Saturday, January 27, 2007

Man with a Movie Camera: Cinematic Masterpiece and Artistic Propaganda

Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera uncovers the life of a cameraman who explores a city full of machines and technology as he documents the everyday life of ordinary people in Russia in the late 1920s. The film is full of excitement, originality, and revolutionary camera techniques including fast motion, slow motion, freeze frames, split screens, and jump cuts. With the emphasis on the concept of Kino-Eye, the movie claims to break away from traditional filmmaking “without the use of intertitles, without the help of a script, without the help of a theatre.” The film focuses on the portrayal of city life after the introduction of machinery in Moscow and Odessa, yet it also contains an important political message behind the industrialization and modernization of the society. In the end, Man with a Movie Camera is an artistic piece of Leninist propaganda with a big appreciation for the industrial revolution.

The movie begins with a slow pace with slow, flowing images depicting the city waking up in the morning. The streets are peacefully deserted and quiet, representing the old world, a world without machines. Suddenly the pace of the film changes to fast images flying across the screen, so fast that it becomes impossible for the audience to see everything that is happening. This is the beginning of the new society, the modern society with advanced technology. In this process, the film gives birth to a unique relationship between men and machines. Millions of artistic and avant-garde images of men with machines testify how humans not only control the machines, but are also a lot like machines. Fast-paced moving shots that show the city functioning like a factory, with humans’ exploitation of technology and their movements synchronized with the machines, show that men are the driving forces of modern society.

This phenomenon can also be seen through the very concept of the making of this movie, namely with Kino-Eye. Kino-Eye represents the perfect production of an image as a result of the collaboration between humans and camera (the machine). The multiple recurring shots of the interlaying images of the camera lens and the human eye symbolize Kino-Eye as they indicate this concept as a window to the new world. Vertov uses fresh and unique styles of capturing images and editing in inventive ways to demonstrate the positive outcome of the combination of humans and technology. The train scene demonstrates how this new window can deliver pictures that were impossible to be captured before the development of the new camera techniques. The camera was set up so that the train seems to be coming right towards the lens, creating fear and anxiety in the viewer. As the train is about to seemingly collide with the lens and the cameraman, the screen moves under the train as the shot turns into the train’s point of view by displaying the fast moving railroad tracks beneath it. This initiates a series of intense rapid images through various jump cuts and fast motion, resulting in a shocking and powerful moment for the audience. Additionally, the frequent use of split screens when exhibiting parallels in life such as young and old, marriage and divorce, life and death, and work and recreation illustrates the film’s intention to show the duality of everything in life.

While presenting the perfect marriage between man and machine through the unconventional use of the camera, Man with a Movie Camera subtly conveys Lenin’s political ideology in that era. The movie puts a great emphasis on a Proletariat-oriented society under the rule of Lenin. The members of the upper class enjoying the horse-carriage ride is portrayed pejoratively as old and outdated compared to the automobiles and trolley cars. Most of the scenes of the film show the unity among the common people en masse, mostly proletariat, enjoying and participating in the same activities, whether they are working or playing. The film expresses the pleasure and satisfaction resulting from a society where everyone shares and works together equally and fairly. The film also constantly highlights the idea of a structured society that functions properly, like a machine, through repetitive images of factory workers and their machines. This stresses the society’s dependency on the working class and the importance of every society member as the backbone of achieving and maintaining the prosperity of their society. With its creative portrayal of everyday life in 1920’s Russia and the hidden political meaning through Vertov’s progressive camerawork, Man with a Movie Camera is both a lasting cinematic masterpiece and a paradigm of artistic propaganda.



Blogger Meegan B said...

I am glad that you took the approach of addressing the Russian aspect of the film, because I think it gets lost behind the blatant Kino-Eye message. However, I'm not convinced that it is as much propaganda, promoting a society in which everyone lives and plays together, as much as it is showing how boring everyday life is. I know this kind of ties back into the Kino Eye idea of the camera world vs. the real world, and I imagine there is a better explanation for the strong emphasis on Russia, but I just didn't really see much happiness in the movie.

1/28/2007 8:03 PM  
Blogger Tom M said...

I disagree with Meegan, I think Vertov wouldn't have put anything in this film if he thought it were boring. Vertov's fast-cutting editing style in this film has the effect of a hyperactive tour guide, constantly blurting "hey, look at this! Isn't this great? And check this out too!" Vertov's fascination with technology is evident. He devotes scene after scene to the tram and the automobile, not to mention an extended homage to the wireless radio. Even the introduction of complex machines into the workplace is treated in a positive light, operated by laughing and smiling workers. Like Silbi says, Vertov (at least at this stage in his career) is 100% on board with Lenin in support of the industrial revolution as a source of strength for communist Russia and a force for empowerment of the proletariat. It's a bit over the top, but so is most propaganda.

1/28/2007 10:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you Tom! I really really appreciate your comments. =)

1/28/2007 11:24 PM  
Blogger Caitlin Halsey said...

I think your response essay has addressed some very significant themes and scenes in the film. In particular, your reference to the images of the horse carriage containing some upper-class Russians in opposition to the public trolleys struck me as significant. Vertov through his experimental film techniques is attempting to replace antiquated methods of film making with new ones, and his subject, the USSR, is attempting to replace its outmoded economy with an industrial economy. So Vertov is presenting a model for the future of film making as well as the future of the Russian economy and lifestyle simultaneously.

1/29/2007 12:29 AM  
Blogger Mike Kim said...

It certainly hit me too that in the film Vertov, conscioulsy attempted to show a sort of "model society" to the audience, and in order to do that he utilized the many functions of the movie camera and various editting techniques.
The Juxtaposition, as you said, of rich people riding on carriages and common people busily walking and using public transportation was only made possible by the rapid editting, cross cutting from one scene to another.

The frequent scene cuts in the movie are certainly confusing and somewhat disorienting but Vertov subtly takes advantage of his given time to promote his idea of a "model society."

I am just wondering how this rather "hidden" motive of his would affect the other agenda of "liberation the movie camera."

4/29/2007 3:17 AM  
Blogger Frank Song said...

I certainly see some influence of
"Leninist propaganda." I also agree that Vertov certainly showed an idea of industrial revolution. Many viewed this as glorifying industrial revolution. However, I wasn't really sure. Your analysis of Vertov's Kino-Eye was insightful. Personally, I did not think Vertov's argument was that convincing; in fact, there were things I thought as contradiction. Well, the way you described makes it more understandable.

5/03/2007 11:46 PM  

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