The Man with the Movie Camera
(Chelovek s kino-apparatom) (1929)
Directed by Dziga Vertov

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * * *

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Synopsis & Analysis
Dziga Vertov's The Man with the Movie Camera is among the most visually arresting films I have ever encountered. While I do not think that the film, when taken as a whole, is a masterpiece, its images do make it one of cinema's great landmarks.


The movie is essentially a collection of sequences depicting specific elements of Soviet society from the end of the 1920s. There are segments devoted to sports, leisure, work, film making, and the like. In each of these, the director shows a succession of images relating to the topic at hand. He, for instance, reveals, in the section on leisure, beachgoers engaging in such activities as sunbathing, exercising, swimming, and taking mud baths.


If the viewer suspects that such a non-narrative presentation of snippets of life might be boring, I can only tell him that he is completely mistaken. Vertov's virtuoso cinematography is sure to keep him spellbound throughout the film's duration. What is more, although the director has included numerous split screens, complex cuts, slow motion and sped up sequences, and so on, these never seem showy.


By using such devices, the director is able to conjure up the feelings appropriate to each of the topics he takes up. When he is presenting his vacationers, he manages to evoke a sense of happy excitement. When he shows the busy streets of some industrial city filled with trolleys, cars, and carriages, he allows the viewer actually to feel the hectic busyness of the place, and, in one sequence, he uses rapid, repetitious cuts of people working in a factory to arouse a sense of nearly panicky exhilaration.


While, it must be conceded, there is a definite element of propaganda in these presentations, this is neither particularly heavy-handed nor distracting. The director's vision of his society is optimistic, but this optimism is so nicely conveyed that it is actually infectious. Ultimately, the viewer may see the falsity of Vertov's hopes, but, if he is able to forget his history for a few minutes, he still might find himself carried away by them.


The Man with the Movie Camera truly is an astonishing film to watch.

Review by Keith Allen

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