Typically, whenever I am reading a review or commentary about a piece of art, regardless of format, I will immediately stop reading as soon as someone write, “____ would not be the same today without ____.” That said, film would not be the same without Man with a Movie Camera.
Man with a Movie Camera was made a couple of decades after film had become more accessible to the general public, and it seems that Dziga Vertov was no longer interested in just pumping out films to fill theater seats. The title cards indicate that this film has no plot or characters; it is an experiment.
The film is well known for Dziga Vertov’s ability to twist the known techniques around to match what he wanted to see, all while giving the viewer a new experience of seeing something that the Russian audience would know well. This film is built as a day in the life of three cities in Russia, regardless of whether the task was mundane or athletic, but there are moments when the people would notice that they are being filmed and react exactly as people do today, nearly ninety years later.
The only possible characters throughout the film are the two men with the camera that we get to see setting up the shots that we will see. This, I think, is almost as valuable as any other part of the film because it would be the first time that we would see exactly what could be done with a camera; nothing punctuates this more than the scenes with the locomotive. I’m referring to two shot in particular: the first is one cameraman sitting on the engine as it starts crawling forward, and another that sees the men dig out underneath the ties to find their shot.
The film is magnificent and is well worth the time and respect that it is due. It is a delight to see how far some film techniques date back and how hungry artists have always been for this medium.