Week 2: The Past Hopes for the Future

Man with a movie camera.jpgI went into the viewing of Vertovs Man With a Movie Camera (MWMC) a little apprehensive. As you have probably gathered from my previous posts, I’m not exactly attuned with the high arts. An hour-long experimental silent film depicting life in the metropolises of 1929 USSR, though certainly an intriguing concept, was no where near my regular cinematic fare. I’m grateful for my exposure to it in class though; were it not for that I probably never would have encountered what was one of the strangest films I’ve ever seen.

The sharp cuts and short shots quickly establish that the viewer is going to have to try to keep up with the rapid pace of the film. The constant movement of the subjects, film makers and the camera itself reinforce the notion that there is a lot going on in the film and within the metropolitan setting. Modern machines, cars and telephones also appear to associate the frantic pace with modernity; something else that the audience will have to keep up with within and outside the cinema. Though I wouldn’t mind if the film were quite shorter (the marvelous quickly becomes the mundane), I can safely say that I appreciated Man With a Movie Camera.

Now, why were we shown that film and what relevance does it hold to our studies? MWMC serves, again, to fracture our understandings of what a documentary should be whilst also presenting a challenge to define which of Henrik Juels modes the film falls under.

The other films of the week I watched entirely, Blood of the Beasts (1939) and The River (1939), proved not as difficult to classify. Though one film rarely falls into one mode alone, the two films presented factors that easily defined different sections of the films into modes. The narration style of The River, the dialogue and the music proved for an easy Expository definition, with a dash of propaganda and Poetic; while The Blood of The Beasts was the inverse, Poetic and Expository.

While viewing these films, we were prompted to define their different aspects, but they were easy to distinguish compared to the many-faceted Man With a Movie Camera. The most obvious assertion, that the film is observational (supported by the simple recordings of people going about their day to day) is countered by the interactions of some people with the camera man and the camera itself. People are excited by the presence of the camera; smiling and laughing as they inspect it and it in-turn documents them. A wave even at one point, as the car of the film makers and a family in a horse drawn carriage drive parallel to each other. In turn, the participatory is superseded by the reflexive as the crew film themselves and a man rushing about with a camera and a tripod resting over his shoulder. Indeed, there is argument that the film itself was a message from Vertov to the wider film community; his use of (contemporarily) outrageous pace, groud-breaking angles, effects and a modern theme a plea to film to move away from the restrictions of a stage mindset (Ebert, 2009).

Though arguments are easily formed for other modes, my final definition is that of the poetic. The film, more than a document or a message, is an expression. In my humble opinion Vertov was enraptured with the possibilities of the future of film. MWMC is an ode to that excitement, and so deep at the heart of his piece is a message and a coda the expression of which trumped any need to produce a film that would satisfy the general public. Vertov didn’t believe his film would receive the warmest reception from the public, which was why he included a warning at the beginning of his film regarding the experimental and challenging nature of his piece. His expression overrode the need for public approval, ultimately ensuring its definition as art and, subsequently, its poetic mode.

Again, I cannot say that I loved MWMC but t I can understand why it is now held in such high regard as well as why Vertov is so respected for producing it.


I don’t have many.

Ebert, R 2009, “Man with a Movie Camera”, Roger Ebert, viewed 12/8/2015


Nichols, B 1991, Representing reality : issues and concepts in documentary, Bloomington : Indiana University Press, c 1991.


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