"Man With a Movie Camera"
a.ka. "Chelovek s kinoapparatom"

"Cinema is for us the most important of arts"- Lenin

Produced by VUFKU
Directed by Dziga Vertov,
Edited by Yelizaveta Svilova
Photographed by Mikhail Kaufman
Released January 8, 1929.

A montage of Moscow life showing the inhabitants through the eye of a movie camera. Its actors are the machines and people of the city photographed in all sorts of situations with the camera following all of their movements. Although produced by the Communists, it does not preach a message.

Vertov and his Contemporaries

The majority of the films produced in Russia following the Revolution were blatant propaganda films that glorified the Communist rule with the removal of the restrictions imposed by the Czarist authorities as few liberal young filmmakers had the opportunity to follow their own ideals. Most of the future filmmakers were very young in 1917 when the Bolsheviks overthrew the Czar. Dziga Vertov was 21, Lev Kuleshov was 18, Vsevold I. Pudovkin was 24, Sergi Eisenstein was 19, Boris Barnet was 15, and Alexander Petrovich Dovzhenko was 23.

They more or less had a free hand in selecting their subjects. Vertov had his montages. Barnet had his comedy ideas reflected in "The Girl With The Hatbox," and many churned out the glory of the revolution such as Eisenstein's "Battleship Potemkin." They squabbled among one another on who was serving the state and who wasn't, and as early as 1919 Vertov wrote his first manifest. In 1922 he wrote to a cinema publication condemning the play-film as an entertainment form alien to the needs and wishes of the new Soviet audience. For a few years a group of disgruntled filmmakers formed their own group called Factory of the Eccentric Actor, or FEX, that defied critics and tradition. When the Communist Party took complete control of the cinema and imposed rigid restrictions at the end of the silent era, even the most ardent Communists were silenced for one reason or another.

Breadth and Precision of the Camera's Recording Ability

"Man With a Movie Camera" was an effort to show the breadth and precision of the camera's recording ability, and similar films were produced in a few other European countries. The film is a succession of images supposedly showing the audience what the camera eye is seeing. Vertov's brother, Mikhail Kaufman, is the cameraman, and at times another movie camera follows "Man With a Movie Camera" on the street and in other places. In one sequence some women in a cab notice the cameraman smirk and gesture at the camera as they ride through the streets of Moscow.

Vertov explained his actions with profound statements such as, "Construction must be understood as the co-ordinating function of Constructivism. If the tectonic unites the ideological and formal, and as a result gives a unity of conception, and the factura is the condition of the material, then the construction discovers the actual process of putting together. Thus we have the third discipline, the discipline of the formation of conception through the use of worked material. All hail to the Communist expression of material building."

"Man with a Movie Camera" did not receive very favorable reviews, and one contemporary review said, "Theorists mostly love their theories more than a father loves an only child. ... Vertov also has waged fierce, vehement and desperate battles with his materials and his instruments (reality and the film camera) to give practical proofs of his ideas. In this he has failed. He had already failed in the era of the silent film by showing hundreds of examples of cunning artistry in turning:acrobatic masterpieces of poetic jigsaw, brilliantly conjuring of filmic association - but never a rounded work, never a clear, proceeding line. His great efforts of strength in relation to detail did not leave him breadth for the whole. His arabesques totally covered the ground plan, his fugues destroyed every melody."

Sergi Eisenstein, who was busy churning out films glorifying the Communist rule, had this to say about Vertov and "Man With a Movie Camera" - "formalist jackstraws and unmotivated camera mischief."

Denis Kaufman Becomes Dziga Vertov

Dziga Vertov, born Denis Arkadievitch Kaufman (1896-1954), was the son of Jewish intellectuals who moved to Moscow to flee the invading German armies during World War I. He trained as a musician and neurologist, and he had studied at the Moscow Psycho-neurological Institute. He was also a poet, fiction writer and journalist. He was conducting experiments in synthetic sound before the outbreak of hostilities against the Czar. During the revolution he was in charge of photographic work in a partisan army fighting the Czar, and in 1918 after the Communist takeover, he was placed at the head of the Cinema Department of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee. It was there that he met his future wife and collaborator, Elizaveta Svilova (1900-1976), who began her film career with Pathe Freres in Moscow. He abandoned the name of Denis Kaufman and adopted Dziga Vertov which was derived from the verb which means to spin and Dziga is the repetitive sound of a camera crank turning
(dziga, dziga, dziga ... ).

Dziga formed a propaganda unit, Kino-Eye, and he launched a massive campaign of newsreel coverage. This massive propaganda campaign was an attempt to break down the social barriers of the different Russian ethnic groups by blending propaganda and art.

In 1919 Vertov, with Russian President Kalinin, toured the Civil war battlefields with a propaganda train known as "The October Revolution" whose purpose was to encourage the Communist soldiers to continue fighting the Czar's armies. Vertov was the founder of Soviet documentary, and he was an enthusiastic opponent of the theatre, staged events and fiction in film. Contradicting his theories, he was said to have made many films commemorating Lenin's death. Vertov loved machines and the tricks that the camera was able to do fascinated him. "Man with a Movie Camera" is a result of his fascination. He filmed "Man with a Movie Camera" using a candid camera, filming undercover or from a distance, using split screens, dissolves, superimposition, slow motion, crude animation and freeze frames. He seemed devoted to tram cars, shuttle looms, traffic signals, and motor cars, and he traveled throughout the country side and into factories. He was very active for a number of years producing Cine Weekly (1918-1919), a series of 12 documentaries for the Anniversary of the Revolution (1919), 23 episodes of "Cinema Truth" (1923), fifty-five editions of "Goskino Kalendar" (1924), six episodes of "Camera Eye" (1926) and numerous other films proclaiming the wonders of the masses. He was assisted by his wife and his brother, Mikhail Kaufman (1897-1979).

Falling Out of Favor

By 1930 Constructivism, Leninism, and the Bolshevik idealism had been replaced by the Stalin dictatorship and bureaucracy. By the mid-1930's Vertov was no longer favored by the regime that he had promoted. "Three Songs of Lenin," his tribute to Lenin, was delayed in its release, allegedly because it neglected Stalin. In the age of perestroika Vertov was labeled as an exponent of totalitarian cinema on a par with Leni Riefenstahl, as someone who did not stand up sufficiently against the cruel and inhuman state. In the United States, Vertov has never received the adulation given Sergi
Eisenstein who spouted the Communist line until he lost favor
with Stalin and his cronies.

A Biographical Dictionary of Film by David Thomson
Kino-Eye, The Writings of Dziga Vertov by Kevin O'Brien
Soviet Cinema by A. Arossev
KINO by Jay Leyda
The Film Till Now by Paul Rotha.

copyright 2001 by John DeBartolo. All rights reserved.

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