Sunday, January 28, 2007

Distorted Reality in Man with a Movie Camera

Dziga Vertov’s 1929 film “A Man with a Movie Camera” was a collaboration of “experimental events”. But already from the beginning of the film, Vertov’s theater scene has a central message about the changing relationship between humans and machines.

The scene starts out in an empty theater with empty seats, with a man upstairs in the process of loading film. Ironically, the camera– a machine– is lit and full of life, while the theater– a place usually full of people– is dead. Slowly, the music builds up and a musical production is underway. The theater components begin to come to life as people begin flooding in. The strangest part is when the seats begin to liven up. They are being put down before people even got to sit down. In this situation, the machine-to-human dependency and restriction is eliminated. In real life, those types of seats would go down only under human weight. But now, machines had a life that is uncontrolled by humans. It has switched, demonstrating machine’s control over human space. Humans are immersed in a distorted reality created by machines, and Vertov demonstrates that perfectly in the beginning of this scene.

In the next part of the scene, once everyone is seated, the music is cut as silence fills the theater. The spectators are waiting for the show to begin, and the orchestra is on stand-by, awaiting the camera’s cue. Each orchestra player is frozen in time, waiting for the camera to turn on with life and essentially rejuvenate their own lives. Once the light from the camera turns on, the show starts. The orchestra begins playing, the music starts up again, and the audience becomes engaged in the production. I was intrigued by this scene mainly because of the orchestra players. Here, Vertov is again depicting humanity’s dependence on machine temporally, instead of spatially like the beginning part with the seats. The orchestra players are waiting on the camera’s cue, essentially running on machine time. Humans subject themselves to their control, and once again, the machine-to-human dependency and restriction that was previously present has completely changed.

Another interesting thing I discovered while watching the scene was the theater itself. The style of that theater, with its massive drapes and seating, is usually used for plays or operas. It has now been turned into a movie theater, where humans are now spending more and more time with machines. They are now allocating their time for machine-produced entertainment. Like the orchestra players, this act demonstrates technology’s control over people’s time. The fact that people are donating their time to sit in this theater and watch this film, rather than human-produced plays or operas, demonstrates the lack of resistance to machine control. They are acknowledging what technology can bring to them, and relishing in it. It has reached the point where the machine control over humans is prevalent, and humans are making no effort to change that.

Through the three components of this beginning scene, the machine control over human space and time has become so prevalent that there is a dependency. The seats are already down by themselves before the spectators sit, the orchestra does not start until they get the light cue from the camera, and people donate their time for machine-produced entertainment. Vertov uses this film to ultimately depict a distorted reality that humans are increasingly subjecting themselves to through their growing dependence on machines.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

I disagree with the comment on the human dependency on machines in the film. Even though the repetitive and shocking images of machine-oriented shots might seem like humans are being controlled by the machines, Vertov clearly shows that the collaboration between humans and machines is the positive outcome of the modern society. You can see this through the many close-up shots of the camera lens and the human eye that resemble "Kino-Eye." I think that Vertov praises the industrial revolution and the mutual dependency between humans and machines. Also Vertov very much emphasizes Lenin's political ideology, which supports the industrial revolution throughout the film. And I think "distorted reality" is little too harsh. I believe that Vertov truly portrayed the state of Russia in 1920s in an innovative and artistic manner. This film is not just a documentary; it also is an art. Therefore, I don't think anyone should take every image so literally and assume that Vertov had distorted reality. It was the way Vertove expressed the reality of that era in his art form. Therefore the film is full metaphors and exaggerations.

1/28/2007 2:08 AM  
Blogger BrendaFregoso said...

I agree, human lives, spatially and temporally, are shown growing increasingly dependent on the camera. Just as the theater comes to life when the camera starts rolling, so do the town people. The film shown in the theater first shows every town resident and machine sleeping, still, almost lifeless. The atmosphere is gloomy with an air of death. This scene shows that human time is not just dependent on the camera and technology in general, these objects are essential to their daily function governed by time. Once the camera starts rolling, the people wake up and start their daily activities: jobs, house chores, entertainment. In this part, the film shows the man with the camera above the town filming almost as a “godly figure.” This is shown twice in the film; it represents the dominance of the camera over the town, the residents’ living space. Also, later in the film several scenes of the workers fusing with the machines they’re operating are shown as in “Time and Motion.” The scenes flash so quickly that it’s difficult to distinguish man from machine. This also represents that technology not only dominates, but enslaves humans temporally into machine time. Also, I see some irony that the camera, a form of visual enslavement, reveals humans' enslavement to technology through excessive and rapid work on machine time.

1/28/2007 8:49 PM  
Blogger Shyam said...

I agree that Vertov is trying to send a message that humans should not be dependent on machines so much. I could think of instances where he not only shows the dominance of machines, but also shows things that humans should be doing more of like leisure activities that do not involve machines. (Vertov shows people swimming, playing basketball, etc). Even the music of the movie itself sounded like the clinking and clanking of machinery in several parts. However, I do not believe that this theme is the only message that Vertov has. I agree with Silbi's comments in that Vertov's film is filled with many metaphors and is probably trying to show many things using those metaphors. Thus, I agree with the metaphors that you have come up with, but I do not think it is his ultimate message as you say in the end.

1/28/2007 9:18 PM  
Blogger Shane_Wey said...

It doesn't seem as though Vertov is criticizing machines. The music in the opening scenes convey a sense of fascination and anticipation. It gives the theater a sense of life even without people occupying it. This theater caters to the people who enter, letting down the seats and dimming the lights. I agree with Silbi that Vertov tries to portray a harmony between humans and machines. Just as the orchestra must wait for the projector the start, the projected images are dependent on the orchestra for life. The humans and machines collaborate to produce the final product.

1/28/2007 11:22 PM  
Blogger Daniella said...

I disagree with your interpretation of Vertov’s film as this being machine’s control over human space. What it seems to me is that the audience has a fascination for it. The tricks brought before their (and our) eyes can almost be considered magic. Fast forwarding, slowing down, even freezing images is something that cannot be done in reality. Vertov is demonstrating the possibilities of the Kino-eye, and throughout most of the film the music is very energetic and exciting. I would also have to agree with what Silbi mentioned, which is the equal dependence between the camera and the human. You say that people are now dedicating their time to watch the images from the camera instead of an opera or play. However, I believe that without the humans, behind and in front of the camera, there would be no film to present to the audience, and without the camera, the humans would no longer be able to create this "magic".

1/29/2007 9:59 AM  
Blogger Silbi Song said...

Irene and Josh! The first comment (1/28/2007 2:08 AM) was posted by me. Thank you! =)

2/07/2007 7:26 PM  

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