Snip, Cut, Jump – Man with the Movie Camera (1929)

Born Denis Arkadevich Kaufman, he later took the name of Dziga Vertov (to emulate the sound of the spinning movie camera or top), and was part of the KINOKS movement. These filmmakers believed that non-documentary cinema was the “opiate of the masses” and should be abolished. Vertov teamed up with his brother Mikhail Kaufman (the real man behind the movie camera, while another brother, Boris Kaufman, came to HW and won a cinematography Oscar for On the Waterfront) and his wife Yelizaveta Svilova supervising the editing. Almost an hour of footage (that took 4 years to film and led to an irreconcilable estrangement between the brothers!) traced one day in the life of a Russian city — here a conglomeration of Moscow, Kiev and Odessa.



One of Ebert’s favorites, the film merited high praise from him
“Vertov considered himself a radical artist in a decade where modernism and surrealism were gaining stature in all the arts. He began by editing official newsreels, which he assembled into montages that must have appeared rather surprising to some audiences, and then started making his own films. He would invent an entirely new style. Perhaps he did. “It stands as a stinging indictment of almost every film made between its release in 1929 and the appearance of Godard’s ‘Breathless’ 30 years later,” the critic Neil Young wrote, “and Vertov’s dazzling picture seems, today, arguably the fresher of the two.” Godard is said to have introduced the “jump cut,” but Vertov’s film is entirely jump cuts.”

top of city

top of city

The movie starts with a movie projector operator setting up to show us the film, at the flick of a button chairs flip down and the theater slowly fills with people. Beginning with a woman getting out of bed and dressing, her ablutions parallel those of a city getting ready for the day, and thereafter numerous such parallels are drawn in some stunning cinema footage. A couple signing a marriage registry to come together, is followed by another signing divorce papers as trams are shown to go off on separate tracks. The ubiquitous camera follows unsuspecting (though not really, as the camera was hardly unobtrusive then) people as they go about their business of work and play, and along the way we see closeups of mannequins and store dolls, look into their very eyes as they gaze out on to the teeming city. The movie camera is ever present showing us the man with the movie camera, who in turn is being filmed for us. Woven masterfully from over 1700 separate shots all set up independently, the film is an assemblage of jump cuts that average 11 seconds in length! Interspersed among shots of camera set-ups, parallel tracks of city/machines and humans, there is editing footage. After a work day there is leisure at a beach and perfect bodies in motion playing sports while others watch. The end takes us back to the movie theater and things come full circle as the camera is set up, operated, and then the box closed! My version did not have any music, but did have an accompanying commentary. The film is a mesmerizing array of perfect images and all without any trained actors. It is almost too much to digest in one viewing and worth revisiting. Recommended highly!


3 Responses

  1. Great post! At tribute to a movie making legend. He and his brothers were a film (kino) pioneers, geniuses, no questions. Vertov became known by riding on ‘agit train’ (communist propaganda car) and filming the Red Army actions in Civil War of 1918-1922.
    He combined so many film-making techniques, (dissect the image was his favorite idea) great effects, and editing (thanks to his wife). He called his style of film-making “image-oriented journalism.” But, sadly, used his great talent to create powerful State propaganda and not much more than that.
    The people have been mesmerized by the images of futuristic Soviet ’industrialization’ on screen, and were happy to forget hunger, poverty, prosecution and executions around them.
    BTW: The Man With The Camera movie was made in Odessa, Ukraine–love that city, had spend many summers swimming in the Black Sea there. You must visit it!

    The guy literally worshiped machinery over imperfect humans, therefore hated theater, music, literature, anything to do with emotions.
    This filmmaker genius end up making only few more, mostly about Lenin, documentaries. And only because of that, unlike hundreds of other artists, filmmakers, editors, writers who were jailed, perished, he was able to avoid Stalin prosecutions (purges) of late1930s. His brothers had students, his work had become a great text book for others.

  2. Thanks Angelica, most informative comment. True – the subject matter seemed propaganda and the idea of destroying fictional content a bit bizarre, BUT the genius cannot be denied. Such sophisticated camera work in 1929 is mind boggling.

  3. Pardesi – Thank You very much for recommending this. Will surely try to watch this film. :).

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