A decade into his career as both filmmaker and theorist, Dziga Vertov made his best-known and most widely distributed film. This narrative-free portrait of city life – three unidentified cities provided the locations – is propelled by an effervescent delight in the possibilities of film, with its unexpected angles and clashing juxtapositions.
Vertov deliberately shunned what he saw as hidebound theatrical conventions such as intertitles and actors – the film’s only real protagonist is the cameraman himself. This could easily be an indulgent mess, but Vertov’s grasp of his medium is so philosophically sure-footed that it’s just as stimulating many decades later.
“David Abelevich Kaufman, also known as Dziga Vertov (a Ukrainian phrase roughly meaning ‘spinning top’), was born in 1896 into a Jewish book-dealer’s family in the city of Białystok, then part of the Russian Empire, in modernday Poland. He understood Lenin’s philosophy that film was the most important of all the propaganda forms (especially among a largely illiterate population) and his Anniversary of the Revolution (1918), which may be the first documentary ever made, should be studied in every film school. Though none of us have truly experienced Man with a Movie Camera – which has not been seen in its original form since the 1930s due to it being widely replicated and distributed at an inaccurate speed, significantly changing its rhythm and accents in a way that does not match its original score – I’m still dazzled by its artistry and anticipate the forthcoming restoration.” Dorota Lech
“‘Down with bourgeois fairytale plots and scenarios – long live life as it is!’ So said Dziga Vertov, for whom documentary was the only true revolutionary form as it freed film from false scenarios and performing actors. Man with a Movie Camera, about life in a Soviet city from dawn to dusk, was certainly revolutionary in its approach to image creation, which continually undermines and extends itself to dazzling and witty effect. As well as Vertov, the Kino-Eye Council of Three – which attempted to engender a new kind of perception through cinematic montage – comprised Vertov’s editor wife, Elizaveta Svilova, and his camera operator brother, Mikhail Kaufman. All three deserve authorship credit for the film.” Helen DeWitt
“The defining aspirational work of documentary cinema, this film understands and celebrates the power of cinematic manipulation to uncover profound artistic, emotional and existential truths.” Alan Mattli
“The dynamism of Vertov’s camerawork and montage reflect the enthusiasm of the era for speed and movement, presuppositions of urban modernity.” Carlos Alberto Mattos
“This dynamic documentary is much more than a great city symphony. It is an ode to cinema and its infinite possibilities as well as the clearest example of how even the reality that nonfiction films return to us is always constructed, the outcome of manipulation.” Cristina Formenti