Man with a Movie Camera ★★★★★

Added to: Sight and Sound Greatest Films

In Dziga Vertov‘s Kino-Eye manifesto, he wrote “I am the Kino-Eye. I am a mechanical eye. I, a machine, show you the world only as I can see it. Now and forever I free myself from human immobility. I am in constant motion.” MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA is the exposition of that manifesto in the purest form. The film opens with an introduction, self-explaining the deprive of intertitle, story and theatrical set, including ‘actors’ in this experimental film. What you’re gonna see is the world Vertov saw and presented in a thematic juxtaposition created by technical magic (split screen, double exposure, etc).

It’s a self-reflexive film, the prologue shows an empty theater before the arrival of the cameraman, it invites us to come along with the audience who're entering the theater for a forthcoming show. The curtain is raised and the projection process is displayed, and now the film finally begins. MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA is first and foremost a documentary, a symphony of the lives in Soviet cities, the people and their activities, including work, rest and play. There’s a narrative structure in it while we follows the cameraman for an adventure across a discontinuity of space and time within ‘a single day’. The city is first seen asleep and idle. When the sun goes up, the city is awaken and the rest of the film is about motion. The fragmented sequence are sewn in a rapid and mesmerizing rhythm, akin to a city moving towards advancement, whilst the intangible narrative structure provides a cohesion for all the pieces.

The film fundamentally celebrates the Stalinist regime, the fruits of collectivism, the achievement of urbanization and industrialization. Streets with traffic, factories and mines with laborious workers, beaches and parks with families, everywhere is filled with vitality and cheerfulness. The cameraman takes his camera to various risky places, a woman editor is shown slicing and pasting a roll of film, Dziga Vertov not only document the life and death (childbirth, funeral, wedding, divorce) in the midst of a lively city, he also documents the making of a film. It’s perhaps the earliest documentary about filmmaking. Moreover, this film is often regarded as be the best documentary film of all time. It rigorously rewrites the language of ‘non-fiction’ film, until 'sound' breaks the silence. It’s not a film I would revisit often for entertainment, but the experience is nonetheless unique and reinvigorating when all the transfixing pieces flashes for sixty minutes, it unequivocally opens my eyes, quite literally.