"An experiment in the creative communication of visible events without the aid of inter-titles, a scenario or theatre "aiming at creating a truly international absolute language of cinema," is how the inter-titles describe what is about to be seen. Bold claims indeed, but in its awesome sophistication The Man with a Movie Camera
does live up to them, making it one of the most contemporary of silent movies. The subject, the life of a city from dawn to dusk, was not original even for 1928, but its treatment was--the cameraman as voyeur, social commentator and prankster, exploiting every trick permissible with the technology of the day (slow motion, dissolves, split screens, freeze frames, stop motion animation, etc). A young woman stirs in her bed, apparently fighting a nightmare in which a cameraman is about to be crushed by an oncoming train. She wakes up, and the sequence is revealed to be a simple trick shot. As she blinks her weary eyes, the shutters of her window mimic her viewpoint, and the iris of the camera spins open. Self-reflexive wit like this abounds here--there's even a delicious counterpoint made between the splicing of film and the painting of a woman's nails.
The film was the brainchild of the Moscow-based film-maker Dziga Vertov (real name Denis Arkadyevich Kaufman), a furiously inventive poet of the cinema who made innumerable shorts about daily life (such as the much-quoted "Kino-Pravda"), and played at candid camerawork and cinema vérité long before they became the clichés of the television age. The editing has a fantastic abandon that makes most pop videos look sluggish. --David Thompson
Two versions of Dziga Vertov's fascinating montage of life in Moscow are included on this tape. The first is the original silent version, with music by the Alloy Orchestra. The second version includes a commentary by Yuri Tsivian, Russian silent cinema historian. Vertov makes innovative early use of dissolves, split screen, slow motion and freeze frames in this fascinating document of life in Twenties Russia. The DVD also includes the option of watching the film with a new soundtrack, composed by the In the Nursery orchestra.