Man with a Movie Camera

Man with a Movie Camera ★★★★½

It's really a bittersweet feeling to know that I will never be able to truly understand what it must have been like to sit in a theater and watch one of the first screenings of Man with a Movie Camera. As enchanting as the images and editing techniques are to today's audience, I try to imagine how much more mindblowing such revolutionary concepts would be in 1929 and I fall far short. It's a virtual encyclopedia of techniques, performed with bravado and a certain show-offiness, but redeemed by the fact that it pulls off the act to perfection. How close to magic this must have been (frankly, it still seems as much), and how much more exhilarating and frightening the potential of cinema to not just capture real life had, but to mold it, sculpt it, and transform it into something new.

The most interesting part of the film is the concept that underlies it - not just the metafictional aspect of showing the cameramen, editing of the film, and book-ending the piece with audiences watching the film-in-progress - but the connections Dziga Vertov makes with the camera, a man, a film, and a city. Most notable in the 'Daybreak' sequence, Vertov draws parallels between a woman's morning scrub and the cleansing of street receptacles. The fluttering of eyelids to the rapidly flashing blinds of a window and the snapping of a camera shutter. Throughout the film there are a few more sequences that explicitly state the 'sameness' in form of the film's many subjects, but that connection is undeniably one of the core concepts here, and is fascinating in the inclusion of the act of filmmaking in the more common comparisons between acts of nature and acts of man. Is this then - the capturing of those two older acts - established here as a new, fundamental force? Filmmaking is the manipulation of perception, and it's not too far of a stretch to buy into the concept that being able to alter forces of nature and man is, in effect, a force unto itself - perhaps even the most powerful one. It's a brilliant, terrifying, and exciting concept Vertov plays with, and makes Man with a Movie Camera more than a technical milestone, but a conceptual landmark.

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