Dziga Vertov’s classic Man With A Movie Camera is one of the most important films in history. The documentary presents Soviet city life (1929) as a teeming spectacle in which the camera, seemingly independent of human agency, exuberantly embraces the constants and eccentricities of human life at the time.
Why is The Man With A Movie Camera one of the most important films of all time?
Man With A Movie Camera pushed the boundaries of cinematic visual language and opened up the world of filmmaking. At a time when Soviet film was instrumental in communicating State propaganda, Dziga Vertov, the film’s director, experimented with editing techniques and stylistic decisions as a way to rid cinema of its bourgeois elements. Made in 1929, the film is now universally revered, even making it into the BFI’s top ten films of all time because of its influence on the cinema that followed.
In Russia, during the 1920s, film was revered for its tremendous educational potential. With a revolution scarcely completed, the new communist government found itself responsible for a huge nation of peoples who neither read nor understood each other’s languages. Silent film offered the hope of a universal language in which the citizens of the new Soviet republic could begin to look with optimism upon the diversity, history, and pressing problems of their nation.
Because the new government wanted the cinema to be both realistic and inspirational, and to get away from the falseness and escapism of Western commercial cinema, a great deal of thought went into trying to codify the cinema’s function. One of the results was the experimentation with the possibilities of editing by Sergei Eisenstein. Another was Dziga Vertov’s early articulation of what we now call Cinema Verite, or cinema that records life without imposing upon it. His Man With A Movie Camera is his exuberant record of the camera’s capabilities to move and capture life in the streets.1Michael Rabiger, Directing the Documentary, p.14, Focal Press