a Movie Camera is a highly regarded film classic, making it on several best of all time lists, and included in Roger Ebert's Great Movies column, where he admittedly makes a strong case for the film. Vertov continued directing after this, but soon met difficulties with the Soviet government who began to demand heavy edits to his films, turning them into nothing more than propoganda. His brother Boris Kaufman later became a cinematographer, winning an Oscar for helming On the Waterfront.
Posted by Larry McGillicuddy at 10:03 PM