Man with the Movie Camera

Dullsville

Man with the Movie Camera (1929)

     This post marks a first for this blog in several regards. Not only is Man with the Movie Camera a foreign film, but it is also a silent picture and one I am categorizing as “documentary”. I watched this flick with Ryan last night in order to help him study for his world cinema class, and interestingly had not watched it when I took that or any other film course at Ohio State University. The movie is self-admittedly an experiment in editing by which the filmmaker, Dziga Vertov, sought to evoke emotion and craft meaning through the way images were cut together.

     The problem with Movie Camera is it is incredibly dull to the average viewer. Only an hour in length, it sure seems to endure the normal length of a feature film. Being a soviet flick from 1929, its motives also include a comparison between the proletariat and bourgeoisie, which of course is lost on today’s American viewer. Just as Sergei Eisenstein did with Battleship Potemkin four years earlier, so too does Vertov seek to send almost subliminal messages by cutting together two images that by themselves mean nothing but connected offer insight. But just as I failed to grasp anything extraordinary in the historic Odessa Steps sequence from Battleship Potemkin,  so too was I unable to understand the meaning in Movie Camera.

     I think part of the dilemma lies in my upbringing in a time when movies are commonplace. Movie Camera was released not long after film’s start, and such experiments with editing had not been conducted. Today, we regularly see montage of this type, so without a historic context, I am unable to derive any significance from the way this film is put together.

     Man with the Movie Camera is not for the average viewer. Although it could garner a Gasser rating from me if considered exclusively in the context of a film class, it drops one lower because I could never justify telling a peer this is an OK film. It is a hard sit with no dialogue and no plot and likely can only be enjoyed if the viewer watches it as an educational tool.

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3 Responses

  1. Was it like the first Thomas Crown Affair?

    • Certainly similar, although the meaning behind the editing in TCA is much easier to understand because it has a plot behind it. Also that film employs much more advanced techniques, which should be expected.

  2. Sometimes films are of their time. The pace of some early films causes me to curl my toes inside of my shoes. Tedious! But I’m sure for folks living at the time the film premiered, it suited them just fine.

    But… now days the editing on some films is so quick and choppy it makes my head spin. Primary offenders are Hollywood summer blockbusters. But that may just be a product of age. They are marketing to a younger demographic than myself.

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