“Man with a movie camera” of 1929 by Dziga Vertov without any doubt is the ultimate definition of cinema, and the gold standard of filmmaking that any other film should be rated by. Ranking any film or making any list of the greatest film is not complete without having seen this film and comparing others with this film that has been made almost 90 years ago. Only “The Battleship Potemkin” by Sergie Eisentein that was made four years earlier could stand above this film, for being an earlier creation, having invented some cinematographic and filming techniques prior to this masterpiece, and also having a story to show. Surprisingly both films are made by two Russian film masters, who defined cinema at its inception. One believing in the medium for telling story and narrative, while conveying ideology and provoking emotions (Eisenstein), whereas the other used the screen to experiment the art and techniques of cinema, camera movements and editing, albeit conveying his poetry (Vertov).
Vertov’s experiences with a simple camera of 1929 has been and will be an invaluable lesson to any camera man or film director, what camera and editing can do. The vast experiences with camera and editing (done by his wife, Elizaveta Svilova) in this documentary film has taken others for many years later to absorb and replicate some of the techniques in their films to this day. This masterpiece of cinema was definitely beyond its time in every frame, technique and content. “Man with a movie camera” should be taught in any schools of filmmaking frame by frame and students need to appreciate how such a grand work came to possibility with a simple camera in 1929. Vertov could not possibly achieve this great work in a feature film content, though his documentary or camera work experience is not without content. The film in fact is the story of urban life of men, women and children in the Soviet cities of Kiev, Kharkov, Moscow and Odessa, at work, play and else. The man with the camera is as well part of the film and story, as he is shown frequently in the film. Therefore the people of Soviet Union, including the cameraman are characters or actors of the film. This masterpiece that perhaps deserves a book to write about, needs an introduction of its creator.
Vertov (his pseudonym) born as David Abelevich Kaufman, also known as Denis Kaufman (1896-1954) was not only a pioneer filmmaker, but also a cinema theorist. Vertov first studied music at Bialystok Conservatory, then writing poetry, science fiction and satire. From 1916 to 1917, he studied medicine in Saint Petersburg, while experimenting with sound collages in his free time. He eventually adopted the name “Dziga Vertov”, which translates loosely from Ukrainian as “spinning top”. In his early writings, Vertov emphasizes on the camera lens as his “second eye”, that can perceive and record the nature of individuals, their interrelations with each other, the nature, machinery, and their emotions. After the Russian revolution of 1917, at the age of 22, Vertov began editing for Kino-Nedelya studio and started the Russian first newsreel series in 1918.
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